#BBCtrending: The Iraqis who laugh at Islamic State

  • 1 October 2014

Don't be afraid of Islamic State (IS), laugh at them instead - that is the message of an Iraqi sitcom that has aired on TV and been widely shared online.

This is a jihadist online video like no other. A group of crazed IS fighters sits in a circle, while the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi conducts them in song, waving leather whips wildly. The young men have beards and wave around weapons. "We banned smoking cigarettes and displaced all Christians," they sing. "We banned all extra-marital sex, except with jihadist fighters". Each chorus ends with a call for the "executioner" to come and join them.

Of course, this isn't a real scene, and it certainly isn't from one of the disturbing videos posted online by Islamic State itself. It's is the theme music from Dawlat al-Khurafa (Mythical State), a comedy series in Iraq that satirises the jihadist group. The series depicts a dysfunctional country ruled by IS militants. The first episode aired on Saturday on al-Iraqiyya, one of Iraq's main TV channels. Meanwhile, the theme song has become an online hit in Iraq, viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube.

The series, of which there are 30 episodes, was written by Thaer al-Hasnawi, who lives in Baghdad. He says that IS, which is very active on social media, is winning the information war and that Iraqi people are terrified by the significant territorial gains they have made in Iraq since June. So he decided to use humour to reduce the fear that now grips his country. "We are doing this so that children don't go to bed scared of Islamic State," he says. The team behind the comedy series say they are also trying to challenge the jihadists' extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Hundreds of people have commented on the videos online, many of them laughing along with the jokes. But some Sunnis have perceived the series as an attack on them by Iraq's majority Shia community. "Is laughing and goofing around all that Shia can do? Go learn how to be a Muslim first," wrote one YouTube user. But Hasnawi insists they tried not to offend Sunnis. He says they included a moderate Sunni figure in the series to whom other characters come for guidance. He says this was to emphasise that IS did not represent most Sunnis.

In fact, this is not the first Iraqi parody to poke fun of IS. "Dashawi" - a slang term for an IS militant, based on the Arabic acronym for the group, Da'ish - is the name of a very recent TV cartoon series making fun at the group's interpretation of Islam. As US-led airstrikes continue against IS, its social media activity has also been reduced. Twitter has shut down accounts that are thought to be affiliated to the group and fighters have been asked to stop publicising their activities, lest it give away their positions during battles.

Reporting by Mai Noman

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