Bursts of laughter filled the room in Horchow Hall, where Karl Sharro, better known as political satirist Karl reMarks, delivered a tongue-in-cheek yet sharply critical rebuke of Western media’s current representation of the Middle East.
A full-time architect in Great Britain, Sharro uses his one-hour lunch breaks to operate his Twitter account and a separate blog entitled “Karl reMarks,” which features political and cultural online commentary of his native countries of Lebanon and Iraq. Sharro’s talk, which took place on Monday, is part of a book tour for his new book, “And Then God Created the Middle East and Said ‘Let There Be Breaking News.’” The book is a collection of Sharro’s satirical works on how Western pundits represent the Middle East. The event attracted nearly 70 participants.
“I’ve been British for several years now, and I have to say, it’s always a pleasure to visit the colonies,” Sharro said with a playful smile as he began the talk.
Sharro started his Twitter account during the events of the Arab Spring in 2011 and has accrued 136,000 followers since.
He also made headlines three years ago with his satirical video “The rise of Isis explained in one sentence,” which has 1.7 million views on Facebook alone.
“You may wonder why the Middle East gets so much airtime,” one of his tweets reads. “Well, regions of the world were competing to host the apocalypse and the Middle East won.”
During the event, Sharro expressed his frustration about what he called the Western media’s simplistic and often outright false representations of the Middle East. He derided articles such as “Is the Arab World Ready For Democracy?,” “Syria Is Iraq” and “How Climate Change Helped Isis” for their patronizing attitude and oversimplification of the complexity of the Middle East.
He added that it was this frustration about Western commentary on the issues facing the Middle East that prompted him to start writing online satire.
Sharro argued that the Western media oversimplifies the Middle Eastern politics and showed articles, like those claiming that the Sunni-Shia divide was the main cause of conflict in the Middle East, as an example of that. He then went on to present his satirical takes that explain the issues in the Western world in a similarly simplistic way — such as “Anglo-Saxon and Norman Schism Causes Brexit” or “The 1,500-Year-Old Schism Fueling the Clash Between Russia and the West.”
He then also showed a real news article, which was titled “These Stunningly Beautiful Pictures Show What Ordinary Life in Iran Is Like,” and showed his own Western version which “showed unprecedented images of Western people looking just like you and me.” Each comparison caused the audience to burst into fits of laughter.
“My main message is that I want people to not look at other cultures as so exotic and different,” Sharro told the News. “We are all ultimately similar. Pundits should put themselves into the shoes of the people they are covering.”
The event was organized by Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi in cooperation with the Arab Student Association at Yale.
Al-Qassemi said that he invited Sharro to speak because he provides “something different from what we usually have at Yale.”
“He conveys his ideas in a comical yet informative matter,” Al-Qassemi said. “It’s nice to talk about the Middle East and laugh, for once.”
Shady Qubaty ’20, the president of the Arab Student Association at Yale who helped plan the event, said that without voices like Sharro’s, people in the West end up blindly accepting “all the silly articles.”
He also added that Sharro’s message of the West’s simplified view of the Middle East is relevant to the representation of Middle Eastern students at Yale. Qubaty, who is currently pushing for an establishment of a separate Middle Eastern and North African cultural house, said that the current cultural house system that divides students by continent “removes a lot of the intricacies surrounding the different cultures.”
Saima Akhtar, a postdoctoral associate in the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale, said that she enjoyed the way Sharro “flips the script.”
“By portraying something in such a stark way like he does, it gives the audience some hard-hitting analysis in a way that can be easily digested,” Akhtar said.
Sharro has been featured in The Guardian, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Public Radio International, Al Jazeera, The Daily Star and Al-Monitor.
Ayumi Sudo | firstname.lastname@example.org