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laughter as best medecine for war on terror


July 2015
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USA and other countries have long ago declared war on terror. And rightly so. Resistance to counter extremism must be undertaken at all costs to stop ISIS from claiming lives and territory. But people from the ‘inside’ of the ISIS ravaged countries are fighting terror, too, using strategic policing to combat ISIS, the internet to counter ISIS recruitment or art to express a lot of emotions they and others feel. These art forms are done via song, blogs, dance, voice overs, slam poetry, and even silence. Suleiman Bakhit is one such artist who creates Middle Eastern stories as an alternative to terrorist ideologies [1], because the biggest threat in the Middle East is terrorism disguised as heroism.

He surveyed children in poor vicinities in refugee camps in Syria and Amman and builds community relations by visiting schools in America to explain to American children that most Muslims are not terrorists.  Jordanian kids know terrorist narrative and propaganda because they are taught that people like Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [who led the group that evolved into the Islamic State] are ‘heroes’ who defend Muslims against the West. They are told that the ‘West is out there to kill them’ and Bakhit wanted to develop a counter mythology based on healthy shame, on personal narratives of love, and most importantly of male and female heroines.

Bakhit decided to study the narratives of extremism in order to understand the mythologies that underlie groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda [2]. He studied the American mythologist Joseph Campbell whose view that a heroic journey is central to mythmaking, and whose work inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars became Bakhit’s fuel. He fused together comic books, video games and storytelling to create Aranim media factory. Aranim is combo of ‘Arab’ and ‘anime’. Aranim Games launched Happy Oasis which allows players to build a garden in traditional Islamic style. Bakhit’s journeys made him discover that the Arab world needed its own batman and Superman, so he and his team taught themselves to draw, program and create their own Muslim characters: Element Zero, was a kind of Arab version of Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne; a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max”-style comic called “Saladin 2100” with Naar who has the power of seven flames, and another comic in Jordan’s real-life all-female counter terrorism team to empower young women.

Bakhit’s efforts to rid the Muslim and non Muslim worlds of terror have not always been supported by the Jordanian government and he hasn’t been offered american support to fund his venture, but won’t take money from the US as it may be perceived as propaganda. He also believes that the Arab world must take responsibility for this problem and develop solutions from the ground up. Everything begins with a story and narratives and myths give us a sense of purpose; a compelling sense of direction in our lives, says Bakhit. His art is at its core a war of mythologies that can be fought “for a fraction of the cost of a drone strike.”

[1] Danny Hakim (2014), “A Jordanian spins comic book tales to counter terrorist ideologies.”

[2] Kathryn Nave (16 Oct 2104), “fighting ISIS with comic books”.


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