As Isis, the fundamentalist Islamic group that has claimed swaths of Syria and Iraq as an independent state, continues its advance in the face of U.S. bombing, televised satire, with regional prejudices at its center, is being used in the Arab world to counter the group’s messages.
In Iraq, Al-Iraqiyya TV on Sept. 9 aired “The Superstitious State,” a ragtag musical comedy in which a character in a devil suit weds a Jewish princess (complete with a Star of David necklace and cheap drugstore tiara). The pair discover that their spawn — hatched from a giant egg — is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of Isis. Supporting characters in the cast include a whiskey-swigging American cowboy who serves as matchmaker.
The program has aired several times a day since its debut. It’s being squeezed onto crowded Iraqi airwaves that now feature a slew of anti-Isis satirical cartoons, in which bumbling animated terrorists misfire their weapons or run scared through the desert with Iraqi security officials at their heels. Think the antics of Wile E. Coyote, but with more sand, much higher stakes, and not a roadrunner in sight.
It’s not just Iraqi TV that’s using satire in an effort to sway its citizens against Isis. Similar tropes have played out on Lebanese TV, where the “Saturday Night Live”-style Ktir Salbe troupe has mocked the group, and on programs across the Palestinian territory.
A June 29 episode of the hit Palestinian satire show “Watan ala Watar,” carried by the Palestinian Authority’s Al Falastinia TV, shows a group of bored Isis soldiers setting up a checkpoint and interrogating, then gunning down, everyone who tries to pass. Everyone, that is, until an Israeli man shows up. Then the Isis sentinels step aside and let him walk through.
Satirical videos are an attempt by the nations of the Arab world to provide a boost in morale in the face of Isis’ ever-encroaching onslaught across the Middle East, says Yigal Carmon, president and founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors and translates media coming out of the region. “They’re building on the most basic feelings of hate,” he says.“It’s what they need to lift themselves up. Suspicion of Zionism and America — this is the most influential mythology.”
Actors and directors of anti-Isis videos say they hope their programs will help counter extremism. “These people are not a true representation of Islam,” Nabil Assaf of Lebanon’s Ktir Salbe troupe told the Associated Press. “And so by mocking them, it is a way to show we are against them.”