'Real ISIS housewives': Now isn't the time for joking

'Real ISIS housewives': Now isn't the time for joking
Comment: This BBC series parodies harmful stereotypes of Muslims, and attempts to gain cheap viewing ratings at the expense of a persecuted community, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
5 min read
09 Jan, 2017
BBC2's "Real Housewives of ISIS' TV skit has faced fierce criticism online [BBC]
Social media has been awash with BBC2's ignorant and harmful "Real Housewives of ISIS" video that has the prima facie objective of mocking the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The video clip depicts a satirical version of IS's British-Muslim wives who went to join the terrorist group after being lured by their propaganda online, proceeding to poke fun at a number of stereotypes associated with extremist Muslims.

It has been shared widely by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and drawn a lot of praise for its mockery of the terrorist organisation. Sadly, however, the BBC's decision only reflects a misguided propaganda stunt aimed at gaining cheap social media clickbait hits, and increasing viewing figures.

Entertainment by mocking "otherness"

Sadly, though, the BBC has got their depiction of Muslims – even extreme ones – wrong yet again, and their satire is likely to cause more harm than good.

This is not about Muslims being "too sensitive" to comedy, or the apparent necessity for Muslims to accept mockery of their religion as adherents of others faiths do. In fact, it is more about the normalisation of demonising and mocking Islam and Muslims. Stereotypes are overblown in a grotesque manner, while the fact that Muslims are the flavour of the era when it comes to misrepresentation, misreporting and outright vilification in the media, is irresponsibly ignored. 

There is a time and a place for making jokes, and the present time that we are all living in is definitely not it. It is not as though we do not have a global problem with a resurgent "alt-right" neo-fascist trend right now, that is causing extremist, largely white supremacist, groups to make gains in political elections all over the world.

The BBC's decision only reflects a misguided propaganda stunt aimed at gaining cheap social media clickbait hits

Before 2016 clocked out, Austria narrowly avoided having Norbert Hofer, the xenophobic leader of the Freedom Party, become Europe's first far-right head of state since World War II. When US President-elect Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in November, white supremacists greeted the victory with a "Hail Trump!", in a clear reminder of the Nazi "Heil Hitler" greeting.

Closer to home in the United Kingdom, of course, we had the Brexit debacle. Naturally, it goes without saying that not all Eurosceptics are racists and fascists, and to suggest otherwise is liberal snobbishness and ignorance.

However, it is undeniable that a lot of the Brexit sentiment in Britain was born of racist beliefs, including and especially Islamophobia. Just after the referendum last summer that delivered a vote in favour of Brexit, one man said on camera that he voted Leave, "to stop Muslims coming into this country. It's as simple as that".

Completely missing the point of the Brexit debate, he even added that the free movement of people in Europe was "fair enough", revealing the root of his deep-seated ignorant prejudices.

The list of examples of Islamophobia informing the Brexit debate and the general political climate in Britain since the 11 September attacks in 2001 that flipped everyone's world upside down, are legion. Suffice to say, however, that a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric really found momentum on that fateful day and has been growing ever since. As Muslims increasingly became "the other", mocking them excessively was normalised.

A throwback to racist comedies

The BBC is making a mockery of Muslim stereotypes that far pre-date the appearance of IS; a group who only really manifested themselves on the international agenda and public consciousness in mid-2014 with their appalling crimes against Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others in Iraq and Syria.

All the women are wearing black abayas, a full body covering, and are wearing the hijab and they also adopt comical versions of the stereotype of submissive and meek Muslim women.

Born and raised in the UK, I distinctly remember several racist and Islamophobic jokes that became popular well before IS even existed, and have been subjected to many of these slurs for most of my life.

The time to make jokes is not now, not when Muslims are already demonised, marginalised and fetishised enough

With regards to the black abayas, I have heard people refer to women who wear them as "Osama Bin Liners", in a crude play on the name of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Muslim men wearing beards were (and still are) racially profiled, often insulted as terrorists and called "beardos" or "Taliban". 

"Real Housewives of ISIS" actually has much in common with the old British sitcom "Till Death Us Do Part" that ran in the 1960s and 70s. In that show, the lead characters held racist and intolerant views, and episodes frequently featured the use of terms such as "coons" to describe black characters and "Paki" to describe Asians, both obviously highly offensive and derogatory terms.

The fact that the show was a satire of the characters' clearly racist views did not do anything to reduce the great discomfort many viewers felt at racist stereotypes being displayed so openly and prominently on British television screens.

The BBC's latest foray into mocking the Muslim "other" will have an even worse impact than "Till Death Us Do Part", as its reach is far more pervasive thanks to the medium of the internet.

Shockingly, it even plumbs such moral depths as using images of bombed out Syria where almost half a million people, mostly Muslims, have been killed by a brutal dictatorship. How was this allowed to pass through the BBC's censors?

In any event, this latest stab at Muslims who are easy comedic targets, will be swallowed up by the neo-fascists mentioned earlier who have had their minds saturated by almost two decades worth of anti-Muslim bile whipped up by an irresponsible media.

The time to make jokes is not now, not when Muslims are already demonised, marginalised and fetishised enough.

When Muslims enjoy the social acceptance and parity that other segments of society enjoy, perhaps then we can discuss if such media productions are appropriate content.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.