Dean Obeidallah: Bono is right -- comedy is one weapon that would help counter ISIS
Obeidallah: The last thing barbaric killers want is us laughing at them. They want us scared
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show,” a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
ISIS had better watch out because a new weapon might soon be deployed that it will really hate. No, not a new fighter jet or bomb. I’m talking “Borat.” And maybe even Chris Rock and Amy Schumer.
At least that’s what U2 frontman Bono told a Senate subcommittee last week, citing Sacha Baron Cohen, Rock and Schumer by name as he told the senators, “I think comedy should be deployed” in the fight versus ISIS.
Before you laugh – or while you’re laughing – Bono is on to something. The singer/activist continued on to tell the senators, “It’s like if you speak violence, you speak their language.” He then added the most important line of his testimony, “but you laugh at them when they’re goose-stepping down the street and it takes away their power.”
Bono, despite what some right-wing media outlets have claimed, was not suggesting that jokes alone would destroy ISIS, which experts estimate has as many as 25,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
No one is saying that ISIS will suddenly surrender if Amy Schumer features a sketch on her Comedy Central TV show that mocked ISIS’ obsessive use of Twitter as if it were the terrorist equivalent of Justin Bieber. That’s just as laughable as people on the right saying if we would just all use the term “radical Islam” to describe ISIS it will then suddenly say, “Oh they’re on to us, everyone go home.”
What Bono was saying is that comically ridiculing ISIS should be another tool in countering this terror group. And he is 100% right. The last thing ISIS terrorists want is us laughing at them. They want us scared. That’s why ISIS releases images of its brutality. It wants us to believe that it can attack any of us anywhere at any time.
And Bono is not alone in his view that comedy should be part of our arsenal in fighting ISIS’ propaganda war. Muslim comedians in the Middle East who have been risking their lives to mock these barbaric killers in ISIS say the exact same thing. And, yes, there are Muslim comedians in the Middle East, and as someone who has performed with them, I can tell you firsthand they are hilarious.
Over the last two years Muslim comedians have increasingly used comedic videos to trash ISIS. Why? Two reasons. As one Iraqi told the UK’s Daily Mail, the comedians want to “raise awareness” that “we are against ISIS.”
And the second reason was exactly what Bono stated. These comedians believe that by encouraging people to laugh at ISIS, it undermines the group’s power. For example, a Syrian comedy troupe created a video mocking ISIS because they want the terrorists to “look silly” in the hope it makes people “stop being afraid.”
There are now videos being made by comedians across the region ridiculing ISIS for everything from being unIslamic to being a bumbling group of idiots. But it takes a lot of courage to mock ISIS when you live in the Middle East. I’ve played some tough rooms in my time, but never have I been threatened with death for my comedy. (Some have told me to go back to my own country, which is New Jersey.)
For example, Saudi comedian Nasser al-Qasabi wrote/performed in a comedy sketch that was popular on Arabic TV that ridiculed ISIS for being hypocritical morons who were not acting in any way Islamic. The result was that ISIS and its supporters publicly threatened to kill the comedian. Despite the death threats, Qasabi declared he would not stop mocking ISIS, noting this is his way of “fighting them with art not war.”
So should American comedians increasingly be mocking ISIS? Each has to make that decision, but I say yes. In fact, I already have in my shows at comedy clubs and performing for Muslim American groups. But if famous comedians did it like Schumer, Rock and others, it would reach many more people and hopefully undermine ISIS’ propaganda.
But as we saw, not everyone is on board with this concept. Last year when “Saturday Night Live” mocked ISIS, there was outrage by some because they thought “SNL” was inappropriately making light of a serious issue.
The reality is we need even more of this type of comedy. Not only does it counter ISIS’ propaganda war, comedy truly can be cathartic and helps us deal with scary things (which is why I tell many jokes about Donald Trump).
Bono could not be more correct. It’s now time to let loose the jokes of war and turn ISIS into a punch line.