In this article for Foreign Policy, Cynthia Schneider (scholar and former ambassador to the Netherlands, and co-director at MOST) reports about tackling extremist groups with an unconventional tool – stories. As Ms. Schneider writes in her piece, “fighting extremist narratives with compelling stories that embed what the Islamic State opposes — tolerance, plurality, meritocratic systems, participative democracy, human rights — and that expose the group’s hypocrisy and inhumanity…”
Ms. Schneider accounts a groundbreaking partnership between top American television writers and MBC Group, the leading media company in the Middle East. Ali Jaber, the director of TV programming for MBC, spearheaded the Sunnylands meeting where showrunners from such hit television shows as “Black-ish,” “Silicon Valley,” and “King of the Hill” met with Arab counterparts for brainstorming sessions. “Creating compelling TV is a craft, and what we look to Hollywood for is to teach us the craft of storytelling, not to produce for us ideas of their own,” comments Mr. Jaber.
Mr. Jaber talks about the role of media in the fight against the Islamic State. “For us at MBC, we look at ISIS as an idea, a narrative — a dangerous one. We believe that the only way to beat that idea is to create another one that is better, more appealing, and progressive.” Mr. Jaber cites two popular shows doing their part to grab hold of the narrative: the satire “Selfie” which critiques not only the Islamic State but also Saudi Arabia’s religious rules and regulations, and “Black Crows” which is about the women in the Islamic State.
Christopher Keyser, who oversaw the third and final season of FX’s “Tyrant,” arranged for a MBC executive to shadow him, and showed her how to work with writers to create a season full of stories. The ultimate coup to fighting extremism via narratives, according to Mr. Jaber, will be “great Arab productions done in the American way.”