“We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day,” wrote a 19-year-old American on his way to join the Islamic State in Syria shortly before his arrest at Chicago O’Hare International Airport earlier this month. Like about 100 would-be American jihadists caught leaving the country – and, according to the FBI, about a dozen already in the fight – this young man had been seduced by other frustrated young men in black balaclavas wielding severed heads and a nihilistic ideology. If an organization that brags about enslaving children isn’t self-evidently repugnant to some young people stateside, how can homegrown Islamist militants be stopped?
Here’s how: Halloween.
On that day, we make light of our greatest fears by dressing up as them. Acceptable “bad guy” Halloween costumes include: the Grim Reaper, ninjas, Richard Nixon, Skeletor, Satan, Darth Vader, Maoist soldiers and even Osama bin Laden. Some of these demons are real, and some are not. That’s the power of Halloween: It can defang even Death itself by putting it on the same level as, say, a sexy nurse. And that’s why we need droves of American boys and girls to don Islamic State Halloween costumes on Oct. 31. Let goofy photos of them fill the Internet.
Yes, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is scary. This insurgent army, fueled by spectacular executions, has made substantial military gains. Their victims — including Americans — have suffered mightily, and mocking them can’t bring back the people they’ve killed.
But while tactical airstrikes target the Islamic State on the ground, Americans at home can play a strategic game for hearts and minds by making it look uncool to act like angry radicalized adolescents nursing grudges and growing pains. Imagine little ISIS satirists waving black flags and holding orange plastic Jack-o-Lanterns, standing between Wonder Woman and Yoda, licking chocolate off of their fingers. This is not what self-seriousness and respectability look like. Evil isn’t banal; it’s infantile.
We still hold certain Halloween taboos. When Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi for a Halloween party in 2005, ignominy followed. But it shouldn’t have. When a member of the British royal family can idly dress up as a long-defeated madmen who once threatened Britain’s very existence, it’s the ultimate tribute to Churchillian wherewithal.
Indeed, even as Adolph Hitler stormed across Europe, entertainers kept busy ridiculing him. Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” released in 1940 when Germany’s defeat was far from assured, turned the Fuhrer into a gleeful child bouncing an air-filled globe toward the ceiling with his rear end.
Less lauded, but no less effective, was the Three Stooges’ “You Natzy Spy!,” released months before Chaplin’s film. Moe, a workman sporting a smudge of paint that looks like a familiar mustache, is made dictator of an insurgent country called Moronica. Pals Larry and Curly are appointed his ministers. Sample dialogue:
Moe: We’ll take the job. What do we do?
Evildoer: First you start a beer putsch.
Curly: You putcha beer down and wait for the pretzels. Nyuk, nyuk!
These brave men — Jewish men, in the case of the Stooges — making these films not long after Charles Lindbergh was honored by Nazi leader Hermann Göring did not win World War II. But by making Hitler look like a fool, they made Time’s 1939 Man of the Year seem a beatable baby. Turning someone into a cartoon is an act of castration even more effective than the long-lived urban legend that Hitler had only one testicle.
Why can’t children join the mockery, too? We need more of these lighthearted, but spiritually crippling parries in the battle against the Islamic State. We can’t dismiss the deaths of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and others. But to honor those slain by ISIS, we should fight their executioners not just with cruise missiles but also with laughter.
That’s why it was disheartening to see President Obama retreat from his brilliant analogy: the Islamic State as al-Qaeda’s “JV team.” No matter how dangerous these guys are, they will be less of a threat when they are the target of popular ridicule. Nobody wants to give his or her life for a farce.
So forget “too soon”: Let’s expose the sullen, anti-Semitic, un-Islamic, homophobic rapist brats running around Syria and Iraq for the clowns they are by clothing our kids in balaclavas and black flags this Halloween. Let’s make dressing up as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi more like dressing up as the Iron Sheik. Let’s make these goons fodder for a costume party. Because if you can trick-or-treat as Genghis Khan — who allegedly killed so many people that carbon emissions decreased — on Halloween, you can trick-or-treat as anybody.
As a concession to safety only, the AK-47s can be neon orange.