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Combating ISIS by Making Fun of It

In a basement in the Jordanian capital of Amman, three young men are arguing over whose turn it is to kill their next victim. Wearing explosive vests and flak jackets over their robes, the men re-emerge with party hats, singing “Happy birthday to ISIS,” as the studio audience of Iraq’s leading online satirical news series, the Al-Basheer Show, roars with laughter.

There isn’t usually a whole lot to laugh about when it comes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the extremist group that has committed countless atrocities in its march to power—and attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters in part by broadcasting those same atrocities. But while Western and regional governments scramble to drive back ISIS, young Arabs have found their own way to counter the group’s propaganda: comedy.

“Making fun of the enemy is the best way of defeating them,” says Ahmad al-Basheer, the 30-year-old host of his namesake show, which has racked up more than 26 million views online since it began broadcasting in April 2014. The Al-Basheer Show is one of many such parodies that have flourished in the Middle East, where millions of Muslims have grown increasingly outraged by ISIS’s theology. The ridicule comes in various forms—television shows, plays, cartoons and songs—but they share the same message: for all its claims to the contrary, ISIS is not Islamic.

Guy Martin—Panos for TIMEAmman, Jordan at night.
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