Blasting away at ISIS with wicked satire in battle of wit

Iraqi satirist Ahmad al-Basheer at his studio in Amman, Jordan. Even though he gets death threats after every episode of The Basheer Show, he refuses to back down - determined to battle corrupt officials and those who exploit religion for political e
Iraqi satirist Ahmad al-Basheer at his studio in Amman, Jordan. Even though he gets death threats after every episode of The Basheer Show, he refuses to back down - determined to battle corrupt officials and those who exploit religion for political ends, while giving Iraqis at home something to laugh about, so they can "forget their troubles for a while".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Iraqi TV host lampoons militants to reveal their true face, break stranglehold of fear

AMMAN • Defying death threats, an Iraqi television comedian is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group with biting satire aimed at lifting the aura of fear that is one of the militants' 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 at 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," he says before a bomb blast cuts short his reference to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the capture of the Iraqi city.

TV show host Ahmad al-Basheer, who has been likened to American political satirist Jon Stewart, wants to use such sketches to "break the image" of the militants and their declared puritanical enforcement of Islamic syariah laws.

Millions of Iraqis tune in to The Basheer Show for its diet of irreverence and no-holds-barred humour.

"Weapons are not the best solution for Iraq," Mr Basheer said at his studio in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

"We fight IS with satire. Its members are only human. We can fight them by making fun of them," he said, using another name for ISIS.

He said his programme shows ISIS leaders for what they are, rather than religious paragons.

"Their halos drop, and they become simple human beings. That is why it is very dangerous for them.

"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."

A former journalist, he worked for several Iraqi TV stations until 2011, when he narrowly escaped injury in a bomb attack at a festival in Ramadi city that killed seven colleagues. He left his violence-torn homeland and resettled in Jordan.

Death threats are common in his new business of poking fun at targets that include ISIS militants, who have occupied large parts of Iraq and Syria.

"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 said. "We have 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 that follows all the latest news from back home.

"We are just trying to make Iraqis laugh, so they can live a normal life and forget their troubles for a while," Mr Basheer said.

"Laughter is the best way to unify people the world over. It's smiling that makes us all human."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Blasting away at ISIS with wicked satire in battle of wit'. Print Edition | Subscribe