Saudi comedian Nasser Al-Qasabi is hoping laughter succeeds where bombs have failed by taking on extremist group ISIS. Al-Qasabi, one of Saudi Arabia’s most popular figures, is facing down death threats from the terrorist organization after mocking them in his hugely popular Ramadan series Selfie. Aired on pan-Arab TV market leader MBC, Selfie is a satirical sketch show that fearlessly tackles sacred cows in the region. Prime in Al-Qasabi’s radar this year was the group who have murdered and pillaged their way across large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months.
One particular episode earned Al-Qasabi a plethora of threats- including messages calling for his beheading- after he played a father who travels to Syria and infiltrates the group in search of his ISIS-sympathizing son. Once there, the jokes come thick and fast. One ISIS fighter mistakenly chooses a man (wearing a woman’s robe) to marry at a “market” of chained women captured from the battlefield. In another moment, Al-Qasabi’s character protests at the abduction of child brides. “This is forbidden by Islam, there are just children,” he protests. “God forgives,” comes the cold-hearted reply from the chief terrorist.
The comedian found himself inundated with abusive messages and threats. Al-Qasabi, however, kept his cool, responding initially with admirable sang froid. “My Twitter is overflowing with people cursing at me, threatening me and hating on me. I’d like for them to calm down a little,” he wrote on his own Twitter account. Al-Qasabi took it further, posting a message on MBC’s website that,”“God will protect us. It is the job of the artist to say the truth, even if that is at his own expense. This is the price we have to pay.”
In a sign that Al-Qasabi’s message may be getting through, one of the ringleaders of the abuse- Jalabeeb Al-Jidrawi- was arrested Monday by Saudi authorities. The backlash against’ ISIS’ barbaric methods is growing across the Arab world, with attempts to counter the dark narrative across social media emerging all the time. Last year, one group of Lebanese youths, inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, launched its own spinoff, #BurnISISFlagChallenge, that sees participants burning the ominous black flag of ISIS before nominating others to do so. The campaign has gone viral across the Arab world, with Muslims and Christians alike uniting against a nightmarish foe. One young contributor even nominated “the whole world.”