Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Posted: Nov 09, 2005 12:05 AM

Sony Pictures got upset about a "bad" word. They demanded it be taken out of the title of a movie. The word is "Muslim."

 Give me a break. Do we have to be that sensitive? Or fearful?

 The movie is "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World." The writer and star of the movie, Albert Brooks, says he made the movie because he was concerned that, in the wake of 9/11, Americans hated even the word "Muslim." "A part of me always thought," Brooks said, "what are there, a billion-and-a-half Muslim people on this planet, and I never thought that all of them wanted us dead."

 Brooks thought he could put his professional skills -- he's a comedian -- to work on the problem. "I thought, what could I do to make a movie in . . . my style to sort of soften this subject."

 He imagined himself given a special assignment by the U.S. government: "Maybe the only way to really understand somebody is to see what makes them laugh," he is told. "Go to India and Pakistan, write a 500-page report, and tell us what makes the Muslims laugh."

 What's controversial about that?  The movie is a comedy about humor and cultural differences. Brooks performs his stand-up routine in India:

 "Why is there no Halloween in India? 'Cause they took away the Gandhi!"

 The audience doesn't laugh.

 Says Brooks: "I steered clear of religion in this movie. There's no mention of the Koran -- the whole point of the movie is looking for comedy, not looking for God. I was allowed to film in the biggest mosque in India, and when I told the imam the plot of the movie, he started to laugh."

 Sony officials liked the movie, too, Brooks told me, and planned to premiere it last month. "Posters were made, trailers were made, and then about three months later, on a Monday morning, I get this phone call, we can't release the movie with the title."

 The call came shortly after a Newsweek story claimed that soldiers at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the toilet, and rioting broke out in the Middle East. It turned out that the Newsweek story was wrong. They retracted it. And it turned out that the rioting may have been a previously planned anti-American demonstration that had nothing to do with Newsweek's story. But Sony's president still said he wouldn't release a film called "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World."

 How cowardly. Hollywood used to make lots of big-star, big budget movies about Arab terrorists, like "Executive Decision," "Rules Of Engagement," and "True Lies" ... but not after Sept. 11. Tom Clancy's best-selling novel "The Sum of All Fears" is about Palestinian terrorists, but Hollywood morphed them into European neo-Nazis.

 You see, the rules of political correctness are very clear: No one's allowed to associate Muslims with anything bad. Even "The Siege" -- which said repeatedly that Muslim American leaders were patriotic, featured a heroic Muslim FBI agent, and put more emphasis on a federal elite inattentive to individual rights than on the threat of terrorism -- was the victim of an "educational" campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "The Siege" dared to say that a few Muslims are, in fact, terrorists.

 And it came out before 9/11.

 And now Sony won't even use "Muslim" in a title. Even CAIR doesn't object to the movie, although I bet they'll object to this column.

 The Los Angeles Times points out that Sony is the same company that pushes movies packed with crass materialism and sex, films that are much more likely to offend Muslims than Brooks' film would.

 I wanted to ask Sony why its sleazy movie "Deuce Bigelow, European Gigolo" is good to release, but "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" wasn't, but they wouldn't talk to me about that.

 Fortunately, Warner Independent Pictures has agreed to release the film with its title intact.

 I asked Brooks: "Have you gotten any pressure from Muslim groups about the movie?"

 "Quite to the contrary." he said with a big smile. "Last week, we were invited to have the world premiere at the Dubai Film Festival."