Mon, Dec 21, 2009 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE : Pakistani comedians fight Taliban with humor


If the Taliban produced a soap opera, Pakistani comedy writer Younis Butt wondered one day, what would it be like?

The love triangles would be impossible to understand, he thought, because all the women would be hidden behind burkas and no one would know which character was engaged in a heated tiff with another.

An Islamist variety show would be equally absurd, he decided. With singing and dancing frowned upon, women covered from head-to-toe could only sit in a spotlight with their backs turned to the camera.

For the creator of Pakistan’s most popular satirical television show, the prospect was too tempting and the spoof Taliban T Channel episode was born, airing in June this year and becoming a major hit.

Segments are punctuated with Kalashnikov fire, as manic-eyed actors sporting black turbans hand out household tips on weapons maintenance.

“There is so much tension and fear, everybody is giving bad news, but comedians give the same news, but with hope,” Butt told reporters from his office in the eastern city of Lahore.

“This show elevates people and they laugh, and when people laugh they have more courage to fight these problems,” said Butt, surrounded by TV sets tuned in to Pakistan news shows and the US Comedy Network. “We should fight terrorism with humor.”

Pakistan is struggling to contain a two-and-a-half year insurgency led by the Taliban, an Islamist militia opposed to the government’s alliance with the US-led war on extremists and waging a devastating campaign of bomb attacks.

The Pakistani Taliban have a similar ideology to their namesakes over the border in Afghanistan, who decreed music, dancing and television un-Islamic and effectively banned women from public life during their six years in government.

Attacks in Pakistan have escalated this year as the military has pressed major offensives against Taliban strongholds, with more than 530 people killed in suicide attacks since early October.

The insurgency has left people in the northwest and other big cities in a state of anxiety, bewilderment and fear, said Butt, who was a practicing psychiatrist before turning his hand to humor.

Coupled with inflation, poverty, unemployment and political scandals, Pakistanis need an outlet to escape the daily grind.

So far, the Taliban have made no specific threats against the show —which first went on air on private Geo TV seven years ago — although some television channels have received warnings from the militants.

“America is not happy with me, the Taliban is not happy with me, everybody is not happy — that is why I am happy,” Butt says with a grin.

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