SATIRE IN IRAQ
If you want to be a satirist while living in Iraq
Though you say you’re only joking you had better watch your back.
Jon Stewart is your model but of course he knows it’s true
He doesn’t have to think about the things that worry you.
Ever since George W. Bush ordered the ill-fated invasion of Iraq that country has been a prime target of American satirists. But the ouster of Saddam also unleashed a recurrence of a long tradition of satire within Iraq. Cartoons, television show, on-line magazines and blogs all joined in a lively ridiculing of Iraqi political leaders as well as of U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Unfortunately, it proved to be a more dangerous game than in America. In 2006 Walid Hassan, whose “Caricature” sketch show was a popular Friday night TV program in Iraq, was gunned down. Several other journalists and TV employees were also murdered. This did not put end to satirical programming on TV and YouTube. But when Ahmad Bashir launched his own comedy show on YouTube, in which he mocked Sunni and Shiite clerics for inciting sectarian hostilities, he shot the show in Jordan to avoid threats from militia and terrorist groups.
But then the sudden emergence of a fiercely potent ISIS, and its claim to being an Islamic State, provided a fresh target for satirists. Iraqi Kurdish TV broadcast a Saturday Night Live style music video ridiculing a group of ISIS-style fighters singing: “We are bearded and filthy…We are brainless with nothing in our heads. We milk the goat even if it is male.”
Now state-run Al Iraqya TV has hosted a 30-episode “State of Superstition” (the title changes khalifa, or caliphate, to khirafa, or superstition.) The show, which is available in translation on YouTube, takes aim at multiple targets – gratuitous violence, radical Islam, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and, by implication, Israel -- ISIS is hatched from an egg laid by a Jewish woman married to Satan. But the main action is in a future Islamic State under a deranged “Beheader”. The show laughs as ISIS’ black beards; mocks their efforts at thought control (through the BBC – the Blood Broadcasting Corporation); and each episode ends with a choir of the former Saddam generals who run the ISIS army.
Says the director, Ali Al-Qasem: “By tackling this issue with humor you can reduce the fear of Islamic State among people, especially children….Everyone agrees the most important thing is protecting children, The Islamic State’s appearance, the way they look, is terrifying. By presenting them in a comedic way, I think we can help people to overcome that fear.” He goes further: “The whole world is talking about ISIS – America France – but once you make fun of them, they’re finished.”
Would it were so. But if his optimism is excessive his courage is admirable. “Making comedy about Islamic State is like trying to defuse a bomb” says the program’s writer. ”One mistake and you die.” So far it hasn’t happened, though they walk cautiously at night. Moreover, they continue to be supported by the state-run TV, in contrast to the banning of the Egypian satirist, Bassem Youseff. Still they remember the murder of Walid Hassan; and in the tumultuous Iraq of 2014 they know that they are playing in a much more dangerous game than their counterparts in America or Europe.