A prominent Saudi comedian who has mocked the Islamic State group and Islamists in the ultra-conservative kingdom has said he shall not be deterred after receiving online threats.
Saudi Arabia observes a strict form of Sunni Islam, but is fiercely opposed to the group known as ISIS or ISIL which has seized much of Syria and Iraq and declared a “caliphate” to rule over all Muslims.
Nasser al-Qasabi, who appears in a new satirical television sitcom titled “Selfie” aired by the Saudi-owned MBC network, said in remarks published Monday that he has “the right to express an opinion”.
“Allah will protect us. It is the job of the artist to say the truth, even if that is at his own expense. This is the price we have to pay,” Qasabi said in remarks posted on MBC’s website. It is not known who has made the threats against him.
Al Qasabi says his show’s message, though presented in the form of satire, is deadly serious. He says he has been unfazed by threats he has received from the militants’ supporters since the premier.
“God is my protector. I’m an artist, and the artist’s essential role is to reveal society’s challenges even if he pays a price,” he said in an interview with Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV on Sunday. “Warning the people about ISIS is the true jihad, because we’re fighting them with art not war.”
A wave of support has hit social media networks, including Arabic hashtags on Twitter saying “we are all Nasser al-Qasabi” and “Qasabi mocks Daesh”, the Arabic acronym for IS.
In his sitcom that is aired during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Qasabi is a Saudi father who pretends to want to join the militants in Syria in order to bring back his jihadist son. Qasabi is shown protesting at the flogging of a young man being punished for listening to music and faints when ordered to slit the throat of an “infidel” captured by the extremists. He also ridicules female jihadists said to have joined IS to offer its fighters sex.
In one episode Qasabi faces executioners after his cover is blown, only to find his own son demanding to be the one to behead him. In another, Qasabi mocks ultra-conservatives in the kingdom, playing the role of a musician who repents and smashes a lute on stage.
In the past, Qasabi repeatedly mocked Saudi Arabia’s notorious religious police in his popular Tash Ma Tash satirical comedy that ran for 18 seasons.
Supporters of the Islamic State, who are known for their own skilful exploitation of the media, were quick to respond. In a post that was re-tweeted thousands of times, a user named Jalabeeb al-Jizrawi wrote to Al Qasabi: “I swear to god you will regret what you did, you apostate.”
“The holy warriors will not rest until they cut your head from your body, in just a few days hopefully.”
Other media personalities and influential voices in the Middle East were quick to voice their support, such as the Kuwaiti singer Shams:
“For many years, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya have aired ISIS filth and no one reacted against it,” she tweeted to her almost half a million followers. “But in twenty minutes, ‘Selfie’ gave the Islamic nation a wake-up call.”