Anti-ISIS Satire Lampoons Militant Group's Hypocrisy Audie Cornish talks to professor Arwan Kraidy, who studies TV and social media in the Arab world, about the slapstick sketches and music videos that poke fun at ISIS in sometimes bizarre ways.

Anti-ISIS Satire Lampoons Militant Group's Hypocrisy

Anti-ISIS Satire Lampoons Militant Group's Hypocrisy

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Audie Cornish talks to professor Arwan Kraidy, who studies TV and social media in the Arab world, about the slapstick sketches and music videos that poke fun at ISIS in sometimes bizarre ways.


Throughout the day, you've been hearing this headline about ISIS - U.S. airstrikes targeted key commanders of the militant extremist group over the weekend. It's not clear who was killed or wounded in those attacks. Now, this is a pretty serious subject - ISIS. But in parts of the Middle East, they're also the subject of ridicule.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

MARWAN KRAIDY: I became aware of anti-ISIS is parody through Twitter mainly. So there's videos. There are the TV shows. There are all kinds of digital compositions online.

CORNISH: Marwan Kraidy is a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication.

KRAIDY: I have been writing and studying Arab media and politics for about 15 to 20 years.

CORNISH: We asked Professor Kraidy to walk us through some examples of anti-ISIS satire, and we'll start with a show that's produced by the Iraqi government which is fighting the militants on multiple fronts. The show's title translates as "State Of Myths."


KRAIDY: It is set up like a musical so it reminds me of older Lebanese or Egyptian musical where you have an entire village - a very diverse cast of people. You have a young man smoking shisha in a cafe and suddenly Mr. al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliphate - the head of ISIS - is hatched from an egg.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: Al-Baghdadi, (laughter) like, with his arms spread triumphantly coming out of a tiny, like - looks like a bird's egg.

KRAIDY: And so here you go - what you do is the commander of the faithful - this gigantic, super important character becomes a tiny hatchling. A couple of minutes further, the caliph takes out his guns. He shoots all his men. He shoots his own fighters, and at the end, he runs out of people to kill. He - there's this kind of apotheosis where he blows himself up, and the scene ends.

CORNISH: The criticism here is at the blood-thirstiness of ISIS. And do you get the sense that this is something that's happening 'cause people are afraid or is there an attempt here to - again, this is just Iraqi government propaganda trying to minimize the problem?

KRAIDY: I think people are very afraid. And this is, I think, where parody is very important because if you listen to the interviews that the writer, the director, some of the actors in that specific show gave, all of them said we want our children to feel better. We want our children to be less afraid. And in a way, this is how parody works, right? So you have the original. You have this very scary thing called ISIS. And what you do - you create a funny copy of it. And between the original and the copy, you have a gap, right? People see the two images. And within that gap, what you do is you explore the hypocrisies - the gap between what ISIS claims to be and what it is in fact or what people - the way people perceive it to be.

CORNISH: And as we move further into the show, tell us what people are saying. There's a lot of scenes here.

KRAIDY: So one of the scenes - the caliph is holding a press conference.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (Foreign language spoken).

KRAIDY: There's a foreign journalist - it's actually one journalist. The caliph is sitting. She's facing him, and she asks him, did you slaughter a sheep in my honor, because in some parts of the Arab world if you have an important guest, you slaughter a sheep. And he was very surprised. He said, a sheep? I slaughtered 300 men in your honor.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Foreign language spoken).

KRAIDY: And so one of the things that the parodies do is it portrays ISIS as this global death cult. They're like a third warrior, a third religious fanatics and a third pirates or ninjas - these really weird creatures. You never know what to expect when they show up in a town. You know, you can get killed for smoking a cigarette, and this is something that all the parodies seem to mention.


CORNISH: Not all of the anti-ISIS satires are coming from official sources, right? Things also show up on YouTube, and in particular, we have an example here - a Kurdish music video.

KRAIDY: Yes. It aired on a satellite channel which means a lot of people throughout the region could watch it.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: Let's talk about the images here. We have these guys with these giant, obviously fake beards and they're wearing flak jackets or camo jackets just filled with weapons.

KRAIDY: Yes. They're singing, you know, we will bring the past into the present. They're saying things - we are stupid - we are dirty. And they're dancing in a kind of a very grotesque way. And what that does - I think the reason that's very important is - so ISIS claims its own definition is heroic. They even claim to be sacred when they start speaking in the name of Islam. And what you do here - what anti-ISIS parodies do is they move the image from the domain of the heroic to the grotesque.

CORNISH: Marwan, I want to go to one last parody, and this one actually is Palestinian.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Foreign language spoken).

CORNISH: And the setup is some, I guess, ISIS fighters at a makeshift checkpoint.

KRAIDY: As you said, there's a roadside checkpoint. It's really an ambush.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Foreign language spoken).

KRAIDY: We see a Lebanese man come. ISIS fighters point their gun at him and ask him, do you pray? Then they ask him a detail about how many times does he kneel when he prays. He messes it up. He's shot. A few seconds later, a Jordanian shows up.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (Foreign language spoken).

KRAIDY: And they discover he's a Christian. And then they start fighting about who will kill him because they believe if they shoot a Christian, it will bring them some kind of holy blessing. And the Christian Jordanian - out of fear he collapses, seemingly having a heart attack. They start slapping him on the face, saying please, please wake up so that we can kill you. And then the clip ends with an Israeli guy showing up.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Where you from?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: I'm from Israel.

KRAIDY: And the ISIS fighter ask him, Israeli...



KRAIDY: Welcome.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: You're welcome.

KRAIDY: And he moves and the Israeli man walks through.

CORNISH: When they let him pass, what is the joke here?

KRAIDY: I think the suggestion is somehow ISIS may not be what people suspect it to be. There used to be very strong rumors that ISIS is basically an American creation - that is it's a U.S. creation, of course it's going to be supported by Israel. I have photos of, for instance, graffiti in Beirut and other Arab capitals that show the Statue of Liberty carrying the banner of ISIS, the message being that this is a U.S. creation.

CORNISH: Do we have any sense of who's producing this work and at what personal risk?

KRAIDY: Well, I mean the personal risk of producing any parody of ISIS is that they will target you. So we know that in the show on the Iraqi channel, a lot of people - of actors don't want their names to appear in the credits precisely because of that. But for somebody sitting in Beirut or Cairo doing something on their Facebook page, it could be a stretch. I think ISIS is busy with bigger fish.

But the one thing I think that's also quite interesting to comment upon is that ISIS is the one entity that everybody loves to hate. This is why you see governments - you see militia - other militia groups - you see individuals, activists - even the U.S. government is after them on Twitter. There's an ongoing propaganda war. But the problem with that - when everyone obsesses over ISIS, you are making ISIS look more important, and that could backfire spectacularly.

CORNISH: Well, Marwan Kraidy, thank you so much for walking us through this.

KRAIDY: Pleasure - thank you.

CORNISH: Marwan Kraidy is professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

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