Every so often, a religion story comes along that is simply fun to read about. Such is the reporting on “Real Housewives of ISIS,” a BBC comedy spoofing the daily regimen of the women who went to Syria to become jihadi brides.
The photo with it gives you an idea of what’s to come. Four women who are fully cloaked in hijabs and body-covering black robes, stand arm-in-arm gazing at one of the women’s iPhones as she takes a selfie of them all. Another of the women is wearing a suicide vest.
Instead of wallowing in political correctness and seeking out every indignant Muslim group possible, British journalists stuck to the basics in their news coverage of a piece on religion and satire.
Here’s how The Guardian describes it:
As 23-year-old student Zarina watches Real Housewives of Isis on a phone amid the bustle of Whitechapel market in the east end of London, she puts her hand to her mouth and gasps before bursting into laughter.
On the screen a hijab-wearing character models a suicide vest for her fellow jihadi wives. “What do you think?” she asks. “Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The pal reacts by excitedly posting a picture on Instagram, saying: “Hashtag OMG. Hashtag Jihadi Jane. Hashtag death to the west, ISIS emoji.”
The comedy sketch -- aired this week as part of BBC2’s new comedy series Revolting -- has come under fire from some viewers who have called it “morally bankrupt” and insensitive, while others have accused the BBC of making “Hijabis feel more isolated [and] targeted by Islamophobes”. Comedians, however, have said that reaction to the sketch is part of a growing culture of offense which -- alongside stories that overhype the reaction -- are in danger of stifling one of Britain’s most successful exports: its satire.
What’s interesting about the piece is that the reporter mainly quotes actual Muslims about the show.
For example, here is a British comedian with Pakistani parents.
“Some people say that they are offended, some people are offended on others’ behalf, others are offended and they don’t even know why. Being offended is very popular these days,” says comedian and writer Shazia Mirza.
The stand-up, who is currently touring her show The Kardashians Made Me Do It, inspired by the jihadi schoolgirls who joined Isis, said reports of outrage often amounted to a small collection of opinions scooped from social media. “The rightwing press might be offended, and maybe the leftwing liberals, but Muslims aren’t offended -- it’s like they want us to be offended but we aren’t. We’re OK, thanks,” she says.
“There’s a long history of people from different religions mocking themselves -- Christians, Jews, Catholics -- why can’t Muslims make jokes about themselves? If we are going to continue that proud tradition of satire that has to be allowed.”
Then the reporter quotes another Muslim:
The satire of the piece could be a powerful tool in preventing the radicalisation of young women, argues Shaista Gohir, the chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK.
“[When trying to combat Isis] everyone just uses the same old approach, telling terrible stories of girls who went, but this is very different and it gets the message across in a satirical way,” she says.
Further down, the writer quotes a Sunni Muslim actress from India and a Muslim shopkeeper in east London, along with some people in the entertainment industry. Too often in articles critiqued by this blog, reporters don’t talk with real live practitioners of the religion being written about. The Guardian went out of its way to do so.
The Los Angeles Times covers the show, but only in an editorial.
So does Rolling Stone and redalertpolitics.com, which was the only outlet to report that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is miffed by the show. A few other outlets got stuck on the who's-now-offended angle, but the real story isn't that. It's about what really happens to girls who actually move overseas to join ISIS and how one way to combat evil is to laugh at it. This isn't hard-news journalism, of course. It's more like an extended video op-ed satire essay.
The New York Times aimed at the latter angle in this story. I wonder if such a show would have seen the light of day on this side of the pond. I doubt it. The political correctness marshals would have made sure it'd never go on the air. Fortunately, Mother Jones notes that media in the Middle East have been satirizing ISIS for some time.
So leave it to the Brits to mix satire with religion news and trends. They do the best job at it.