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Death Threats, Praise For Saudi Comic Who Dared To Laugh At IS

Saudi actor Nasser al-Qasabi (2nd left) plays the role of an Islamic State fighter in the new Saudi TV show Selfie,a sketch comedy show that debuted last week on Saudi-owned pan-Arab satellite channel MBC.
Saudi actor Nasser al-Qasabi (2nd left) plays the role of an Islamic State fighter in the new Saudi TV show Selfie,a sketch comedy show that debuted last week on Saudi-owned pan-Arab satellite channel MBC.

A Saudi comedian whose satirical TV show pokes fun at the Islamic State (IS) militant group has received death threats, as well as an outpouring of support and praise.

The 45-minute sketch show, Selfie, which is being broadcast over Ramadan by Saudi-owned pan-Arab satellite channel MBC, is the creation of 53-year-old funnyman Nasser al-Qasabi.

The show's mockery of IS includes jokes about "sex jihad" and sex slavery, floggings, and beheadings.

In it, Qasabi plays a Saudi father who travels to Syria and pretends to want to join IS in order to search for his IS militant son. But his cover is blown and the hapless father faces execution.

Though it mocks IS, portraying its militants as brainless, clownish thugs, Selfie has a darker message about how the extremist group brainwashes people and tears families apart.

In one moving scene, Qasabi's character is condemned to death by IS militants. He is shocked when his own son demands to be the one to behead him.

Death Threats

That the show struck a chord -- or a raw nerve -- was all too apparent from the tsunami of social-media responses.

Pro-IS accounts rushed to condemn Qasabi. Some accused the Saudi comedian of being an "apostate." And predictably -- though somewhat ironically, given the plot of Selfie -- others threatened to behead the Saudi comedian.

One Twitter user, @s_2f, tweeted to Qasabi that militants would "not rest until they cut your head from your body in just a few days hopefully." The account has now been suspended.


Other Arabic-language social-media accounts countered the IS threats with praise and support for Qasabi and for Selfie.

The outpouring of support for the show and its creator has spawned a number of hashtags, including the Arabic equivalents of "Selfie," "Thank you Nasser al-Qasabi," and "We are all Nasser al-Qassabi."

Twitter user Mohamed Elias used the "Thank you Nasser al-Qasabi" hashtag to write, "This is the true jihad, risked his career and family just to deliver a message about IS."

Other Twitter users argued that Qasabi had told the truth about IS in the face of the group's propaganda messages.

User @hussainalhejji said Qasabi had "illustrated everything about #ISIS for those who turned off their minds," while @Mona_AlShehri said the show represented the "heartbreaking truth."

The scene in which the IS militant son demands to behead his own father caused some emotional reactions.

Twitter user @AboodyB92, who posted a clip of that scene, said the show "represents the reality" of IS. And @DrMariamFida lamented having watched the final scene, it moved him so:

A tweet by Qasabi thanking Twitter users for their support had garnered more than 16,700 retweets and over 7,200 "favorites" on June 23.

"My Twitter account is overflowing with those cursing at me and threatening me with all sorts of curse words and threats," Qasabi tweeted. "I tell them all, stay calm and have a happy Ramadan, the show is still in its very beginning!"

Not Just Saudi Arabia...

Selfie's mockery of IS has had an impact outside Saudi Arabia.

Jordan's Al-Ghad newspaper praised Selfie for showing the reality of IS, and noted that it had an effect on the Jordanian people who were yet to heal from IS's burning alive of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh earlier this year.

Pan-Arabic outlet Al-Hayat praised Qasabi for exposing himself to "danger and death threats" in order to warn his community about the "impending disaster" of IS.

Qasabi is not the first person to use humor as a tool to counter IS.

In January, Japanese Twitter users used the social-media platform to share images mocking IS after the group threatened to behead two Japanese hostages.

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world.


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