Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director Terry Gilliam, the former political cartoonist and satirist, has stepped gingerly into the Prophet Muhammad cartoon wars, asserting that someone "from within" Islam needs to take on the fundamentalists in the way that he and his Monty Python colleagues lampooned abuses of Christianity in their 1979 film Life of Brian.
Gilliam, who has just completed a two-week engagement directing the show Diabolo at Jaffa's Gesher Theater, told The Jerusalem Post he believed the anti-cartoon protests had been largely politicized, and blamed the media for focusing on the more extreme demonstrators, and their placards urging violence, while ignoring what he said had often been adjacent moderate protests which had not urged violence.
He also spoke of unwarranted Western "paranoia" about Islam.
Nonetheless, Gilliam said, "I've always believed in the right to offend. Offense often leads to dialogue... I can't defend people going out and saying 'I will kill for my religion, I will kill you because you have said something that has offended me.'"
In an interview with the Post, the American-born, longtime British-based Gilliam said that voices within Islam had to be convinced to "stop being so defensive," and to acknowledge that "'we've got a lot of guys out there who are wacko and they shouldn't be encouraged...' I've been bothered by that in England: how the imams are all very cautious. They are so defensive. They won't let anyone criticize Islam."
Gilliam recalled that the Monty Python team "knew what we were doing" when they set out to satirize Christianity in Life of Brian, a movie that was banned in parts of the UK, Ireland, the US Bible Belt and elsewhere.
"We were pissed off at organized religion. We weren't going to take on Christ, so Christ was treated with respect. But the whole idea of what religion is about and how it works... the sex, the heresy, the persecutions. We knew what we were doing and that was what was so exciting about it."
"Our triumph,' he said, "was that in Variety magazine, the trade paper, there it was: A whole page devoted to us. Two columns, the Protestants protesting. Two columns, the Catholics protesting. Two columns the Jews protesting. We got everybody evenly."
Still, he noted, the Monty Python team had had the good sense not to lampoon the Islamists. "We didn't go for the Muslims, did we?" he said, a little self-deprecatingly. "We were smart."
(See Editor's Notes, page 24)