“The Muslims are coming”: The enactment of morality in activist Muslim comedy

Fadi Hirzalla 1  and Liesbet van Zoonen 1
  • 1 Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Fadi Hirzalla
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  • Fadi Hirzalla is a political and communication scientist, specializing in media and citizenship. He is currently a senior researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam and a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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and Liesbet van Zoonen
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  • Liesbet van Zoonen is professor of Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam and dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities. She specializes in gender and (new) media, politics and popular culture.
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Abstract

In the context of the many and persistent Islam controversies, we investigate how activist Muslim comedy aims to unite Muslims and non-Muslims. To this purpose and to further current research and theory on humor functions, we develop a morality-based analytic framework that demonstrates the social potentials of humor. We propose to approach humor as engendering moral appeals that function as sign posts, indicating to audiences whom they ought to support based on their shared virtues, and which people ought to be defied for their vices. Our case study focuses on the documentary The Muslims are Coming! Based on a semiotic analysis, we find that this movie invites non-Muslims to unite with Muslims based on their shared normality, modernity and peacefulness. Furthermore, the unified in-group is invited to oppose three out-groups: conservative Muslims, terrorists, and ignorant media. These appeals can be properly understood in the context of the general and official aim of the documentary, which is “combating Islamophobia”, but they also produce particular limitations, for instance with respect to gender, and tend to smoothen legitimate difference.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.

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