The rhetoric of humour in Arabic comedy
: countering violent extremism and politicisation of religion

  • Moutaz Alkheder

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis explores a relatively recent phenomenon in the Arab world: the use of humour as a counternarrative to the propaganda disseminated by violent extremist groups, particularly 'The Islamic State,' and as a response to the political instrumentalisation of religion by religiopolitical movement, exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The primary focus of this research centres on mainstream comedy programs, specifically "Buqʿat Ḍawʾ" (Spotlight) and "al-Barnāmij" (The Programme). The central inquiry underlying this study pertains to the capacity of humour to function as a rhetorical tool, a distinct form of persuasion aimed at reshaping perspectives and attitudes. In light of notable gaps in the existing academic literature, this thesis presents a multifaceted and interdisciplinary theoretical framework, with rhetoric serving as the primary guiding theory. The framework harmoniously synthesizes classical rhetoric with humour research, incorporates insights from contemporary scientific research on emotions to explain the persuasive role of emotions, and draws from the field of argumentation studies to inform the manner in which humour can effectively construct an argument. The primary conclusion of this study is that rhetorical humour can serve as a valuable instrument within the communication model for countering violent extremism (CVE). It advocates for the utilization of rhetorical strategies, as opposed to logic-centric approaches, positing that such strategies may yield more favourable outcomes in the context of countering violent extremism. The study underscores the practical significance of rhetoric, as it employs non-argumentative persuasive methods, thereby addressing the intricate emotional, social, and ideological underpinnings of radicalization. Rhetorical humour, in this regard, emerges as a justified "response in kind" to the emotionally charged persuasive appeal of extremist narratives, rendering it a suitable tool for mitigating the risk of radicalization among susceptible individuals.
Date of Award28 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJeffrey Stevenson Murer (Supervisor) & Raymond Hinnebusch (Supervisor)


  • Rhetoric
  • Humour
  • Comedy
  • Countering violent extremism (CVE)
  • Counterterrorism
  • Terrorism
  • Narrative
  • Spotlight (Buq’at Ḍawʾ)
  • The Programme (Al-Barnāmij)

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