"Speak now or forever hold your peace in pieces."
A few days ago, I stumbled upon a video of BBC2 Revolting’s new comedy sketch, ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’.
Naturally, it received a lot of criticism for its insensitivity and making fun of the plight of women under ISIS — or at least, that’s the understanding that a lot of people got from it.
This sketch satirises the reality of women (contextually, British women) who were groomed into joining the Islamic terrorist group, as seen from their mentions of ‘online chatrooms’ in the sketch. A lot of people felt like it was a vile act on BBC’s part to allow such a “morally bankrupt” sketch to air. The fear was that this new sketch, and its ‘misrepresentation of Muslim women’, will further marginalise and instigate the already-dire hate against Muslims, especially against Muslim women. I’ve also seen a lot of arguments questioning the choice to parody Jihadi brides instead of the terrorist organisation itself. If you’re going to make fun of ISIS, why make fun of those caught in their trap instead?
While all these concerns are valid, as a long time fan of satire and comedy (plus being Muslim myself), I honestly think that politically incorrect humour like this has its positive effects.
It’s worth noting that BBC isn’t the first to make parodies of/about the terrorist group. There have been many Muslim, or at least culturally Muslim, parodies that were made in the East. The only difference is that BBC is an English-speaking platform that has easier access to a global audience, thus it has a higher probability of becoming viral.
1. Negative/positive representation
There have been complaints about how ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ misrepresents Muslim women, and this in itself will only worsen the increasing Islamophobia. What a lot of these people also seem to miss is the context of the sketch, which does not mock Muslim women per se, but British women who were groomed online into flying overseas to willingly offer themselves as Jihadi brides.
A lot of different types and classes of people have been mis/represented in the entertainment industry, especially in satire in which its main function is to exaggerate realities. In the case of ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’, this is the exaggerated representation of women who place ISIS soldiers on a pedestal and are ‘fangirls’ of the terrorist organisation.
2. Mocking of women oppressed under ISIS
One of the concerns that was brought up is how insensitive BBC is for ‘trivialising’ the horrors and atrocities that Muslim women caught under the yoke of ISIS face. While I agree that there is absolutely nothing hilarious about their mistreatment, like I have mentioned above, the sketch does not emphasise on women who were coerced into becoming Jihadi brides but on those who were somehow swayed and willing to become one. It also shows the delusions that these women experience, thinking that their life under ISIS is better than life back at home.
3. Highlighting disappointing truths
As much as we want to raise awareness the politically correct way, talks, speeches, and long articles (like this one) don’t always get the attention it deserves. A vast population of people prefer things that are generally more light-hearted, like comedy. Even though comedy seems like the last place one should look in order to search for world updates or social issues, a lot of times it has raised awareness on problematic aspects of society.
People have been trying to create discussion around the rising number of online grooming cases by terrorist groups, but unless you’re the type to read the news all the time, you’re most likely to miss it or show little concern for it. However, ever since ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ became viral, I have started seeing more discussion surrounding the problem of young women fleeing home to become a Jihadi bride. One of the things that stuck out the most for me in the sketch was the incorporation of social media into it, reminding us how real this problem is in our modern world and how easy it is for terrorist organisations to recruit people.
4. Thwarting the problem
Seeing as to how giving yourself up willingly to become a part of ISIS’ sexual jihad is an act deserving of mockery, the aim and hope is that it stops — or at least lessens — the temptation to join it. Women, or girls, who are already in the process of getting groomed could and might change their mind after realising what a foolish decision it would be to choose to become a Jihadi bride, especially after seeing the pains the women in the sketch go through for their beloved husbands.
Jolyon Rubinstein, one of the minds behind BBC2’s Revolting, mentions “The target is online grooming. It’s about people who are vulnerable to these kind of approaches.”
The saddest reality is that there are already women and girls who have been successfully manipulated and swayed into becoming Jihadi brides, and their suffering is not to be downplayed. However, it is with optimism and high hopes that I believe comedy can be a good outlet to raise these issues when traditional media fails to.
One of my biggest concerns since the release of this sketch, however, is the fact that Muslims “don’t know how to take a joke”. I have seen people who are furious about the fact that the sketch is ‘an attack towards Islam’. Knowing how Islamist fundamentalists are, I fear that this might play out into a Charlie Hebdo 2.0, though I am really hoping that it does not.
For the longest time, people of other faiths and religions have mocked themselves and problematic aspects of their beliefs. As a Muslim, I believe it is about time we probably do the same if we want to reclaim religion from the hands of those who have tainted it with the blood of innocent people.
In my honest opinion, politically incorrect humour is not given enough credit for its shameless bravery to attack issues that most people would generally tread on eggshells about. Religious radicalism is well and alive, and this satire highlights the disappointing reality of delusional women getting swayed into their regime.
Looking at how people are fighting tooth and nail over the sketch also reminds us that there is one more dire problem: That in times like these, we are more concerned about what society should or should not be finding funny, instead of collectively working together to combat religious radicalism.