In Saudi Arabia, An Uphill Fight To Out-Shout The Extremists : Parallels Can satire and commentary win out against ISIS? Some Saudi journalists and comedians are risking their lives to mock and question their country's religious extremists.
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In Saudi Arabia, An Uphill Fight To Out-Shout The Extremists

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In Saudi Arabia, An Uphill Fight To Out-Shout The Extremists

In Saudi Arabia, An Uphill Fight To Out-Shout The Extremists

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Next, we're going to meet a man who is personally taking on Islamic extremism. He's Saudi Arabian and upset about the image extremists have created for his country. This man fired back with an announcement that would seem harmless in many places, but not in Saudi Arabia. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Khaled al-Maeena, a longtime newspaper editor and columnist, is deeply worried about his country. So he decided to become an extremist with a twist - he wrote a provocative newspaper article, a critique of Saudi Arabia, in English and in Arabic. The title created a storm of comments on social media.

KHALED AL-MAEENA: The title of the article is "I Am A Liberal."

AMOS: Is that a controversial thing to say in this country?

AL-MAEENA: Oh, yes, because the moment you say you're a liberal, people accuse you of being outside the fold of Islam, somebody who'd like to have bars and drinks and pubs.

AMOS: That's not what you're talking about.

AL-MAEENA: I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about liberals as being - accepting other people's religion - to each his own.

AMOS: And to each his own definition. There is no Arabic word for liberal. Al-Maeena says it means the opposite of what he calls Saudi Arabia's self-appointed, ultraconservative guardians of religion.

AL-MAEENA: Unfortunately, our religion has been hijacked by these self-appointed guardians of religion. They also think that they can hold sway over people, and I think this is wrong.

AMOS: It's wrong, he says, that some prominent Saudi preachers spout intolerance in mosques and on social media. They vilify anyone who doesn't adhere to their austere interpretation of Islam. They call followers of Shiite Islam heretics, not even Muslims. Al-Maeena says they've created a dangerous climate.

AL-MAEENA: Look what we have today - bomb blasts, killings, suicide bombings, hatred for others. This is our own doing.

AMOS: And that's prompted a wider conversation. A Saudi TV satire premiered that mocks ISIS and religion by a popular Saudi writer. The title is "Selfie," which suggests holding a camera to the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SELFIE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

AMOS: The plot involves a Saudi father who wants to save his son from ISIS, but he has to join ISIS to get close for the rescue mission. The satire pokes fun at mindless militants who are only interested in sex and in violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SELFIE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, foreign language spoken).

AMOS: There's a beheading, the son tells his father, but the father is horrified. He faints when the knives come out and ruins the execution. He pants through military training. He hides under the bed terrified by an aggressive female jihadi who wants to be his bride. It's daring social commentary, and while most Saudis praise the witty show, there was a backlash among some conservatives. Al-Maeena was not surprised when one Saudi preacher denounced the writer, declared him a heretic. Not much different than the ISIS reaction - death threats against the writer.

AL-MAEENA: ISIS may physically not be here at the moment with their guns and all, but let's not fool ourselves. There are people who are aligned in body and mind with these people.

AMOS: This 62-year-old Saudi journalist, who's been fired from his job in the past for controversial views, says it's time to speak out because the stability of the country is at stake.

AL-MAEENA: I think the government now has to really stand up and draw a line in the sand or in the cement or whatever it is and say enough is enough. And we would all be behind the government. Now, the other side is very strong, too. They scream and shout, but I think we should start screaming louder.

AMOS: Al-Maeena's column has raised plenty of comments on Saudi social media. The TV program "Selfie" has set off a firestorm of debate across the region. The hashtag #selfie is now trending on Twitter. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Jeddah.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SELFIE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

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