Saudi Comedian Satirizing Islamic Extremism Receives Mixed Reactions


CNN has a long buildup to the introduction of Saudi comedian Nasser al-Qasabi, stressing how amazing it is to see the menace of ISIS tackled with humor. “Humor may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the topic is ISIS, a group known for mass rape and torture, and for posting videos of its members beheading captives or burning them alive,” the network writes. “Not a lot of yuks in that, it wouldn’t seem.”

Actually, what makes al-Qasabi controversial is that there is something of a yuk deficit in the Muslim world, especially among hard-liners. He doesn’t just mock ISIS, as CNN’s article promptly makes clear:

The Arab world has gone mad over Al Qasabi’s 45-minute satirical TV series “Selfie”–which is shown by MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center–and discussion of the show is all the rage on social media.

Many people support the comedian. But, as shown by hashtags such as #SlaughterNasserAlQasabi and #NasserAlQasabi’sheadwanted, not everyone is amused.

Al Qasabi started the show off with a bang. The first episode of “Selfie” was about an artist who quit the music industry to repent and become a cleric. The satire skewered untrustworthy clerics and extremist religious figures in Saudi Arabia.

Many Saudis were outraged. Some called Al Qasabi an apostate.

And one Saudi cleric was so unimpressed with Al Qasabi’s satirical approach to religion that he took to Twitter.

“Al Qasabi is mocking Muslim clergy, could he possibly mock any Shi’a clerics?! Oh I swear it is people like him who are reason that extremism and radicalism spread!”

The guy does one episode of a comedy series, and not only is he denounced as an apostate, he gets dragged into a sectarian mockery crossfire. Tough crowd!

It was not until episode 2 of al-Qasabi’s show that he got into mocking ISIS, with an episode that “followed a Saudi father who traveled to Syria in search of his son, who had joined ISIS. But the father ended up involved with ISIS as well.” The episode included some mockery of the Islamic State’s penchant for “sex jihad” and ended with “the son putting a knife to his father’s neck, preparing to slaughter him.”

Sounds hilarious! Unsurprisingly, the comedian is getting death threats from ISIS, as well as brickbats from the less chuckle-prone end of the Saudi Islamic spectrum. On the other hand, he got a word of encouragement from former U.S. State Department official Michael Rubin, who described free thinking as too much for Islamists to handle and ridiculed it as their “kryptonite.”

This is true enough, but the real problem highlighted by the response to al-Qasabi is that he is running into resistance against free thinking and ridicule long before he enters the “Islamist” realm of violence-prone totalitarianism.