There is no doubt we live at a time when despair runs rampant along with a prevailing sense of chagrin, following last year’s dramatic world events.
Unease and fear seem to be common denominators on all sides, and unsurprisingly the fear, as in so many other times in history, comes from the Other, shaped in many guises.
In light of Donald Trump’s infamous cry for building a wall at the Mexican border along with his ‘Muslim ban’, Saqi Books responded with what it does best – a piece of work representing a compendium of art, literature, comedy and more: Don’t Panic I’m Islamic: Words and Pictures on How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Alien Next Door. The book was published in partnership with Arts Council England and the Arab British Centre.
To celebrate this brave undertaking, the Festival of Ideas hosted prize-winning comedians Omar Hamdi and Esther Manito, along with the playwright Hassan Adultazzak – all contributors to the above book – for a stand-up comedy extravaganza. Bidisha, journalist, broadcaster and film-maker, as well as a contributor to Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic herself, chaired the lively evening.
Through laughter, the evening took an interesting look at what the arts and comedy can do to combat stereotypes and regressive identity politics. Through their funny outtakes, all three – Omar, Esther and Hassan – raised thought-provoking questions about identity politics and world state of affairs. As a Muslim comedian, Omar questioned the comedy industry itself for superficiality in minority representation at national shows. Hassan Adultazzak read an extract from a hilarious account about his stay at Harvard during 9/11 and the inspired evolutionary theory it instigated. His warm-felt optimistic vision of things turning out well in the long-run was well appreciated by the audience.
Esther Manito, an award-winning comedian, gave a brilliant performance, talking through her experience of being raised as a woman with Middle-Eastern background in the UK. Her wit and fantastic performer skills are sure to break down stereotypes and warm up even a volatile audience. She spoke of interesting situations she experienced at past gigs, and her assurance for the role of comedy in rising above societal norms and dispositions among general audiences.
It was an evening packed with laughter, huge questions raised, and interesting debate on politics, culture, and everyday life. The evening confirmed that discussing difficult things with a smile on your face is comedy’s irreplaceable power.
If you missed out on the event, take a look at: Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic: Words and Pictures on How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Alien Next Door on Saqi Books’ website.