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Islamic State Militants Become Target for Jokes

The Great Departed performs Madad Baghdad in Beirut.

The Great Departed performs Madad Baghdad in Beirut.

Across the Middle East artists are attacking Islamic State fighters with jokes, making fun of them with music, cartoons and videos. In Beirut, a band called "The Great Departed" makes jokes about Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Its humor gets people laughing and cheering. Band members say they are not only making fun of the militants, but the political systems that enable them to exist.

People in the theater shout out the names of their favorite songs as The Great Departed returns for a final song.

The band plays “Madad Baghdadi,” a humorous song that makes fun of the Islamic State militant group and its extremist version of Islam. “Madad Baghdadi” is the band’s most popular song. It has received more than 50,000 hits on Youtube. Leading media groups around the world have talked about it.

Khaled Soubeih writes songs for The Great Departed, and plays piano in the band. He says when a group like the Islamic State claims to be holy, and then uses violence to control people, humor is the best way to fight back.

But the musician is quick to note that Islamic State is not the only group his band criticizes. He says dictators and corruption in the Middle East created an atmosphere that let extremism and militancy develop. He says they are equally to blame for the current crisis.

As the band prepares for a performance, male lead singer Naim Asmar says jokes serve an important purpose. He says they help people deal with the almost unimaginable violence in the area.

“Plus when you see the contradictions in that reality and the absurdity of many contradictions you cannot but be sarcastic about it. Or makes jokes about it. Well, it’s an escape in order not to get mad, not to lose it actually.”

The band’s success comes as other media have made fun of the militants, who have taken control of large areas in Iraq and Syria. Videos and cartoons show images of murderous, but largely untrained fighters using the name of Islam to justify crimes. These films have appeared both on the Internet and on television.

One online joke involves Kurdish fighters now battling Islamic State militants in Kobani, a Syrian town near the Turkish border. Islamic State forces recently entered the area.

The joke reads, “What do ISIS and Little Miss Muffet have in common? They both have curds in their whey!

The joke comes from an old nursery rhyme – a poem or song meant for young children. Curd is a substance that forms when milk turns sour or bitter. The word curd sounds like the name of the ethnic group. Similarly, the words way and whey also sound alike. Whey is the watery part of milk that forms after the milk becomes sour.

Back at the theater, band members say their own satirical criticism of the Islamic State has not produced the effect they expected.

Abed Kobeissy plays the Buzuq, a traditional instrument that looks like a guitar. He says politicians use fear of the Islamic State as a way to direct people’s attention away from issues like corruption, poverty and development.

The song, “Madad Baghdadi,” he says, gained a lot of attention, adding to news reports about the Islamic State and blocking out everything else.

But, he says, his listeners in Beirut will not just hear a critic of the Islamic State.

The band’s other songs touch on different, important issues, he says. Some songs criticize dictators who praise victories while ignoring the people they rule.

This song notes how some things do not mix well together, like yogurt and fish, and politics and religion.

Band members say older Arabic music deals heavily with love and relationships. They say they are working to create a new style that gives a voice to what really occupies people’s minds in the Arab world. Which is sadly, they say, the reality of politics and war.

I’m Jim Tedder.

*This report was based on a story from reporter Heather Murdock in Beirut. Mario Ritter wrote the story for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.


Words in this Story

cartoons – n. images in magazines or newspapers meant to be funny; animated films

humorous – adj. funny, causing laughter

extremism – n. belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable

unimaginable – adj. very difficult or impossible to understand or imagine

curds and wheyn. solids and liquids from milk; (in the joke, the words sound like the words ‘Kurds’ and ‘way,’ get it?)

satirical – adj. a way of using humor to show that something is foolish, bad or undesirable

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