Book Review: ‘Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic’ injects sarcasm into serious topic

At a time extremist ideologies and the fear of the “other” are rising, several writers and artists have collaborated to mock both the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Western reaction to it. The result is the book “Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic,” which injects sarcasm and humour into a topic nor­mally treated with dead serious­ness.
British-Palestinian writer Arwa Mahdawi asks what “extreme vet­ting” really is. We should vet all the time, she wrote, and not only on the borders. We should vet everyone we meet and should not just ban suspicious people from coming into the country but kick suspicious people out.
Mahdawi provided a few suggestions for how to spot an Islamist: For example, as iPhones crack easily, the Nokia 105 is the preferred phone brand of ISIS fighters. She mocks the terror­ist behaviour checklist used by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for airport screening, which, among other dubious guidelines, says that “strong body odour” is a sign someone has evil intentions. Other signs are exaggerated yawning, whistling, verbally expressing hate for the screening process and a cold, penetrating stare.
“I don’t want to throw shade here but ISIS really needs to ex­pand its wardrobe. Have you ever seen a jihadist wearing colour? No,” Mahdawi wrote. Another passage reads: “In 2015, CNN broke the news that ISIS recruits women with kittens and Nutella. So, if you spot someone sur­rounded by kittens, languorously spooning Nu­tella from the jar you should be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Satirist Karl Sharro also mocked the US vetting system: “First the idea was for a Muslim travel ban — but that didn’t work. Then it became a ban on certain Muslim-majority coun­tries — but that wasn’t working either. Then it mutated into a ban on travelling with laptops and iPads. It was as if the Trump administration was thinking: ‘We can’t stop them coming here but at least we will deprive them of the pleasure of choosing their own entertainment on the flight.’”
After laughing at US President Donald Trump’s ideas, Sharro laughs at the absurdity of the Lebanese people who admire the United States. “As anyone who has ever attempted to obtain a US visa will know, the process is so absurd and the odds of success so low that back in the 1980s a man from my hometown in Lebanon became an instant celebrity when he managed to get his hands on one.”
Lebanese writer and journalist Hazem Saghieh wrote about his friend comparing deceased Libyan dictator Muam­mar Qaddafi to Trump.
Qaddafi “died before his time. He was a strange one, way before Trump. If Qaddafi were still alive today, I think he and Trump would be great friends. Qaddafi was also incredibly uneven and plenty of people considered him quite successful and clever, given that he remained in power for more than 40 years,” Saghieh wrote.
Welsh-Egyptian TV presenter Omar Hamdi wrote about re­search that concluded “Islam is not spiritual but it is a useful identity.”
Mariam Amelie, who led the study at the fictional School for the Study of Inferior Cultures, said: “There are some people out there who think Islam is a spir­itual tradition, concerned with matters such as combating the ego, selflessness and purification of the heart. They’re wrong. The results from our study undisput­edly show that Islam is, in actual fact, technically an identity — like being black or a goth.”
Filled with funny colouring pages, cartoons, striking photog­raphy and creative comics, “Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic” uses raw humour to fight stereotypes and teach people “how to stop wor­rying and learn to love the alien next door.” Dunia El-Zobaidi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.