Iraqi TV fun­ny­man fights Is­lamic State fears with laugh­ter

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY KA­MAL TAHA

De­fy­ing death threats, an Iraqi tele­vi­sion co­me­dian is fight­ing the Is­lamic State group with bit­ing satire aimed at lift­ing the aura of fear that is one of the ji­hadists’ strong­est weapons.

Two men with fake beards walk into a bar and ask for or­ange juice and “halal” wa­ter, with a wink and a smile to the bar­man who promptly serves them two glasses of al­co­hol.

“This round’s on the caliph, to mark the first an­niver­sary of the oc­cu­pa­tion of Mo­sul,” the waiter says be­fore a bomb blast cuts short his ref­er­ence to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi and the cap­ture of the north­ern Iraqi city.

Ah­mad al-Basheer, who has been likened to renowned U.S. po­lit­i­cal satirist Jon Stewart, says he aims to “break the im­age” of the ji­hadists and their de­clared pu­ri­tan­i­cal en­force­ment of Sharia Is­lamic laws.

Mil­lions of Iraqis tune in weekly for “The Basheer Show” and its diet of ir­rev­er­ence and no­holds-barred hu­mor.

“Weapons are not the best so­lu­tion for Iraq,” he says at his stu­dio in Amman, cap­i­tal of neigh­bor­ing Jor­dan.

“We fight IS with satire. Af­ter all, its mem­bers are only hu­man. We can fight them by mak­ing fun of them.”

Basheer says his pro­gram shows IS lead­ers for what they are, rather than re­li­gious paragons.

“Their ha­los drop and they be­come sim­ple hu­man be­ings. That’s why it’s very dan­ger­ous for them,” he says.

“We make fun of ev­ery­one who is bad for our coun­try, start­ing with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who make mis­takes and fail to do their jobs, then cor­rupt and bad politi­cians, or those who ex­ploit re­li­gion for po­lit­i­cal ends, and fi­nally ex­trem­ists, sec­tar­ian stir­rers and mili­tias.”

Time to Leave Iraq

Basheer is an ex-jour­nal­ist who worked for sev­eral dif­fer­ent Iraqi tele­vi­sion sta­tions un­til 2011 when he nar­rowly es­caped in­jury in a bomb at­tack at a fes­ti­val in the western city of Ra­madi that cost the lives of seven col­leagues.

He de­cided it was time to leave his vi­o­lence-wracked home­land and re­set­tled in Jor­dan.

Fre­quent death threats are a con­se­quence of his new busi­ness of pok­ing fun at tar­gets in­clud­ing IS ji­hadists who have oc­cu­pied large parts of Iraq and Syria, where they are ac­cused of wide­spread atroc­i­ties.

“Most of the threats come from IS or peo­ple loyal to the mili­tias ... through so­cial media like Twit­ter or Face­book but also by post or SMS on our mo­biles,” he says.

“We’ve got used to it. New threats come in af­ter ev­ery episode.”

The 30-year-old runs a mod­ern stu­dio in Amman and heads a 24-mem­ber team, mostly fel­low Iraqis, in­clud­ing a unit which fol­lows all the latest news from back home.

One of the latest shows poked fun at the con­tra­dic­tory state­ments com­ing from Iraqi of­fi­cials on how Mo­sul is to be re­cap­tured from more than a year of IS con­trol.

While Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi says the bat­tle for Mo­sul has al­ready been un­der way for three months, Vice Pres­i­dent Iyad Allawi goes on the air to ad­mit he doesn’t know when Iraqi se­cu­rity forces backed by mili­tia al­lies will fi­nally launch the op­er­a­tion.

In another scene, an IS standup co­me­dian tells “jokes” to an au­di­ence who know they risk death un­less they show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“What was the name of the first sui­cide bomber who blew him­self up and went to par­adise? He was called ‘Boom,’” quips the co­me­dian.

A mem­ber of the au­di­ence bursts into laugher, only to be or­dered to stand up and is gunned down in a burst of Kalash­nikov fire.

“That wasn’t a joke. That was a test. How can the mar­tyr­dom of a brother make us laugh?” was the cau­tion­ary mes­sage from the per­former.

“We’re just try­ing to make Iraqis laugh so they can live a nor­mal life and for­get their trou­bles for a while,” Basheer says.

“Laugh­ter is the best way to unify peo­ple the world over. It’s smil­ing that makes us all hu­man.”


(Top) Iraqi Ah­mad al-Basheer, host of the “Basheer Show,” poses on Wed­nes­day, July 29 in his stu­dio in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal, Amman. (Above) Iraqi Ah­mad al-Basheer, third right, host of the “Basheer Show,” poses with his team on Wed­nes­day at his stu­dio in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal, Amman.

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