June 13, 2017 5:01 am
Ramadan is traditionally peak season for television viewing across the Arab world with stations offering a large variety of new productions, mainly comedies and romanticseries. This year, however, large audiences are hooked on a no-easy-viewingdrama — Al Gharabeeb Al Soud (BlackCrows), depicting the life of womenunder the IslamicState.
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Based on accounts of IS survivors, the 30-episode program on Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Centre has been hailed as an attempt to hit back at terrorists’ networks that have honed propaganda skills and media outreach to spread IS’s deadly agenda and to entice the gullible into their ranks.
“The series does a wonderful job of revealing life insideISIS recruitment camps and the ways the radical organization follows in bringing in recruits from all corners of the world,” said Egyptian cinema critic Tarek el-Shenawy.
In Iraq, where IS is fighting to keep its last main stronghold of Mosul, the series sparked controversy, including accusations that it defamed Sunni Muslims and encouraged people to turn to secularism.
“Showing this series is an insult to Sunni Muslims as it defames a particular sect that is accused of supporting the ideology of this criminalgroup who has no relation whatsoever with Islamic religion,” Mohamad said, adding that he and his family have stopped watching the show.
The series, which started on May 28, coinciding with the beginning of Ramadan, was expected to elicit strong and visceral reactions from audiences but MBC GroupTV Director Ali Jaber said “it was not meant to be that hard-hitting and controversial.”
“MBC as a media organization wants to stay relevant to the conversation in the societies where our audiences are,” he said. “There is no point in burying our heads in the sand while this conversation is happening in everycountry, every home.”
“MBC represents the voice of moderation in the region,” Jaber added. “We need to tackle this issue in the way we believe in — with a better message, more progressive and compelling. ISIS is not just a terrorist organization. There is a narrative and an ideology behind it. The only way to counter this was by putting out our own narrative and exposing ISIS for the evil it represents.”
Jaber said it took two years of planning and hard work to prepare the series, which was filmed in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia with three prominent directors involved and some of the top actors from the region in featured roles.
This is not the firsttime MBC has addressed the rise of extremism in its productions. The Saudi satirical showSelfie, which was popularduringRamadan for several years, used dark humor to mock the militant group in sketches featuring characters played by Saudi comedian Nasser al-Qasabi. He and MBC received death threats from IS because of the skits.
“We have all received threats, which we take seriously,” said Syrianactor Ahmad al-Ahmad who plays IS Emir Abu Talhat al Yakouti. “The whole region is in danger. The existence of humanbeing is threatened by such extremists and we are part of this place and this region.”
“We had to do something about it. That is why our objective as actors is to convey a messagethrough our work. Drama is sometimes a tool to confront danger, just like the weapon in the combat field. The seriesshows that ISISchampions systematic terrorism that is annihilating and destroying the whole region,” Ahmad said in a telephone interview.
Ahmed Sayed, an Egyptian civil servant is among the keen audience. “I like it because it is based on the actual experiences of some of the women who joined ISIS and managed to escape. The eventsshow that such radical organizations have nothing to do with Islam but are there to destroy every place they settheir foot in,” he said.
Iraqi homemaker Balkis Kazem said she preferred to watch comedy and entertainmentshows. “Watching BlackCrows is an additional torture for Iraqis as we try to switch from bloodyevents and violence,” she said.Tags: about, accusations, actor, actual, adding, audience, based, because, behind, being, beirut, believe, black, bloody, blunt, bringing, champions, characters, cheap, civil, combat, controversy, conversation, counter, country, criminal, crows, dark, deadly, death, destroying, doing, drama, draws, during, Entertainment, events, every, featured, fighting, first, group, happening, heads, human, ideas, image, inside, isis, islamic, issue, lebanon, main, meant, media, message, middle, might, mixed, nothing, part, people, plays, point, popular, prepare, program, progressive, radical, ramadan, reactions, rise, romantic, scene, season, selfie, series, set, show, shows, started, state, stirs, strong, switch, syrian, their, there, these, through, time, top, tv, under, viewing, voice, wants, watch, ways, where, while, women, world, years
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