Je Suis...Nasser!

06/25/2015 10:04 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

ISIS isn't particularly known for its sense of humor or appreciation of comedy. As such, news that the militants have threatened to kill Saudi satirist Nasser Al-Qasabi wasn't especially shocking.

Al-Qasabi, a renowned Saudi actor, had poked fun at ISIS' terrorist ideology in a series of episodes from his latest Ramadan television series, Selfie.

Despite the backlash, threats and criticism, the show continues to air daily on Al Arabiya News' sister channel, MBC.


Caption: A Twitter user named Jalabeeb al-Jizrawi wrote to Al Qasabi: "I swear to god you will regret what you did, you apostate." (Al Arabiya)

However, while one could argue that the reactions of ISIS and its sympathizers were predictable (including the thousands of sick individuals who retweeted a post which calls upon "the mujahideen" to separate the actor's head from his body), what was both shocking and utterly unacceptable was for Sheikh Saeed bin Farwa, a Saudi imam, to call Mr. Al-Qasabi an "apostate" for making fun of extremists on his show.

Apparently, the imam was upset about a particular episode where Al-Qasabi plays a repentant artist who grows his beard, wears a ridiculously short thobe and destroys a musical instrument.

Now, despite the fact that Sheikh bin Farwa publicly apologized and retracted his statements against Al-Qasabi (the imam is also reportedly being investigated by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs), I don't think this is enough. A severe punishment should definitely be considered.

The problem is -- as prominent Saudi journalist Khaled Almaeena recently wrote -- "for too long, we have kept quiet... We have allowed these imams a free rein to spew hatred and falsehood." Thus, an acceptable measure, I believe, is for clerics of such caliber to be stripped by the ministry of their credentials and banned from leading prayers or giving sermons.

The problem is terrorists, not satirists!

Now, while the imam's position is still under investigation (and the fact that it is being investigated is a positive sign), I do hope this incident sets a precedent whereby clerics continue to be held accountable -- by law -- to everything they say and do.

Not only did the imam's comments cause further damage to the image of Saudi society and to the reputation of Islam, but he posed serious threats to Al-Qasabi's life.

The bottom-line is as a satirist, he simply can't be blamed for ridiculing the ridiculous! In other words, what some clerics need to understand is that the real problem isn't the fact that someone has poked fun at extremist teachings, but that these extremist teachings exist and that those horrendous acts are occurring in the name of Islam.

In this light, one can't but applaud Al-Qasabi for his courageous and principled position that he expressed during a recent interview with Al Arabiya News Channel.

"If they think what they are doing is jihad, then 'Selfie' (the TV show) is an act of jihad against them."

As to whether or not the ISIS threats scare him, Al-Qasabi said: "God is my protector, I am an artist and the artist's role is to reveal the truth, even if he has to pay the price. If we are not serious about this, we should just stay at home."

Of course, what certainly raises questions is the silence of many of those who profoundly -- and rightly -- declared their support for the victims of the atrocious Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year.

The threat on Al-Qasabi's life is no less of a serious matter and deserves global solidarity. Now, while we sadly can't extend support and protection to all those who deserve it, the very least one can do is to not hesitate in declaring "Je suis Nasser!"

*This blog post was originally published in Al Arabiya News.