The bumbling young militant first drops the rocket launcher on the toes of his boss before taking aim and firing toward a military checkpoint outside of an Iraqi town — not realizing he has fired it backward at his leader.
The Looney Tunes-style cartoon targeting the Islamic State group comes after its militants have swept across large swaths of Syria and Iraq, declaring their own self-styled caliphate while conducting mass shootings of their prisoners. The group cheers its advances and beheadings in slickly produced Internet videos.
In response, television networks across the Middle East have begun airing cartoons and comedy programs using satire to criticize the group and its claims of representing Islam. And while not directly confronting the group’s battlefield gains, the shows challenge the legitimacy of its claims and chip away at the fear some have that the militants are unstoppable.
“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,” said Nabil Assaf, one of the producers and writers of Lebanon’s Ktir Salbe Show, which has challenged the group formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “Of course, it’s a sensitive issue, but this is one way to reject extremism and make it so the people are not afraid.”
Satire has long been a force in Arab culture, beginning first with its ancient poetry. Indirect criticism once cloaked in self-censorship exploded out into the open during Arab Spring revolts. Even in the midst of Syria’s bloody civil war, the country’s renowned black, satirical humor has continued.
Islamic State, born out of the Syrian war, finds itself challenged in a cultural war after its gains. The top Islamic authority in Egypt recently began an online campaign asking journalists not to call the group an “Islamic State.” Comedians have followed suit.
In one skit produced by Ktir Salbe Show, a taxi driver picks up a jihadi who rejects listening to radio because it did not exist in the earliest days of Islam, a knock on the Islamic State group’s literal take on the Koran. The driver offers to turn on the air conditioning, but that too is rejected. The jihadi finally criticizes him for answering a mobile phone.
Fed up, the driver asks: “Were there taxi cabs in the earliest days?”
“No, 1,000 times no,” the passenger answers.
The driver responds by kicking the jihadi out and telling him to wait for a camel instead.
In Syria, comedic news programs also target Islamic State, with its presenters disguising themselves out of fears of retaliation. In Iraq, an animated program on state television depicted a slew of characters on the run from the Iraqi military.
“We are all against these terrorist organizations,” said Alaa al-Majedi of the state-run al-Iraqiya channel. “Comedy is one way to raise awareness.”
Even the dark videos of mass shootings conducted by Islamic State have become comedic fodder.
Palestinian television channel al-Falastiniya aired a skit showing two militants shooting Muslim civilians for their lack of knowledge on the number of times to kneel during prayers, all the while reminiscing over beautiful women and the best party neighborhoods they had visited in Beirut.
When a Jordanian Christian approaches, the two militants begin fighting each other over who gets to shoot him.