Meat Ahmed Albasheer – the author and host of the Iraqi satirical television “daily” show. For many Albasheer is a second Mister Bean, the role played by a British actor Robert Atkinson who impersonated the image of this legendary pop culture idol, and it’s hard to argue that Albasheer deserves such a high praise with the inexhaustible energy and the creativity that he has.
But this “daily” show is different from most any Western comedy show, since it’s primary focus is the satire on political realities of the present-day Iraq, including the wide-spread corruption and pompous leaders of the local establishment that are good for nothing. But the most remarkable thing is that Ahmed Albasheer is ridiculing ISIL on the daily basis. His actors play scenes in which militants look pretty idiotic to say the least.
In harsh realities improvisation is the key. For example, on one show Ahmed Albasheer shows a video where ISIL militants are discovering caches of weapons near the site of intense fighting. But then out of the blue they are finding boxes with bottles of whiskey.
The response is immediate: three actors with thick beards and small arms appear from nowhere, while crying that they won’t drink “the booze of infidels”, instead they start drinking homemade anise vodka. However, soon they are up to their brink and when one of them unintentionally touches the explosive belt and the whole place goes kaboom.
In yet another episode a bearded gunman loudly advertises a unique product – shampoo for washing hair and beards. Unlike normal shampoos that magic substance turns the user invisible for him to be able to infiltrate the enemy lines. The name of the brand is “Caliph’s favorite shampoo.”
This show is unlike anything that has previously been seen in Iraq. It’s being broadcast in the Iraqi dialect of Arabic, with the host raping his way through the jokes while standing in the crowd of dancing youngsters. It’s been on air for two years already and still it is steadily gaining viewers. According to Ahmed Albasheer the number of people who watched the show has reached 30 million viewers and it can easily be found on YouTube. This result is pretty astounding if one is to consider the fact that there’s over 70 local channels in Iraq today that make a handful of different shows.
This success clearly unnerves ISIL members along with all sorts of other militants, since Ahmed Albasheer is being threatened daily through phone calls, Twitter and other social media. He’s being promised to get his head “cut off the and be thrown in a street for dogs to devour it.” But the amount of attention the host of the daily show is getting has not gone unnoticed by Western media as well. Recently, the 30-year-old Ahmed has been giving interviews to various channels and agencies. It turned out that a pretty thoughtful person was hiding behind the mask of a stand-up comedian.
Prior to his current employment, Ahmed Albasheer worked as a reporter for the Iraqi television and had to face some risky situations, like being held for a hostage for 40 days by extremist militants. He has also lost a number of relatives during the ongoing military conflicts, including his father. In 2010 the future comedian narrowly escaped death during the trip to the city of Ramadi, where he was caught by an explosion that killed seven of his colleagues.
However, Ahmed Albasheer claims that these threats cannot break his spirit. He will continue to use comedy and laughter as a tool in the fight against terrorism, even though he had to temporarily move to the neighboring Jordan in order to film his show. Nevertheless, the daily show host is clearly walking on the edge since there’s a lot of those who are eager to end his journey. The fact that according to international organizations Iraq ranks 158th out of 180 countries in the world in terms of press freedom doesn’t help either.
The Ahmed Albasheer show employs 25 people. Those are young people of different faiths and ethnic groups living in Iraq. Their financial resources are extremely limited, but their enthusiasm is there. According to the host of the show, its main purpose – to distract Iraqis from the harsh and serious worries of everyday life, to help them return to normal life, which can not be imagined without smile or laughter.
Yuri Zinin, Senior Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.