Banksy’s video satirizing the Syrian civil war, entitled “Rebel Rocket Attack,” left Syrians and keen watchers of the conflict confused and disappointed.
The video, released on October 6, has since been viewed by over five million users on YouTube with over 25,000 likes and approximately 5,000 dislikes. Promoting the video, the anonymous British graffiti artist posted a trailer on Instagram with the following remark:
I'm not posting any pictures today. Not after this shocking footage has emerged. Go to banksy.co.uk for the full video
The trailer received over 3,000 likes and around 300 comments filled with mixed emotions.
In what appeared to be amateur rebel footage, the spoof begins with two rebels aiming a hand held missile launcher at an object in the sky. The actual audio is taken from a video of Mennegh Airport in Syria’s war-torn Aleppo posted on February 23, as Nader pointed out. A voice in the background yells, “Go back, go back, go back,” and another documents the footage saying, “God is the greatest; Aleppo’s military council air defense battalion.” Moments after firing, Disney’s Dumbo falls from the sky, battered and bruised. The masked rebels, wearing shalwar kameez, dance around and on top of the deceased cartoon character in celebration. A child, dressed in a similar attire to the adults, enters the scene, looks at Dumbo and then kicks the rebel holding the launcher. Throughout the video, the rebels are heard shouting the infamous Takbir, a chant often used by Islamists during protests and moderate Muslims praising God, “Allahu Akbar,” meaning God is the Greatest.
While the video left many wondering what “Allahu Akbar” means, it was also met with critical analysis of Banksy’s leftist views. The Washington Post’s Max Fisher writes about the work’s awkward politics:
Unlike his West Bank work, it's not really dealing with the conflict or its larger issues, even from a one-sided ideological perspective. It's not getting to the core issues, but rather sticks on one of the few aspects that European and Arab leftist movements feel comfortable addressing, and ignores all the rest. That doesn't mean the video is bad or wrong as a piece of political art, of course
Similarly, Syrian blogger Darthnader looks at the work through the eyes of Edward Said, adding that both imagery and context are offensive. He asks:
So what exactly is the message? That the Syrian regime warplanes are analogous to poor flying elephants? That the rebels in Syria are a bunch of ragtag buffoons going around trying to kill even the poorest creatures?
Twitter user MadeInNablus echoes his views:
Completely baffled by Banksy's new short vid on Syria. To me it has an air of orientalism about it..savage allahu-akbar-screaming rebels etc
— Made In Nablus (@MadeInNablus) October 9, 2013
Some even questioned the video’s purpose, concluding that Banksy tackled an issue that he “does not understand enough about,” argues Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro on PRI. Evidently, Paul Woodward of War in Context also says that it was devoid of any real meaning:
Banksy’s latest stunt is just that: a stunt which calls for attention yet speaks of little more than the universal desire to be noticed. It is a shout to be heard made by someone who has nothing to say — not a sharp piece of political commentary.
Others believed that Banksy sided with Assad, and condemned him for mocking a resistance that began with freedom graffiti. Rana Kabbani tweets:
— Rana Kabbani (@RanaKabbani54) October 8, 2013
While some dismissed the video as a stunt, others emphasized that it only gained attention because of the international fame Banksy has gained over the years. However, many others, specifically Syrians, did not care for it, as Twitter user Donatella points out:
The Banksy video: all my (non-Syrian) friends love it, all my Syrian friends havent seen it and dont give a damn about seeing it..#Syria
— dona (@donatelladr) October 8, 2013