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New Show 'Black Crows' To Tell Stories Of Life Under ISIS


Something about a new TV show makes the head of the network nervous. The program is on MBC. That's MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center, with a big satellite audience in the Arab world. For the current holy month of Ramadan, when people watch a lot of TV, MBC program director Ali Jaber scheduled the new series.

What a fascinating concept that we're going to discuss here - what an interesting program.

ALI JABER: Yeah (laughter). Yeah (laughter), thank you.

INSKEEP: Keep that uneasy chuckle in mind when considering just what the program is. It's called "Black Crows," and it's a drama about ISIS set in the capital of the so-called Islamic State. It's a sensitive matter to show it in the region where ISIS operates, but Jaber considers it essential.

JABER: We need to be relevant, and this is the prevailing conversation in the Arab world. This is a series - a drama series about the women under ISIS, whether a woman participating with ISIS or a woman suffering from ISIS. And it's set Raqqa in Syria, and it basically exposes the life there, what they preach and what they practice in reality.

INSKEEP: So it's in the ISIS capital, in this obviously male-dominated area. But you focus on families and children. That's who's on the screen, scene after scene after scene.

JABER: Yes, we do that. And they're all taken from - through stories. I mean, the writer and the researcher have interviewed all those people who have come back from Raqqa in Syria, and they have based all of the drama series on these stories.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking of a scene that I have seen where there are what appear to be child snipers. They're being trained how to kill people.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, foreign language spoken).

JABER: Yeah, child soldiers and child abuse and all of these things.

INSKEEP: And the way they're being trained to kill people is by actually killing people.

JABER: Yeah. I mean, there are no dummies there.

Look, it's horrific stories. It is something that is considered a menace. And unfortunately, the media all over the world expose these things as general and as representative of the Arab world. And this drama is here to say that this is happening. It is part of our region, and the people of the region need to tackle that.

INSKEEP: As I was watching, I was thinking sometimes of the famous American television series "The Sopranos" about Mafia figures, mobsters in the United States. And of course, these are horrible people, and yet, sometimes, they seem like ordinary, middle-class families. And it seems like a kind of commentary on American life. Is this series just about ISIS, or is it intended to be about something a little more?

JABER: Look, I think ISIS did not come out from emptiness. It came out from some of the wrong religious teachings that have been going on in our societies for a very long time. I've always maintained that ISIS is not only an organization. It's an idea; it's a narrative. And you don't bomb an idea. You fight an idea with a more progressive, more compelling idea.

INSKEEP: Have you heard from ISIS about the series?

JABER: We've heard a lot from ISIS about this series in terms of threats that we are receiving every day. I am personally receiving a lot of threats. That's why, you know, I chuckled when you asked me about it. We have increased security around our bases in Dubai and in Beirut, in Cairo and in Riyadh and in Jeddah. And this is what we can do. We are fighting against very formidable enemy because they are using the words of God and they are using the basic instincts of people to lure sympathizers and to lure soldiers. And this is dangerous. And somebody has got to really stand up and say something against this.

INSKEEP: Ali Jaber is the director of MBC, the Arab world's largest satellite broadcaster.

Thank you for taking the time.

JABER: Thank you very much for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.