When "Saturday Night Live" showed Dakota Johnson joining the Islamic State last weekend, it sparked an entirely predictable controversy. Why exactly? Gallows humor is a natural and even admirable response in the face of what sometimes feels like an existential threat – consider the very Italian way Romans responded to threats from the Islamic State recently.
And anyway, while the Islamic State may feel like an existential threat in the United States or Europe, right now the threat is much more theoretical than real. Instead, the danger posed by the group is most keenly felt in the Middle East – not just in the "caliphate" that sprawls across Iraq and Syria, but also Libya and Egypt, where it has set up proxies, and other nearby states that are too close for comfort to the extremist organization and its disciples.
It's a bad situation, but all across the Middle East, we've seen people respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State with jokes, satire and mockery – the name generally used to describe the group in the region is Daesh, for example, a label the group hates. Sometimes the mockery is crude, sometimes it gets lost in translation, but it's still remarkably impressive to see a whole variety of people standing up to a humorless enemy with humor.
Here's 11 examples of the Middle East mocking the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS.
The Islamic State dance party
Many of the Islamic State's videos are accompanied by the same audio soundtrack – a jihadist nasheed, or chant, called "Salil al-Sawarim," which means "The Clashing of the Swords." Recently, some viewers noticed that the chant might sound quite good if you put a beat behind it, and they hijacked a hashtag dedicated to the nasheed (#صليل_الصوارم), turning an Islamic State song into a dance floor anthem.
Here's another great example:
The Islamic State and "the dress"
The Islamic State "gets" the Internet. Its gruesome videos are shared by social media accounts and specifically designed to maximize exposure. However, for all its efforts, the Islamic State's online success can't hold a candle to the viral hit that was "the dress," a photograph of a wedding garment that virtually created a war between rival Internet factions last week.
In response to the success of "the dress," a group of young friends in Gaza decided to make a parody video of the Islamic State's execution videos that referenced it. You could perhaps read a lot into the message behind the video, but it's best at its simplest: The Islamic State's memes are just as stupid as that stupid dress.
The Islamic State Twitter trolls
Some of the most virulent and crude mockery of the Islamic State appears on Twitter, a medium that the Islamic State uses itself for propaganda purposes. Two accounts in particular – @MawlanaBaghdadi and @ISIS_Med – subvert the social media message that the group spreads online, rebranding the group's religious fanaticism as puerile, sex-starved loserdom.
Iraq-focused publication Niqash spoke to both the creators of the above-mentioned Twitter accounts, who remained anonymous but revealed that they were both originally from Iraq. “Honestly, I really don’t have to look hard for satire material on ISIS," the creator of the Baghdadi account told Niqash. "They give me a lot of material to capitalize on because they're a huge joke.”
The Islamic State-themed wedding
Perhaps the oddest inclusion on this list, a wedding in Egypt was recently interrupted by a number of masked and armed "Islamic State" members, who led the bride and groom to a cage. Then, the unthinkable happened: A dance party began.
The groom in the video later told Youm7 that he had wanted something "different and distinct," while the bride told ThinkProgress: “[The Islamic State] came to the world by terrorism and murder, but our fun and smile will fight ISIS.”
The Islamic State forms a band
Various Kurdish forces have come to prominence in the fight against the Islamic State, so it makes sense that some of the most popular satirical responses to the threat have come from Kurdish groups. This one, which was aired on KurdSat TV, uses song to mock the Islamic State. "We are ISIS. We are ISIS," the chorus goes. "We milk the goat even if it is male."
The Islamic State's lady troubles
Lebanese television channel LBC has aired a number of sketches mocking the Islamic State. This one takes shots not only at the way that the extremists treat women, but also suggests that members of the Islamic State are driven by repression: At the end of the video, a woman stopped by the Islamic State for driving a car is able to escape – first by saying she has a bomb in her car, and then by seducing the militant.
The Islamic State as performance art
The Pan-Arabian Enquirer sees itself as the Middle East's version of the Onion, and it hits the right targets. The Islamic State is frequently mocked by the publication: For example, "Tony Blair takes on advisory role with newly formed Islamic Caliphate" and "New Islamic State jihadist accidentally packs wrong black flag."
A personal favorite, however, is "The Islamic State wins prestigious Turner Prize for modern art," which suggested that the Islamic State's recent destruction of irreplaceable artifacts was in fact a work of performance art that had won Britain's notoriously pretentious contemporary art prize.
“By demolishing priceless 3,000 year old statues with sledge hammers, ISIS is asking: ‘What is art?’, while retextualising normative art as transgressive, daring and counter cultural,” the chairman of the Turner Prize jury, Sir Nicholas Serota, was quoted as saying in the (obviously fictional and satirical) article. “I was very moved by their performance.”
The Islamic State through the eyes of Palestinians
One of the most popular examples of mockery of the Islamic State came from Palestinian satire show Watan ala Watar last year. In the sketch, Islamic State militants are portrayed as bumbling, hypocritical morons more interested in killing fellow Muslims than actual religion. At the end, after the group kills people from a variety of Arab states, the sketch makes a pointed political message as the Islamic State militants allow an Israeli to go free.
The 'birth' of the Islamic State
Iraq, a country at the center of the Islamic State's threat, has produced its fair share of mockery of the Islamic State. Particularly notable is the high-budget 30-part satirical series “State of Myths" which debuted last year. The trailer for the show was striking: It showed an American cowboy welcoming guests to a wedding between the devil and Israel. Their child, who hatches from an egg, is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State.
As The Post's Loveday Morris noted at the time, the show presented a not-altogether-positive view of how many Iraqis viewed their allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
The Islamic State smartphone
Maher Barghouthi, Anas Marwah and Nader Kawash, the three young creators of "The Weekly Show," are currently based in Ottawa, Canada, but they all grew up in the Middle East (the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and Syria, respectively). One of the most popular videos in their online series, published in both Arabic and English and inspired by Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," imagines a smartphone created by the Islamic State.
"There's something impeccably soothing about knowing that heaven is only a click of a button away," a commercial for the Islamic State phone states while touting the device's explosive qualities.
The Islamic State blooper reel
Despite their polished end products, it's almost certain that filming the Islamic State's propaganda videos required multiple takes to get the required effect. In the video above, a group of satirical filmmakers imagine what the "blooper" reel from one of these videos might look like. Does "Jihadi John" ever fluff his lines?
One interesting point about this video, by the way, is that it is made by an Israeli comedy group, who seem to have embraced the gallows humor so widespread among their Arab neighbors.
Any more examples we should add? Send an e-mail to let us know.
Update: This post has been edited to fix an error that referred to Dakota Johnson as Dakota Fanning.