question of the day: Is it okay to make fun of terrorists and terrorism?

The new film Four Lions opened in the U.K. last weekend, to great box office: £609,000 from just 115 screens, for a per screen average of £5,292, “the highest of all the new releases, and double most of them,” notes Charles Gant at the Guardian’s Film blog. (Its average was second for the weekend only to Iron Man 2’s: £3.2 million at 522 locations over its second weekend, for an average of £6,159, according to the UK Film Council.) The film is a comedy about a bungling group of British-born Islamic terrorists, and the reviews are overall very good: it’s 80 percent Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes from British critics and those who reviewed the film when it was at Sundance earlier this year.

Last week, Jon Stewart on The Daily Show downplayed the recent attempted bombing in Times Square, likening the cascade of screwups by Faisel Shahzad — whom Stewart called the Wannabomber: “he’s not just a terrorist, he’s a moron” — to those of the Home Alone burglars:

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I haven’t heard any objections about Stewart, but some, such as David Cox at the Guardian, don’t see the humor in Four Lions:

To pretend that Islamist terrorists are merely buffoons is self-delusion, not satire

How should we deal with Islamist terrorists? Thinkers of the harrumphing school have long known the answer: in their view, these people are clearly idiots. We shouldn’t let them frighten us; we should just laugh at their boneheaded notions and bungling escapades. That’d show ’em.

I haven’t seen Four Lions, so I can’t tell whether that’s a fair reflection of what the film depicts. I can certainly imagine a film in which the real threat of terrorism is not dismissed while at the same time that film makes fun of those who would terrorize. (Stewart usually manages that balance, though he isn’t facing the demands of satisfying storytelling at the same time.)

Is it okay to make fun of terrorists and terrorism?

I think so. I think anything can be the subject of humor: it all depends on how it’s handled. And I certainly don’t think that saying that we shouldn’t be able to laugh at terrorism and terrorists would help in any way. The object of terrorism isn’t to kill people but to terrorize those who witness acts of terrorism… and by flat out refusing to poke fun at terrorists under all circumstances sounds like giving in, if only in a small way, to terrorism’s aims.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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