Dancing to the drums of the Islamic State - Arabs mock IS

By Leil-Zahra Mortada, April 4 2015

Tactical Tech's has been documenting creative use of information and visuals for activism (10 Tactics & 10 Tactics Remixed) in addition to the resource and reference book "Visualising Information for advocacy" and in this post we present a thriving cluster of remixes, films and memes by Arabs ridiculing IS.

Despite the geographical proximity and the immediate threats of the Islamic State (IS), known in the Arabic-speaking region as Daesh,  Arab youth and artists are using humour and satire as acts of popular resistance and retaliation against IS' manipulation of Muslim and Arab culture(s). These take the forms of musical remixes of IS anthems, short parody sketches, dubbed scenes from movies and original works. Such work is important for its courage, creativity and humour; and for how they mount counter-narratives to IS's propaganda. They're also a proof of how it is possible to use humour and satire without falling into racist and/or Islamophobic discourses. An example of freedoms of expression and speech put in practice signaling out perpetrators of crimes without stigmatising entire cultures and religions. 

Singing IS's ill-logic

In summer 2014, the Lebanese band “The Great Departed” issued a song under the title “Madad Baghdadi” or “Mawlid Sidi Al-Baghdadi” (The Mawlid of my master Baghdadi). A song with strains of Sufi chanting became popular on social and mainstream media and became a much-awaited highlight in the band's live repertoire. The band smartly employed satire to present counter arguments to the extremist interpretations of Islam promoted by IS and to ridicule the contradictions in their propaganda.

Battle of the beats

Salil As-Sawarim (Clanking of the Swords) is one of the famous IS anthems (nasheed) frequently heard in their videos. Like all IS songs, this one follows strict limitations regarding beats and melody according to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. In retaliation against this psychological warfare, Egyptian Karem Farok mixed Salil As-Sawarim into Shaabi genre turning it from a chant of terror into a dance hit. The tune used in the remix uses beats that IS considers 'forbidden' and ridicules it with a lighthearted and joyful tune. It becomes pretty hard to take the IS anthem seriously after listening to what Karem did with it.

Yet, as if adding forbidden beats wasn't enough to put a stake through IS's heart of propaganda; videos started popping up too. The remix was dubbed into scenes from popular movies, local dances, and homemade videos in clear defiance of IS's restriction on artistic expression. A group of Egyptian girls further crossed IS rules by by dancing to the solemn call for Jihad. Dressed as IS militias with a hostage about to beheaded, they break into a Shaabi dance to Farok's remix.

IS: The Wedding Hit

Arab humour and ridicule of IS's ideology and terror doesn't stop at remixing songs and memes. An Egyptian groom and bride designed their first dance around IS crimes, filmed it and shared it online. In the video the wedding guests were stormed by a group of masked men, 'the wedding fighters', with knives,  approach the groom who in turn tries to protect the bride, before they are both led into a cage with their names on it. Then all of them start dancing to popular Egyptian music.

IS and #thedress

The discussion around #thedress occupied a good chunk of social media space, and extended to mainstream media. Hashtags were fired and the debate heated up till scientists got involved. This was the inspiration for this group of young people from Gaza to mock IS's politics and how they turn everything, including the most banal, into a reason for more horrendous murders. In the video an IS militiaman asks hostages to decide on the color of the dress under the threat of being killed.

IS the series

Syrian video collective, Daya Altaseh, works primarily on issues touching the lives of the Syrian people, and as part of the Syrian revolution against both Assad and IS. Among their productions, they have a series of videos focusing on IS using both satire and melancholy. In their work they touch upon the hypocrisy of IS and their double standards, in addition to positioning them alongside Assad as enemies of the revolution and the people.

Humour and Parody for Advocacy and Dissidence

The production of anti-IS satire, and its reception, is quite fertile in the Arab-speaking region. The above examples mentioned are just a few of what is happening both offline and online. Though IS has not yet officially commented on these parody pieces, it is clear that they take the media battle quite seriously judging the productions they are releasing. 

Humour, parody and provocation can be very effective tools in political activism and advocacy, but nevertheless they are not the easiest to get right. They could be rather risky; from falling into stereotypes that can re-establish discriminatory discourses to overused cliches that do not capture the attention of the public nor help get the idea across. Tactical Tech's Visualising Information for Advocacy has some good recommendations and case studies on the topic.  


Leil-Zahra Mortada is an Arab transfeminist queer activist and filmmaker, works at Tactical Technology Collective and can be found here @LeilZahra 

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