Combating fear through satire
It was an incredible journey for my team and I. For us, our show (Al-Bernameg) was a bit more than a TV production.
It was rather a human experience. We experienced first hand the importance of satire in our daily lives. How was this a unique way to express ourselves? Not through violence, not through instigating hate or fear, but through comedy and light-hearted humour, even if that meant discussing the most daunting and controversial political topics. We used laughter, music and dancing to stand for the values of freedom, coexistence, and to face both religious fascism and false patriotism.
As we did that, we made sure to have fun and to enjoy ourselves. And that always reflected on our work and our audience. And even those who didn’t like our message still made sure to watch us because they still enjoyed the quality of work we were presenting. They would curse us later, but after they had already contributed to our TV ratings — so thanks for that. We did that for the sake of a different media — a media that respected people’s minds and intelligence and at the same time, kept them informed and helped them combat the lies and misinformation that plagued many of the media outlets.
As we did that, we never claimed to be freedom fighters or political activists. We believed that it was enough to be the normal everyday people who did not buy into the propaganda that is full of lies and deceit. Satire was our weapon. But those who were too annoyed with us and our message used a different weapon; the most effective weapon of them all. FEAR.
Fear sells, intimidates and makes humans go against their best judgment. We saw how those who hid behind religion to manipulate the masses used fear. We saw how basic human needs to express oneself through logic, laughter and satire were demonised under the pretense that this was against religion. And thus, were deemed obscene and even a danger to the very fabric of society.
We saw how fear was used by those who used the excuse of national security and the false claims to patriotism to instigate hate and mistrust between people and viciously attacked anyone that said anything different, even if it was a joke.
And thus, we were deemed unpatriotic and viewed as traitors. We saw how fear made its way through the people’s hearts and minds, that even the most ridiculous and illogical claims and conspiracy theories were widely accepted as undeniable facts. Fear sells, fear works, fear makes you get away with anything. And when people are afraid, they will not accept logic, let alone satire.
Fear can turn people into ruthless organisms devoid of human mercy and intellectual logic. Fear can drive humans to give up their best-ever given trait: humanity. Under fear, they accept taking away their right to object, to oppose, and even applaud when the rights of other people are taken away. Under fear, fascism becomes coveted and human rights is deemed as an indecent word.
Our job was to expose those irrational fears, to dissect through the unfair use of such basic human instinct to give up basic human rights and needs. Fear might be the greatest mover of masses ever. And it is the favourite weapon of democratic countries, autocratic countries, religious states and terrorist groups.
It is a world where fascism is celebrated and where fear rules. But satire comes to disrupt such an equation. Because when you laugh, you can’t be afraid anymore, and that’s what scares them. And thus, the system will make sure to eliminate that powerful weapon of laughter in order for fear to set in. But perhaps there is a small beacon of hope. The world today is young. The youth are connected more than ever before. The internet and the open skies offer an opportunity that was not there many years ago when regimes could get away with anything. When we started on the internet three years ago, we were the only ones with such a unique idea and format. We were too big to be allowed to continue. But by the time we were banned, change had already set in. Stopping the show may be viewed as a sad ending, but we would like to see at a new generation go out and express themselves in their own way. The old techniques of the 1940s and 50s won’t cut with the youngsters. The propaganda that worked for their parents’ generation won’t be able to control them anymore.
So fear might sell, it might work, and may win. But it will eventually face defeat. It is unsustainable, it cannot build nations. It only destroys. And if you think you might win today using fear, you are mistaken. Because in the books of history, you will lose, and in the hearts of the young, you have already lost.
This article is a transcribed keynote speech delivered at the Global Media Forum organised by Deutsche Welle