SYRIA

Young Syrian comedians take aim at Islamic State group

The jihadist emir is busy smoking, drinking and sending 'selfies' on WhatsApp, but when a young recruit stops by, the emir quickly takes on the persona of a man of virtue. Strapping a belt packed with explosives around the young man’s waist, the emir promises him trouble-free entry to paradise. "We'll meet again!" he exclaims before sending him off. For some young Syrians living in Turkey, comedy sketches like this are a way to use humour to fight back against the Islamic State group's reign of barbaric terror and hypocrisy.

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A jihadist who secretly drinks and smokes. Screenshot taken from the video below.

The jihadist emir is busy smoking, drinking and sending 'selfies' on WhatsApp, but when a young recruit stops by, the emir quickly takes on the persona of a man of virtue. Strapping a belt packed with explosives around the young man’s waist, the emir promises him trouble-free entry to paradise. "We'll meet again!" he exclaims before sending him off. For some young Syrians living in Turkey, comedy sketches like this are a way to use humour to fight back against the Islamic State group's reign of barbaric terror and hypocrisy.

In June 2013, a group of young Syrians living in Turkey came up with a new way to denounce crimes carried out at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime: satire. The inspired youths assembled a team of producers, video editors, actors and scriptwriters to produce a series of satirical videos. Whilst some members already had years of experience, others learned on the job. They chose to call the new group 'Daya Al-Tasseh', a sarcastic expression that could be roughly translated as “It’s not looking good..."

In 2014, as the Islamic State group swept across Syria and Iraq, they decided to make the jihadist group the new target of its jokes. Every month, the team puts together video clips and comedy sketches designed to demystify the group's fighters, ridicule its so-called principles and chip away at the fear the IS group has instilled.

"Is there a better weapon in the fight against terror?"

Maen Wafte is a producer and amateur comedian as well as a founding member of 'Daya Al-Tasseh'.

When I was in Aleppo, I got myself a little camera to film both protests and repressive actions carried out by the regime. I was arrested during a protest at the university and I ended up spending six months in prison. I suffered a lot at the hands of the regime: they beat me and tortured me using electricity.

When I was released, I managed to cross the border into southern Turkey. There, my friend Youssef Helali and I came up with the idea of starting a project to support the Syrian revolution. Our goal from the start was to use humour as a weapon. I don’t think there is a better weapon in the fight against terror.

 

"They could easily bring us down, so we have to take precautions"

In the past year, we've produced many clips and sketches about the Islamic State group. We've also received lots of threats, which we have to take seriously. The jihadists were able to attack the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and we're only a few kilometres away from the Syrian border. They could easily bring us down, so we have to take precautions like changing our filming locations regularly. But we will carry on no matter what because we also receive many messages of support. The most touching are those from Syrians living in regions controlled by the Islamic State. These people don’t get to laugh or express themselves at all.

Check out, for example, this comedy sketch which has been watched several hundred thousand times on YouTube (See below). It's a caricature of an IS chief. The scene opens with a man wearing a fake beard sitting in the street, smoking, drinking alcohol, and listening to pop music. At one point, he pulls down his beard to take a few 'selfies' to text to a woman. When a bearded young man shows up, the chief quickly hides his glass and swaps his music for a recording of Muslim prayers. The chief tells the young recruit in broken Arabic how to get to Jerusalem and describes the beautiful virgins that await his arrival in heaven. Then he asks the young man - a Moroccan - to strap an explosive belt around his waist and kill soldiers fighting for the Free Syrian Army. The recruit runs off and you hear the sound of explosions. The chief flinches, then picks his drink back up and goes back to listening to pop music. We wanted to use this sketch to denounce the complete hypocrisy of the jihadist group and how they brainwash young recruits.

In another clip (see below), we filmed a close-up of a jihadist shouting about the greatness of the Islamic State group. In the video, it looks as if he is riding heroically onto the back of a horse, but when we zoom out, you see that he's actually riding a large statue of a dog. It's our way of poking fun at the group's ridiculous claim to grandeur: the IS group seriously believes that it can take on the United States with its middle age outlook. The other character in the sketch is a young soldier fighting for the Free Syrian Army, which, for us, represents the true Syrian revolution. In our sketch, he's the victor.

There's also this clip (see below) in which a member of the pro-regime Shabiha militia makes a genie appear. The genie offers to grant him one of his wishes. The militiaman asks to be able to continue killing without feeling any remorse or guilt. The genie magically transforms him into a jihadist: as he “kills in the name of God,” he no longer has to have a guilty conscience. I'm not saying that I prefer the Syrian regime to the Islamic State organisation. Both of them must be beaten, and we're doing it using comedy.

"We've just created a 'song' division in our group"

 

We've also just created a new "song" division in our group. We're proud of our latest creation: a teaser video set to Madonna's music. In a parody of an IS execution video, an executioner holds a knife to the throat of an apparent prisoner. The prisoner sings in English: "I will die so slowly" [sung to the rhythm of Madonna's song "Hung up"]. At the end, we included a play on a slogan well-known throughout the Arab world from the music channel 'Melody.’ "All English, all the time" becomes "all comedy, all the time" [Editor’s note: Here’s an example of a pretty funny Melody ad.]

Apart from all these humorous videos, we've also come up with a more serious campaign aimed at raising awareness of – and putting a stop to  – chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian regime. Comedy is a weapon, but sometimes it isn't enough when one considers the gravity of the crimes being carried out in Syria – particularly those against children.

Post written by France 24 journalist Dorothée Myriam KELLOU (@Dorakellou).