Article publié dans le New York Times et en première page de l’International New York Times.
LONDON — Viewed more than one million times on YouTube, the blooper reel shows a knife-wielding executioner fumbling through his prepared text, in one instance mispronouncing “circumstances” as “circumcision.”
After multiple takes, including a tentative escape by the captive, clad, of course, in an orange jumpsuit, the militants finally kill their victim and congratulate themselves, only to realize they have not recorded anything. So they decide to do the video again, this time beheading their sound man.
The parody is one in an expanding universe of sometimes funny, sometimes tasteless and almost always provocative sendups of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, that have proliferated across the Internet in recent months. At the risk of offending sensibilities by searching for humor in the horrific, many also aim to cut the extremists down to size.
If the Islamic State has uniquely promoted itself as a terrorist group of the digital age, propagandizing, it seems, its every atrocity on video, then perhaps it is only fair that it answers to the digital age as well. The ridicule has come in nearly all forms — cartoons, videos, songs and stories — and from all quarters, though mostly from Muslims themselves.
James B. Hoesterey, assistant professor of religion and Islamic studies at Emory University in Atlanta, said the reason Islamic State fighters made such a good target was “most Muslims don’t agree with their theology.”
“I think the most important videos for my perspective are those that show them as not very pious,” he added in a telephone interview.
He pointed to an example from a Palestinian comedy show, “Watan ala Watar.” In one scene, Islamic State fighters stop a man at a checkpoint and ask where he is from. Hearing his answer, the two militants have an exchange about “how good the girls are there,” Mr. Hoesterey said. “This is making an implicit attack on their piety.”
Others — like Giora Zinger, Yossi Gavni and Omer Burshtein, stand-up comedians from Israel who are the writers and actors of the blooper video — have sought to turn the group’s own penchant for slick video production on its head.
“I was thinking that their beheading videos look like very organized productions,” Mr. Zinger said by telephone. “They shoot in two angles, and the sound is very clear, and it is recorded with good equipment. I was thinking, What happened behind the scenes?”
Mr. Gavni added, “We tried to focus on the absurd, that for ISIS, it is a bad thing to show people kissing, but to show beheadings is good.”
Similarly, the group’s appetite for strong production values has inspired students from Carleton University in Ottawa. Anas Marwah, who is from Syria, and his friends Maher Barghouthi and Nader Kawash, who are Palestinians, all 23, started their online satirical program, “The Weekly Show,” in September.
“ISIS has been using a lot of slick propaganda videos to attract youth,” Mr. Marwah, the host and producer, said by telephone. “One of our aims, after comedy, is in fact to send a countermessage to the youth, making fun and degrading ISIS.”
One of their parodies, which has been viewed more than 13,000 times, is a fake advertisement, in the style of Apple, for an ISIS phone, the “ISIS 9 air,” and apps such as the “LogBook.”
The fake app allows users “to write down the number of people you killed and the number of each one of them with the corresponding numbers of hasanat,” meaning points earned for a good deed.
Even some satirists, like Karl Sharro, an architect who writes a satirical blog, Karl reMarks, are the first to acknowledge that not all of the sketches are funny, and that much of the satire does offend tastes and sensitivities.
“A lot of people are doing silly stuff, and I don’t find it funny at all,” he said. “It is just trying to jump on the bandwagon.”
But, nonetheless, some of the satire is quite skilled and contains a powerful message.
He pointed to a song, “Madad Baghdadi” by a Lebanese band, The Great Departed. Its chorus praises Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, but the lyrics are ironical.
“It uses traditional Arabic style of singing, a way of singing that is similar to how people sing religious songs,” Mr. Sharro said. “It is very clever, bold and brave.”
The parodies have not been limited to the Internet. On “Saturday Night Live” on Feb. 28, Dakota Johnson, one of the stars of the film “Fifty Shades of Grey,” played a daughter being dropped off from a car by her father. “You’ll be careful, O.K.?” he tells her. “Dad, it’s just ISIS,” she replies. The skit generated controversy on social media, with some questioning whether the phenomenon of girls joining the Islamic State was really a laughing matter.
Surprisingly, perhaps, mocking religion or terrorism in the context of the Islamic State has been less taboo in some Arab countries, where the restrictions are more political than cultural because the Islamic State is a common enemy of several Arab countries. Al Iraqiya, a public station in Iraq, even broadcast an anti-Islamic State show called “The Superstitious State.”
“Satire really reflects the power, the political balance of power in a society, more than any kind of cultural taboo,” said Marwan M. Kraidy, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in the Arab world and global media.
Bassem Youssef, the former host of a popular satirical show in the Middle East, “Al Bernameg,” who is now a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, explained that for many, laughing at the Islamic State was an antidote to fear.
“People found a way to fight against this through humor and satire and through making fun of this crazy people,” he said. “It is not a weapon. It just brings more people into the discussion, and these people are the one who make the change.”
Mr. Youssef, whose show was canceled after constant pressure and threats against him and his team, is now busy doing a crowdfunding campaign for a documentary about his life called “Tickling Giants.”
But if “Al Bernameg” was still on the air, he said: “I would actually make fun of ISIS every single day. They have so much material, and I think there is a lot of stuff that you can get out of them.”