In last week's podcast my travel companions, Sean Donnelly and Martin Mor and I went to a mosque as a comedically instinctive counter initiative to the events in Paris. In fact our entire tour of the Middle East was met with, "Are you sure about this?" from friends and family. To them it didn't seem the most opportune time to head to the Middle East to make jokes. But I have to say, contrary to everything we're being told, after spending the last three months popping in and out of Muslim countries, my experience is that Muslims quite like jokes at their expense.
So with this in mind, and as Western media continued to spout anti-Islamist sentiment, we secured our counter-culture blinkered PC goggles as we travelled to the Grand Mosque of Bahrain. Our guide Motaz was a revelation. The whole tour was a laid back affair. Once we informed him we were comics, he cracked jokes at the expense of our firmly held stereotypes with reckless abandon, "Do you know why we have men and women pray separately?" he asked with precision timing, having set us up with a few straight, face value questions first. "No" we replied.
"Because Muslims hate women" he grinned.
The inappropriateness was not lost on us and the acoustics of the Mosque did little to hide our fits of laughter.
"Would you have risked that if we weren't comedians?" I asked.
"No" he scoffed with good natured flippancy.
A stark contrast to moments earlier when we reverently shushed one another as a man in dishdasha approached a microphone to begin the call to salat.
"A guy does that?" I asked Motaz, "I always thought it was a record player. Is he revered? Does he need to be elected?"
"No. He's an accountant. He works two buildings away" Motaz replied.
As our preconceived notions were whittled away one by one we were pleasantly gobsmacked when Motaz brought up extremism.
"I mean, after all, the whole point of this is to question. when I pray, I question. Even if there is a god or not (!) Now the only people that we have to fear are those that don't want us to question and in fact want to use these ideas to get someone else to kill somebody. And let's be honest anyone that can be talked into killing themselves and others on a promise based on something none of us have experienced is not very intelligent. These men are not Muslims. They're just not very bright"
The acoustics of the Mosque this time actually caught the sound of our jaws dropping and eye brows raising. Suddenly we became placated and open to ideas that we would've ordinarily batted away.
"So you see the burka is actually an advantage for women" Motaz continued, "Under a burka a Muslim woman can actually be appreciated for her mind and not how she looks" the two atheists and the agnostic pantheist nodded along like novelty porcelain dogs
"Yeah, that makes sense" we singsonged as some sort of knee-jerk "screw you" to Fox news.
Days later we had our "Hang onnnnn! Wait a minute" moment when we met a recovery archeologist who's actual job was to retain the integrity of dig sights that proved the earth is over 4000 years old because the Saudi government wishes them destroyed.
But then I got to thinking; I'm really not too keen on the fact that sheriff's departments in the US have tanks. In fact, I utterly hate the idea. Yet absolutely no one has ever asked me what I think about it or what I'm going to do about it. At first it seems hard to draw the parallel. In fact it almost feels like an irrelevant segue as it's happening in an entirely different country and a situation that has absolutely nothing to do with me. Given how irrelevant this segue seems here, imagine how most Muslims feel in regard to two idiots shooting cartoonists in France or a moron who hasn't even brought the right flag holding up a coffee shop in Sydney?
I was raised Catholic and not once has anyone expected me to apologise for the church sweeping paedophilia under the carpet. Let's not be flowery about it. All these things are true: US cops have tanks, the Catholic church tried to hide paedophilia and there are aspects to Sharia law that are reprehensible. What's more, I made jokes about all of these things in front of a Muslim audience and no one demanded my head on a spike. Audio here
Admittedly it was while the literal content police weren't in. But the audience wasn't too keen on them either.