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MBC drama fights Daesh propaganda

By Reuters - Jun 02,2017 - Last updated at Jun 02,2017

DUBAI — A Saudi-owned television channel has launched a drama series portraying the brutality of life under the Daesh terror group to counter sleek propaganda from the extremist group. 

Beamed across the Arab world by satellite channel MBC, the $10-million project reflects the kingdom's self-appointed role at the forefront of a Muslim bulwark against extremism which was underlined in a May 20-21 visit by US President Donald Trump.

"Black Crows" shows women and children living under the extremists and is the first television drama to tackle subjects such as mass murder and rape, contrasting sharply with the idyll of heroism and holy war projected by Daesh on social media. 

"The main audience we target, the most important and dangerous, are those who are prone to support and even join terrorist organisations," MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek told Reuters in an interview.

"Media is part of their [Daesh] offensive strategy. Thus media organisations have the right, actually the duty, to face such an offensive — which is well-funded and on the Internet and social media — with this series," he said.

Actors and MBC staff have told local media they received death threats online from Daesh supporters because of the show.

Filmed in Lebanon, the more-than-20-part series that started on Saturday follows the widow of a Daesh commander turned leader of a women's morality police force. There are scenes of gutted homes, mass graves, big explosions and gunmen waving black flags.

Plot-lines include women from the Yazidi religion being captured and forced into sex slavery, child-soldiers and a woman with a forlorn love-life moving to territory held by the group to become a "jihadi bride".

Since Daesh launched its lightning offensive across Iraq and Syria staging beheadings and releasing carefully crafted films to draw in new recruits, Arab and Western governments have sought to counter their message.


Battling radicalism


During Trump’s Riyadh visit, Saudi King Salman unveiled a Global Centre for Combating Extremism to monitor and rebut extremist material online, and now maintains a new Ideological War Cenre within its defence ministry.

“The media alone is not enough, we need religious institutes, clerics and mosques to work with the media in combating radicalism,” said Najat Al Saeed, a Saudi analyst who has written a book on Arab satellite TV.

“There is progress, but it’s slow and is not enough for the reformists or the global community.”

The show will aim to reach a big audience of Muslim viewers as they break their fast in the evening for the holy month of Ramadan — a prime season for TV dramas. MBC together with its sister entertainment and movie channels are the most watched network in the Arab world.

The subject matter strays widely from traditional programmes: Middle East period drama or romantic soaps.

However, Syrian actress Dima Al Jundi who plays the morality enforcer says only art can convey the depth of human suffering the group has wrought in a way viewers need to see.

“If you open YouTube, you’ll find videos of murder or suicide bombings. But the details of their daily life, how they recruit kids, how they abuse women — this you wouldn’t know.”

Senior Wahhabi clerics, whose influence in Saudi society dates to the kingdom’s founding 250 years ago, sharply differ, from Al Qaeda and Daesh extremists in opposing violent revolt against the government.

Saudi Arabia crushed a campaign of Al Qaeda attacks in 2003-06 but has been hit by Daesh bombings in the past two years. Saudi security police closely monitor Saudis with suspected connections to militants and have detained more than 15,000 suspects in the years since Al Qaeda’s campaign.

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