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Iraq’s ‘State of Myths’ TV Satire Takes Aim at ISIS Extremists

Image: A view shows actors during the filming of the set of the television series, whose title is loosely translated as "State of Myths" in Baghdad

Actors during the filming of a State of Myths in Baghdad on Oct. 11. Humor and silly puns are being used as the latest weapons in the fight against extreme militants who now control large swathes of Iraqi territories. THAIER AL-SUDANI / Reuters, file

If laughter could end brutality then an Iraqi TV show poking fun at ISIS would have already triumphed over battalions of militants rampaging through Iraq and Syria.

"State of Myths" features a gun-toting dwarf, a guy in salmon-colored shorts wielding golf clubs and ISIS chief Abu Omar Al Baghdadi arm-curling human skulls, among many others. The show’s 30 episodes, which ran on Iraqi state TV this summer and fall still draws an audience online for presenting atrocities like beheadings with a dose of humor.

“Making people laugh at ISIS will help to cast their fears away,” said the show’s 40-year-old writer, Thaer Al-Hasnawi. “We changed these [terrifying] characters into comic and ironic ones."

“You don’t have to be neutral with terrorism, in defending your country and your family.”

State television, which spent $750,000 to produce the show, could not provide estimates for how many people had tuned in, but Al-Hasnawi estimated that around 35 percent of the population had watched.

One viewer, a member of the Muslim Shiite majority which ISIS extremists have vowed to defeat or exterminate, said the show’s ridicule helped regular people cope with everyday tragedy.

"Every time I listen to the news or watch a video about ISIS, I remember parts of the show and I start laughing,” said the 37-year-old, who requested anonymity.

But while the makers tried to make people laugh, their intentions were deadly serious.

“It is my duty to stand against those who claim themselves to be Muslims while they are not,” Al-Hasnawi explained. “Yesterday I watched a video of ISIS stoning a woman in Syria. Imagine if that woman is your next-door neighbor.”

Like many others involved with the show, Al-Hasnawi received death threats from ISIS sympathizers. The character who plays Al Baghdadi hides his identity out of fear that he will be killed for taking potshots at ISIS.

Referring to the swathes of Iraq being conquered and terrorized by ISIS, Al-Hasnawi said: “We are not different from those who fight ISIS in Anbar or Saladin — don’t forget the car bombs, we could die at any moment.”

While the show does feature bombs and death, it also takes a wry and subtle look at the bigger world the ISIS and their victims exist in.

In one episode, two news anchors — the female broadcaster completely obscured beneath a sheet — interview a guest in a television studio adorned with blood splatter and pictures of skulls.

“The car bomb factory has made the first car bomb operated by green energy to protect the environment as a contribution from the Caliphate to protect the beauty of nature,” the faceless woman says, her gloved hands gesticulating.

After a brief back-and-forth, the engineer who invented the new technology explains how he hopes to export the technology.

Where Did ISIS Come From? 3:11

“We are ready to export these car bombs to any infidel country. If it looks for a car bomb that uses solar cells and does not produce CO2, we have it,” the engineer says. “Anyone who buys two of these car bombs will receive a third one for free.”

While the show deals with tragedy and despair, the last episode ends on a high note — an indication of the better future its makers crave.

In the end, ISIS leader Al Baghdadi tries to marry a girl over her father’s objections. So instead of his daughter, the father sends a man who loves the girl to the wedding. The young suitor, disguised as a bride himself, then takes Al Baghdadi prisoner and hands over the terror chief to the people.

Al-Hasnawi feels it is his job to fight for what he loves and a life that must be preserved. He adds with quiet finality:

“You don’t have to be neutral with terrorism, in defending your country and your family.”