Saudi TV series deploys new weapon against ISIS: satire

The cast of "Selfie," created by Saudi comedian Nasser Al Qasabi. The show attacks extremism with humor.

Story highlights

  • A comedian's satirical series sparks threats
  • Arab social media debates the show's merits
  • Humor is an important tool against extremists, an expert says

Dubai (CNN)Many weapons have been deployed against the terrorist group ISIS -- conventional arms, targeted airstrikes and Iranian-backed Shia militias among them.

Now, a comedian in Saudi Arabia is adding another weapon to the arsenal: satire.
Humor may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the topic is ISIS, a group known for mass rape and torture, and for posting videos of its members beheading captives or burning them alive.
Not a lot of yuks in that, it wouldn't seem.
But into the fray has waded Saudi comedian Nasser Al Qasabi, armed only with a keen wit and a rare bit of courage.

Arab social media ablaze

The Arab world has gone mad over Al Qasabi's 45-minute satirical TV series "Selfie" -- which is shown by MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center -- and discussion of the show is all the rage on social media.
Many people support the comedian. But, as shown by hashtags such as #SlaughterNasserAlQasabi and #NasserAlQasabi'sheadwanted, not everyone is amused.
Al Qasabi started the show off with a bang. The first episode of "Selfie" was about an artist who quit the music industry to repent and become a cleric. The satire skewered untrustworthy clerics and extremist religious figures in Saudi Arabia.
Many Saudis were outraged. Some called Al Qasabi an apostate.
The man on the left is Saudi comedian Nasser Al Qasabi, creator of a TV show called "Selfie." He is pictured here in an episode mocking ISIS.
And one Saudi cleric was so unimpressed with Al Qasabi's satirical approach to religion that he took to Twitter.
"Al Qasabi is mocking Muslim clergy, could he possibly mock any Shi'a clerics?! Oh I swear it is people like him who are reason that extremism and radicalism spread!"
Thus chastened -- not! -- the comedian really waded into a minefield with show No. 2, a "mockathon" of ISIS.
The episode followed a Saudi father who traveled to Syria in search of his son, who had joined ISIS. But the father ended up involved with ISIS as well.
Throughout the episode, Al Qasabi touched on topics such as ISIS' torture and execution methods, which include lashing and decapitation.
He also makes fun of the group's infamous "sex jihad," in which fighters comfort and purify themselves after a hard day's killing by having sexual relations -- not a practice warmly endorsed by more traditional Islamic clerics.
The episode ended with the son putting a knife to his father's neck, preparing to slaughter him.

'Have a bountiful Ramadan'

Many people applauded Al Qasabi for his daring approach. But others bombarded his Twitter account and social media pages with curses and threats.
The comedian also received threats from ISIS-related social media accounts promising to "give him what he deserves."
But Al Qasabi kept his cool.
"My twitter account is overflowing with those cursing at me and threatening me with all sorts of curse words and threats," he tweeted. "I tell them all, stay calm and Ramadan Kareem, the show is still in its very beginning!"
"Ramadan kareem," a greeting, can be translated as "Have a bountiful Ramadan." Ramadan, which is underway, is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
Perhaps it all seems a bit frivolous in the face of ISIS' guns and sabers. But experts say that's not so.
In an article this month in The American Interest, former U.S. State Department official Michael Rubin, who is now at the American Enterprise Institute, said humor should be one of the tools in the fight against radical Islamists.
"Islamists cannot handle free thinking in the best of times, but ridicule is their kryptonite, for it shows that the would-be caliphs have no clothes," Rubin wrote. "Hence it should be an essential part of any strategy."