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Satire won’t stop ISIS, but it’s an important start

From the Middle East to Japan, satirists are standing up to the Islamic State with humor, wit and irreverence. These videos, cartoons and tweets are as silly as they are powerful, showing ISIS we won’t submit to its threat-based censorship.

Humor can heal. It can offend. It can soften tensions or push them to breaking points. It can fuel wars and inspire revolutions. It can also dismantle your worst enemies.

Meet ISIS, an ideological opponent that takes itself so seriously that it’s banned dancing, among other forms of popular entertainment.

When a group refuses to laugh at itself, when it kills satirists who dare challenge its most sacred tenets, humor becomes a powerful weapon to ridicule, undermine and disarm it.

Global Voices and Huffington Post bring us the best ISIS jabs and parodies from across the social media spectrum. There’s a Vine of an orangutan dancing wildly to the group’s terror anthem. There are YouTube videos of belly dancers and flash mobs getting down to the same beat. There’s even a high-pitched Chipmunk remastering of the song, because why not?

When ISIS slips up, like when it mistook Italy’s Tower of Pisa for a leaning tower of pizza in Rome, satirists pounce:

Then there are the grislier parodies. When ISIS demanded $200 million to spare two Japanese hostages, social media blew up with a “crappy collage grand prix” competition that called on people to transform the image of a hooded ISIS killer flanked by his orange jumpsuited hostages into a series of absurd GIFs and stills.

Some pundits think this competition, and even this tame Saturday Night Live sketch, went too far, that ISIS’s brutality is just too horrendous for parody.

Such thinking strikes me as very…ISIS.

When done right, satire can be a powerful means of social critique and an effective way to expose hypocrisies and injustice.

Rather than succumbing to the Islamic State’s message of fear and submission, these everyday satirists are opposing the group’s demand, undercutting its support and popularity in the process.

Marwan Kraidy, an expert on Arab media and politics, says that anti-ISIS parodies can move perceptions of ISIS “from the domain of the heroic to the grotesque.”

If ISIS becomes a laughingstock, a source of humor and well-deserved ridicule among communities susceptible to its messages, the group’s ability to recruit willing warriors will likely erode, along with its power. Targeted satire is the soft power juju we need to fight back, and no topic should be off-limits.

British political cartoonist and satirist Martin Rowson told me in December, “The only thing power cannot cope with is being laughed at. You win when you have the last laugh.”

I’ll leave you with this one: