BBC’s The Real Housewives of ISIS: Offensive or not?

Published: January 6, 2017

BBC’s Revolting: The Real Housewives of ISIS skit has earned mixed reviews across social media, from praise to explosive anger.

The video is a brilliant and hilarious piece of satire. It takes aim, not only at lowbrow reality shows like Big Brother but at the United Kingdom’s growing radicalisation problem, where, over the years, a large number of young Muslims have travelled through Turkey to Syria and Iraq to join the world’s most infamous terrorist group. Inexplicably, a fair percentage of these Muslims happen to be British women, ranging from girls in their late teens to early 20s, who leave behind perfectly good families without giving an indication towards their radicalisation, carrying a naïve and romantic view of a new world. To them, the foreign Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters aren’t terrorists but freedom fighters, and have rock star status despite their well-documented horrific actions.

Soon after arrival, many of them are hit with reality; ISIS isn’t as glamorous as they had been brainwashed into believing. Married off from one fighter to the next, they don’t have the daring lives they had imagined, but instead are turned into baby-makers tasked with taking care of their families while under strict rule. It is speculated that those disenchanted with their new lives have their social media accounts taken over in order to recruit new brides and have no access to their own passports. Escape is strictly discouraged. Some, like 17-year-old jihadi bride Samra Kesinovic, were reportedly beaten to death when found attempting to leave, while others, like 17-year-old Kadiza Sultana, were killed in airstrikes. Kadiza, of course, made international headlines when she, alongside two other young women from London, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum, fled without warning to join ISIS. The trio were said to have been recruited by Scottish Jihadi bride Aqsa Mahmood, who uses social media to target impressionable young women intoxicated by ‘jihadi girl power’.

Under the guise of humour, Revolting: The Real Housewives of ISIS sends a message across to young women thinking of joining the terrorist group. It might seem obvious, and some even argue that these new recruits deserve their fate, but the message is important in order to nip the issue in the bud. Yes, teenagers can be naive, but that’s what makes them teenagers.

Rather predictably, the Muslim world has reacted with anger to the video. The biggest argument from our keyboard warriors is that it is insulting to Muslims and their religion.

My question is, how?

The video never mentions Muslims or Islam. In fact, the satire only takes aim at ISIS. Wasn’t the main argument from Muslims that ISIS doesn’t represent them or Islam?

If that’s the case, then why take it so personally?

Perhaps they are taking ownership of the fact that ISIS fighters are Muslim. This is the first step towards reformation. However, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. If we deny ISIS as Muslims, then we can’t claim the video is offensive to our religion – because their actions are offensive to our religion.

Of course, religious people lacking a sense of humour or being overly sensitive isn’t a new phenomenon, and it points to a major issue that is deeply ingrained. It starts from childhood when kids are taught that their religion is superior, they must spread it, to judge those who don’t do things the way they do, and how God has a special punishment for rule-breakers. This air of superiority leads to thin skin, a combination which results in a terribly low threshold for humour.

The bad-tempered hypersensitivity is why property is destroyed in violent demonstrations across the Muslim world when an amateur video or cartoon is published. Yes, the works that offend Muslims are often in bad taste, but the reaction is as disproportionate as a man burning his own house down because a stranger on the North Pole apparently said something mean about him.

It is also why skits like Revolting: The Real Housewives of ISIS lead to a meltdown on Twitter.