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How to resist the Islamic State? Try comedy sketches

Mideast Islamic State Satire

One comedic carton aired on Iraqi state television pokes fun at Islamic State militants. (al-Iraqiya TV)

As the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State has stretched from Iraq into Syria, there’s another and very different form of resistance coming from Arabic-speaking people in the region: comedy.

In a recent post for Waging Nonviolence, I wrote about how Iraqi Muslims and Christians have been protesting together against the Islamic State’s persecution against Christians both on the streets and in social media. We are now seeing this protest expand into satirical depictions and parodies of the group and their actions. These cartoonish depictions have gained widespread attention and laughter across the region as mainstream television channels are airing these satires against the Islamic State.

In a few examples of how some television shows have depicted the Islamic State in a comedic way, there is a skit in which an Islamic State fighter rides a cab while criticizing the use of modern technology on the part of the cab driver. In another, a skit shows an enthusiastic, young fighter aiming a rocket at his commander rather than the specified target. A writer for the Lebanese show that has shown some of these satires, called “Kteer Salbe,” stated the importance of producing and airing satires with these themes, saying, “These people are not a true representation of Islam and so by mocking them, it is a way to show that we are against them … Of course it’s a sensitive issue, but this is one way to reject extremism.”

While it may be surprising to some in the Western world to see these satirical depictions of the Islamic State flourish, it is nothing new in the region. For decades, satire has been widely used to criticize governments, politicians and influential people. These satires and parodies are perhaps most revealing of what kind of sway — or lack thereof — the Islamic State has among the wider population in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Middle East. Despite news stories of foreigners going to join the group and its expansion across much of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is widely despised and ridiculed, as the comedy programs demonstrate. This reaction is, in turn, a continuation of a long-standing tradition of poking fun at authoritarianism and any groups, the Islamic State included, that claim to be absolute representatives of Islam.