An ad urging Muslims to “worship your God with love, not terror” has gone viral in the Arab world, attracting more than 2.8 million views since Friday.
The music video, created by the Kuwaiti telecom company Zain and featuring Emirati musician Hussain al-Jassmi, was released a day before Ramadan—a peak advertising time, with TV viewership spiking as people fast.
The ad features real-life survivors of terror, along with an actor portraying Omran Daqneesh, the shell-shocked five-year-old boy photographed in an Aleppo ambulance last year. Outraged critics say the ad exploits tragedy, and others have said Daqneesh is a victim of the Assad regime, not Islamic terror.
The music video tells the story of a man preparing to carry out a suicide bombing; he is confronted by victims and survivors of terror, who implore him to reconsider. “I will tell God everything,” a child’s voice says at the beginning of the three-minute advertisement. “That you’ve filled the cemetaries with our children and emptied our school desks. That you’ve sparked unrest and turned our streets into darkness.”
Using the hashtag #zaindistortsthetruth, many are now demanding that the entire music video be removed.
Kutaiba Yassin, a Syrian writer, wrote that “the child Omran is a victim of Assad’s barrel bombs and not the terrorism of [the Islamic State]. Art of justice for any victim is to expose his killer. Zain’s ad distorts the truth.”
And, according to the BBC, Syrian activists Hadi Abdallah and Lina Shamy said the ad was “indirectly acquitting Assad of crimes,” adding that the person responsible for Daqneesh’s tragedy was “not… someone in an explosive belt but someone who wears a suit and tie and sits in a palace.”
“Thank you Zain for trivializing Omran’s trauma and turning him into a meme to serve your pointless Ramadan ad,” said one Tweet translated by the Australian.
“Zain, please take down your offensive ad,” wrote Ammar Youzbashi, a Canadian refugee advocate. “You have no right to exploit children and people[‘s] tragedy for your own commercial gain. … I’m not sure how using people’s tragedy in a commercial can be considered beautiful.”
Even so, many commended the ad for its direct appeal to Muslims to reject terror.
“Thank you so much for this peaceful message,” wrote one Youtube viewer. “Clearly not everyone who believes in Allah is ‘extremist in Islam.’ I hope this video goes viral and reaches everyone in the whole world, including the West Christians and Jews.”
Kareem Shaheen, an Egyptian journalist, acknowledged that the portrayal of Omran Daqneesh didn’t make contextual sense, unless it was “a deliberate point to equate all forms of terrorism against civilians.”
But, Shaheen wrote: “I like the reclamation of ‘Allahu Akbar’ as being ‘God is greater than your terrorism.’ … I like the idea of a larger effort to ostracize extremist thought as incompatible with decency and modern society.”
So far, the video has received more than 53,000 likes—and fewer than 5,000 dislikes—on Youtube.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.