As 23-year-old student Zarina watches Real Housewives of Isis on a phone amid the bustle of Whitechapel market in the east end of London, she puts her hand to her mouth and gasps before bursting into laughter.
On the screen a hijab-wearing character models a suicide vest for her fellow jihadi wives. “What do you think?” she asks. “Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The pal reacts by excitedly posting a picture on Instagram, saying: “Hashtag OMG. Hashtag Jihadi Jane. Hashtag death to the west, ISIS emoji.”
The comedy sketch – aired this week as part of BBC2’s new comedy series Revolting – has come under fire from some viewers who have called it “morally bankrupt” and insensitive, while others have accused the BBC of making “Hijabis feel more isolated [and] targeted by Islamophobes”. Comedians, however, have said that reaction to the sketch is part of a growing culture of offence which – alongside stories that overhype the reaction – are in danger of stifling one of Britain’s most successful exports: its satire.
“Some people say that they are offended, some people are offended on others’ behalf, others are offended and they don’t even know why. Being offended is very popular these days,” says comedian and writer Shazia Mirza.