The U.S. government is trying a new and previously unknown form of counterterrorism in Mumbai, India, aimed at diminishing the online influence of terror groups like ISIS: by making fun of them.
The East India Comedy, a popular collective of stand-up comedians and sketch artists, have been invited by the U.S. government to participate in “Fighting Terror With Comedy,” because they have influential social media accounts and online presences.
One of their videos “I want to quit ISIS” spoofs one man’s attempt to quit the terrorist group. It is set in a typical business office, and CNN says it “artfully highlights the contradictions of ISIS’ ideology and methods.”
After just a few weeks of being on YouTube, the video has already been viewed well over one million times, which is much more successful than previous videos posted by the State Department.
Priyank Mathur, a former counterterrorism intelligence analyst for the Department of Homeland Security who also previously wrote for the satirical news site The Onion, pitched the idea to former counterterrorism colleagues in Washington, D.C. They then helped him find funding, with the hope that the success of the video could lead to more videos in other countries and multiple government agencies.
India’s cultural conditions made it an attractive place for the State Department to test the idea, CNN writes. It is home to approximately 175 million Muslims and a population that has the second most cell phone users and fourth most internet users in the world.
Mathur anticipated having a hard time finding a group willing to publicly mock ISIS, but none of the comedians had any reservations, despite knowing it was a risky undertaking.
“I didn’t think what we were most afraid of was the terrorist implication but the fact that terrorism and religion is unfortunately connected. So we were most worried about was the pushback in terms of like ‘why are you generalizing it in terms of this religion.’ That’s where we found it difficult but otherwise a joke is a joke is a joke,” Kunal Rao, a member of East India Comedy, said to CNN.
Mathur is hopeful the Trump administration will see the value in continuing this program. He is currently searching for funding to export his project to other countries with larger Muslim populations.
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