The Courage of Larry David

In the new season of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David – and I'm speaking here of the character, not the real-life guy – doesn't waste any time getting into one of his trademark unpleasant run-ins with a total stranger. In the opening scene of the first episode, the stranger is a butch dyke for whom he doesn't hold a door open because, he tells her, she looked to him like the kind of woman who wouldn't want him to do that. Later, he explains to her and her fiancée, a lipstick lesbian, that, their plans to the contrary, the latter should be the “bride” at the wedding, and the former the “groom.”

And that's only the beginning. In later episodes, Curb mines for humor the fact that Larry's friend Marty Funkhauser has a daughter who's “transitioning” into a son. One running joke involves a girlfriend of Larry who attributes her son's brattiness to Asperger's. (These days, complains Larry, “any bad behavior can be written off as being on the spectrum!”)

In short, Season 9 does a neat job of catching up with some of the social phenomena that have come to the fore since Season 8 wrapped up six years ago. Although the tyranny of political correctness has grown more oppressive since then, Larry David (the character) hasn't shaken off his habit of cluelessly breaching social taboos at every turn and Larry David (the real guy) hasn't let himself be cowed by the PC police.

Proof positive of this is the season's truly sensational story arc. As noted, it's been six years since Season 8 of Curb. What has Larry (the character) been doing since then? It turns out he's been writing Fatwa!, a musical comedy about the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie. When his manager, Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin), sends the script around to potential backers, everybody wants in. This, of course, is supremely implausible: one overarching cultural reality of the post-9/11 era is that, with extremely few exceptions, book publishers, movie studios, museum curators, and opera and theater producers aren't eager to be involved in any project that touches even remotely on the negative side of Islam.

I devoted a whole chapter to this topic in my 2009 book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom. In it, I listed several cases of cultural self-censorship driven by fear of Muslim retaliation: the Deutsche Opera cancelled a production of Mozart's Ideomeneo because one prop represented the severed head of Muhammed; a Rotterdam performance center dropped an opera about Muhammed's child wife, Aisha; the Barbican Centre in London bowdlerized Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great to avoid offending Muslims. In the year since my book was published, the examples of cowardice in the face of Islamic intimidation have kept on coming.