LONDON — A comedy sketch putting the real victims of terrorism in the framework of the “Real Housewives” reality TV series has divided social media users and media analysts alike.
Produced by the new BBC sketch comedy show “Revolting,” the short video appears as a trailer for a fictional TV program, “The Real Housewives Of ISIS.” The video has been viewed over 26 million times since it was posted on the BBC Two’s Facebook page on Jan. 3.
Watch “The Real Housewives Of ISIS” from BBC Two:
Similar to shows like “The Real Housewives Of Atlanta,” the sketch features a group of women gossiping and worrying about their fashion choices. Rather than high-end designer bags and alcohol-fueled drama, these “housewives” wear burkas and tell jokes about beheadings and slavery. The characters describe themselves as young British or Western women lured into marriage by Daesh (as Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL).
In one sequence, one of the “housewives” shows off her new, explosive-laden suicide vest while two of the other women shoot a video for Instagram. “What do you think? Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday,” the character in the suicide vest asks.
The sketch provoked a tide of intense backlash. Ofcom, the U.K.’s media regulatory agency, received 39 complaints about the sketch in the days immediately after the piece aired, according to The Times of London, and opposition to the video mounted on social media.
Constructing an image of Muslim women as oppressed and fond of terrorism at a time of widespread gendered Islamophobia is deeply sinister.
— Harry Shotton (@HarryShotton) January 4, 2017
The BBC really made a satirical show called "The Real Housewives of ISIS" while the real housewives of ISIS are being raped and abused daily
— Meraj. (@UncleMeraj) January 4, 2017
However, reactions to the sketch haven’t been completely oppositional. On Wednesday, Ali Shahalom, a British Muslim comedian and social media star, defended the sketch as satire. He posted a statement on Twitter which read, in part:
“This sketch ridicules online grooming and calls attention to an important topic. The whole point of satire is to expose stupidity. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t offend religion. Satire like this highlights the absurdity of those that recruit and get recruited by ISIS.”
Noting that the problem of Western women being groomed to join Daesh is a real one, Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein, the show’s creators, addressed the sketch before it even aired, saying it targeted terrorists and online grooming for satire, not all Muslims. In a Dec. 31 interview with the U.K.’s i News, Prowse said:
“It’s important not to pull your punches in satire. You have to be fearless or it undermines your credibility. You can’t go after David Cameron for five years like we did and not go after Islamic State.”
While a number of media analysts have defended the sketch as satire and noted the importance of using humor to “make a very pointed critique,” others have expressed revulsion. Adam Garrie called the “Real Housewives” spoof “disgusting” in an op-ed published by The Duran, an online news and commentary site, on Jan. 4.
Garrie suggested the sketch was especially damaging, given the BBC’s tendency to spread Western, pro-war propaganda about the Middle East and Syria rather than promote real journalism about conditions on the ground in the region. He added:
“The sketch serves to normalise the most barbaric gang of savage monsters the world has seen in centuries and simultaneously makes light of the fact that vulnerable and uneducated women are susceptible to the perverse recruitment methods ISIS use online.”
Watch “The Real Housewives of ISIS – Funny or Offensive?” from Fusion:
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