One way to fight gravity is with levity. One German state government is taking its countermeasures against militant Muslims online – to YouTube. The political leaders of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have launched a channel to showcase satirical videos targeting a youthful audience.
The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution deployed its two-pronged solution to prevent online viewers from becoming radicalized due to watching persuasive Islamic recruiting posts that glamorize violence and promise rewards in the afterlife for conforming to the medieval belief system. A satirical YouTube channel is broadcasting alongside a factual channel.
Islamic extremists use social media tools to communicate, organize, and indoctrinate. Their purpose is to recruit warriors – especially young and impressionable ones – for their ongoing jihad (holy war against all infidels, the evil non-believers). Why not fight self-righteous fervor with lampooning humor?
The Muslim activists promote their militant subculture under the brand “Jihad Cool,” suggesting that jihadism – including public insurrection, rape, and murder – is a desirable and trendy lifestyle choice for youngsters.
Interior Minister of NRW Herbert Reul pointed out in a press statement that 3,100 Salafist extremists still reside in Germany after the military defeated the formal caliphate of the Islamic State (IS). Those antagonists had not “vanished into thin air.” Rather, they continued their recruitment efforts via the internet:
“They are still active and use all channels on which they can find young people…A constitutional protection agency that takes its task of prevention seriously simply cannot opt out of being active on such platforms. We must go where our target group is.”
Reul further declared that “wit, humor and facts are democracy’s strongest weapons.” Game on!
The officially-comical “Jihadi Fool” channel launched on August 22, 2019, at the Gamescom computer games trade fair in Cologne, Germany. Programming is produced in a sketch comedy format that (quoting the NRW Interior Ministry) “satirically addresses the absurdity of radicalization, terrorism, and Islamism.”
The educational channel, which mentions the German government’s satirical videos and contradicts Salafist propaganda with facts, launched five days later, on August 27.
The channels’ video offerings have attracted over 11,000 views with mixed reviews. While some are amused, others question this use of taxpayer money. As of August 25, the Jihadi Fool channel claimed 424 subscribers.
The NRW project has received €500,000 ($557,000) to produce 32 satirical videos and 16 factual videos over the first pilot year:
“One satire shows a right-wing populist and an Islamic extremist bonding over sexism and homophobia while trying to convert passersby; another shows a fictional TV show titled “Goodbye Syria,” in which a former extremist adapts to the mundane struggles of life back in Germany.”
The government of Saudia Arabia is powerful and wealthy from oil production. The Saudis, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, made online satire that “disrupts public order” a crime punishable with jail time and a hefty fine on September 4, 2018. The public prosecutor broke the news with a Twitter message:
“Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media…will be considered a cybercrime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals ($800,000).”
That law followed in the footsteps of a September 2017 action against “terrorist” crimes when authorities called on the general public to snitch out their fellow citizens, tattling on their social media content.
After proclaiming the ban on internet satire, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor also announced that the state would seek the death penalty in the case against Sheikh Salman al-Awda, a prominent 61-year-old reformist cleric in the Specialized Criminal Court who, with 20 others, was arrested in 2018. The influential religious leader preached greater respect for human rights within Sharia.
For this and other progressive beliefs, the sheikh was arrested in September 2017. He was accused of keeping silent about or refusing to publicly endorse official Saudi policies, including a quarrel with Qatar over supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Salman al-Awda was charged with spreading discord and incitement against the Crown Prince. Speaking for the global human rights group Amnesty International, Dana Ahmed condemned the double-whammy strikes against free expression as indicative of “a disturbing trend in the Kingdom (that) sends a horrifying message that peaceful dissent and expression may be met with the death penalty.”
Critics of the German YouTube channels that plan to fight fiery Islamic rhetoric with western barbs and taunts doubt the venture will succeed without some support from Muslim religious leaders. There is also a language barrier to overcome: imams who could speak out against Salafist ideas in their mosques often have limited fluency in the German tongue, making media appearances virtually impossible.
Speaking for the NRW Interior Ministry, Wolfgang Beus, said that the ministry will assess the project’s development and track the sites’ user traffic to assess its effectiveness and decide whether to extend the counterterrorism campaign for a second year.