Comedy as a tool to dismantle power. Pakistani-born Norwegian performer and comedian Shabana Rehman is not afraid to use this method. With her now (in)famous Mullah-Lifting, where she lifted Imam Mullah Krekar who allegedly has ties with an Islamist armed group, she showed that a person who can be lifted is not frightening at all. She instantly became famous in her home country and afterwards played many comedy shows around the world, but not without sparking any controversy.

Shabana Rehman lifting Mullah-Krekar

Besides receiving praise from some groups, others have pointed out that during her stand-up comedy Rehman is reinforcing stereotypes about Muslims and making it seem okay for other Norwegians to discriminate against Muslim immigrants. A year after the “Mullah-Lifting Incident” things got heated when shots were fired at a restaurant owned by her sister, showing that speaking your mind freely can have dangerous consequences.

Although sometimes fearing for her life, she does not have any intention to change her behaviour and the content of her comedy shows. “I am afraid, yes. But what kind of live would I have if I would let this fear affect my life. I would be a living dead, If I cannot work with humour if I cannot laugh, what kind of life is that? That’s a decision I have to make every day. If I want to be scared to death or laugh to death”.

Women and men from various countries and backgrounds come together in Amsterdam to celebrate freedom through theatre, talks, poetry, film and stand-up comedy. Women, non-believers and LGBT+ are often the victims of the strictest cultural and religious dogmas. The festival Celebrating Dissent honours their freedom. Freedom to think differently, freedom not to believe, and freedom to be yourself. A shout-out to everyone who fights for universal rights and freedom of speech.

But when does comedy go too far and turns into blatant racism? The event Comedy, The Sacred and Islamophobia  during the festival Celebrating Dissent dives deep into this subject matter: should one not be making fun of what is deemed a minority religion in the West? Always punch up, but never down. Or is mocking someone in jokes an act of inclusion and a form of freedom of speech, if one should assume a fair level playing field?

Though her work might be controversial to some, Shabana Rehman continues using her comedy to break taboos and create more openness in a time where restrictions on artistic freedom and freedom of speech are increasing. Celebrating Dissent Festival speaks out against this trend and defends the freedom to freely speak your mind.