Our Middle Eastern policy is solid and it’s sound:
We’ll send in some advisors but no boots upon the ground.
But what if those advisors should be caught up in the fray?
That’s much too hypothetical to think about today.

             Obama’s finally announced Middle Eastern strategy – more bombings, perhaps

including Syria, and more “advisors”, but no American ground troops – gained

unenthusiastic congressional support, but an abundant crop of criticism.

            The Onion parodied the complexity of the Obama strategy by having him propose something even more fiendishly subtle: “A limited military engagement that will fracture the terrorist network’s leadership and consequently create a myriad of smaller cells, each with its own violent radical agenda.” Each of these, according to Obama, will be defeated, “allowing us to focus our attention on the countless threats to homeland security posed by its many immediate successors. While this would not involve American troops on the ground he reserved the right to deploy troops if any of the spin-off groups grew even more powerful.”

            Though John Stewart mocked Obama’s hawkish critics he was also strongly critical of Obama’s approach. The GW Bush Administration, he said, was “incredibly disciplined and focused when it came to persuading the country to do the wrong thing, whereas the Obama administration would like us to do the right thing in as chaotic and confusd a way as possible.” As for calling the war on ISIS “a sustained counter-terrorism campaign” he asked us to imagine George Lucas calling his movie “Star Sustained Counter-terrorism Campaign.” 

            Andy Borowitz was equally annoyed at the reluctance to call a war a war. A White House spokesman, he said, had admitted that “no synonyms for war have been taken off the table. Yes, this is a war. But it is also a conflict, a struggle, a fracas, and, if you will, a melee.”

            Of course, even the harshest critics of Obama’s strategy, whether on the left or the right, are united in their abhorrence of ISIS. Nor is this limited to America and the west. For satire has long been a feature of  a number of countries in the Arab world, where its audiences  have been vastly expanded by satellite TV, YouTube and Twitter.  It is not surprising, then, that ISIS, the self-declared Islamic caliphate – brutal, reactionary, obscurantist and utterly humorless – should already have become a prime target for the regions’ satirists.

            In Lebanon the popular satiric TV show, Ktir Salbe, offered a sketch in which a cab driver picks up a terrorist who wants him to turn off the radio and the air conditioning because they didn’t exist at he beginning of Islam; but when the passenger turns on his cell phone the driver kicks him out, suggesting he hail a camel. Also in Lebanon a news site published an article suggesting that militants had postponed an invasion of Lebanaon  because of the complexity of Lebanese politics: “Who the f*** do we overthrow around here?”

            Social media delightedly displayed sightings of the alleged caliph, al-Baghdadi, wearing an expensive watch. Embedded image permalink

 Nor did the humorists shy from the movement’s sadistic brutality. A Palestinian TV channel aired a skit in which two militants, while comparing notes on great parties and sexual conquests, shoot Muslim civilians for not knowing how many times to kneel for prayers. Then they argue about who will earn the “blessing” for shooting an approaching Christian, and are furious when, terrified, he dies of a heart attack. In another clip a man is asked how many times the letter “A” appears in a Koran passage. He suggests they shoot him instead. They oblige.

                However, as reported by the Israeli newspaper, Arutz Sheva, Arab derision of ISIS can be combined with ridicule of other enemies. Al-Iraqi TV has announced a new series, “The Superstitious State” (“khirifa”, meaning superstition, replacing “khilafa”, meaning caliphate). It features a number of villainous characters – the Joker, Dracula, a US cowboy, Stalin - but the lead character is a red-clad devil with a pitchfork, and the premise is that ISIS is the product of a marriage between Satan and a Jewish woman.

            This is hardly likely to appeal to American and Israeli audiences. But otherwise it is heartening that there is satire in the Arab Middle East, and that much of it is directed at the medieval absurdities of al-Bagdadi and his  pseudo-caliphate. As the Lebanese TV producer, Nabil Assaf suggests: “These people are not a true representation of Islam and so by mocking the, it a way to show we are against them.” 

 It isn’t clear the Arab states will follow where we lead
Or help us by providing all the troops we say we need.
But even many Muslims who believe that goes too far
Believe this so-called caliph is quite utterly bizarre

Posted on Saturday, September 20, 2014 (Archive on Friday, June 16, 2017)



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