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I was the opposite of Catholic on many platforms, but by far the most juxtaposing elements between me and the Catholic Church was my insatiable imagination. There was no way I could get through Mass, praying or even geometry without daydreaming. This, as you can probably imagine, did not make me very popular with the nuns or the priest in charge of us all, Father Tony.
He terrified me. At the colossal height of five foot seven, he loomed over me and my fellow school girls in a long white gown, icily demanding that we focus and stop falling asleep in the pews. And Madelaine Away-With-The-Fairies Hanson seemed to symbolise everything he, and the church, opposed; disobedience, pride, vanity and obviously idleness: and he frequently reminded me of this, somewhat loudly. We didn’t get along. But through him, or rather, my dislike of him, I got some of the most powerful advice I’ve ever received.
In absolute terror at the thought of going back to school, and his hideous masses, I’d ended up sobbing to my father on holiday in Germany. He gave me the most valuable philosophy in the world; A man is only frightening if you let him scare you. He told me to imagine the offending priest covered from head to toe in strawberry jam, dancing to The Sugar Plum Fairy with enormous donkey ears on his head. I was never frightened again. He was a man, just a man under his silly robes, not God, not someone who could send me to hell in a puff of smoke. Even if I didn’t do my geography homework.
Comedy, absurdity and satire have always been part of my life since. The Father Tony of yesterday has been replaced with fearsome politicians, cruel ideologies and twisted terrorists, leering out of smoke bombs, desert hideouts and bunkers, rather than the pulpit. I have grown up and the villains in my life have changed; but not my method of dealing with them. Satire enables you to take the Minotaur out of the labyrinth and see him for what he truly is; a sad hairy man in need of a vegan detox.
I take the same approach with the Al Baghdadis, Trumps and Kim Jong Uns of this world. One is a jumped up fanatic in need of a bath, another could win Orange of The Year at Tropicana, and Kim Jong Un resembles nothing so much as the rich kid who’s dad bribed the teachers to give him a go on the cricket team. Once you can laugh at someone, a little bit of their mortality begins to crack through. It’s very interesting that laughter is so powerful; men have been killed for it, from Charlie Hebdo to the caricaturists opposing Hitler. Extremists and dictators hate to be mocked because it makes them weaker, questionable, as absurd and ridiculous as anything else in this world. It just takes the little kid in the crowd to point out how naked their ideology is; warts, cellulite, beheadings and all.
Do not let these sad, normal mortals frighten you into silence. Debate them, yes, critique them, of course, but satire is just as vital a role in conquering their armour of power as any other open discussion. Private Eye and The Onion have played an enormous role in stamping on the untouchability of the cruel and spiteful. ISIS is, if we look at it bluntly, a bunch of young men with pretty poor beard game storming around hoping to be rewarded for their cruelty. They are only frightening when you stay at home rather than visit Paris, when you avoid saying things online that might provoke them, when you shut down bodies that criticise them to protect yourself.
Make ISIS something incredibly unattractive for your Britons to join; make them, quite literally, a joke. Make it so undesirable through the endless mocking and laughter that no self respecting teenager would dream about joining their mad little cult. Only then can we cut off their fuel at the source, the unyielding supply of young men to be cannon fodder for a glorified cause. Take that glory, pour strawberry jam down in, and make it dance to The Sugar Plum Fairy in donkey ears.
Not everyone wants to listen to a debate.
But they will listen to a joke.
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