Zain’s Ramadan Ad, With Images of Terrorism, Divides Twitter

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — A suicide bomber straps on an explosive vest and boards a bus, but the passengers challenge him with exhortations to love and be tolerant.

So begins a new TV advertisement from a Middle Eastern telecommunications company that has set off impassioned debates across the Arab world for its use of images of victims of the region’s violence.

The company, Zain, which is based in Kuwait, released the advertisement on Friday, before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The video quickly lit up the internet, attracting nearly three million views on YouTube and widespread sharing and discussion on social media.

The three-minute video begins with scenes of children playing soccer and an old man kissing a baby’s feet, mixed with images of a suicide bomber preparing to carry out an attack.

“I will tell God everything,” a young boy says over the montage. “That you’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks. That you’ve sparked unrest and turned our streets to darkness.”

اعلان زين رمضان 2017

Video by Zain

Later scenes show footage from terrorist attacks in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — countries where Zain sells products — and images of a bride who survived an attack on a wedding hall in Jordan, a father whose son was killed in an attack in Baghdad, and a man who survived the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Kuwait.

As music builds on the soundtrack, men stream out of a mosque and children leave a school to confront the bomber. He falls to his knees, and fireworks erupt as Hussain Al Jassmi, a pop star from the United Arab Emirates, sings:

Let’s bomb violence with mercy,

Let’s bomb delusion with the truth,

Let’s bomb hatred with love,

Let’s bomb extremism for a better life.

Some viewers praised the ad for its positive message.

“The Zain Telecom ad for #Ramadan is powerful and sends a message of peace,” wrote Karthic Sinnadurai on Twitter.

“Beautiful antiterrorism Ramadan ad by @Zain. A poignant and important message!” wrote Sameen Mohsin.

Others criticized the ad for using terrorism imagery to sell products, and for not addressing the deeper causes of violence in the Middle East.

Many critics took offense at the ad’s reference to Omran Daqneesh, a boy who survived an attack in Syria last year and was photographed in the back of an ambulance covered in blood and dust, an image that was widely seen and shared online. The critics pointed out that the boy was not injured in a terrorist attack, but in an airstrike by the Syrian government.

“One more reason not to like @Zain’s Ramadan TV ad,” Rawan Da’as, a Jordanian human rights worker, wrote on Twitter.

Others criticized the ad using an Arabic hashtag that translates as #Zain_Distorts_the_Truth.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Da’as said she had grown tired of the expectation that Muslims needed to renounce terrorism.

“I am not responsible when it comes to terrorism, and what I see from these ads is that they promote the idea that terrorism has to do with Islam in some way,” she said. “To me, that is offensive.”

She also criticized the use of the Syrian boy’s image.

“They put Omran as if he suffered from terrorism, while he suffered from the regime,” she said. “It is not nice that you take things out of context and say that little boys in Syria are suffering without talking about why they are suffering.”

Terrorism as a theme has become more prominent in pop culture in the Arab world since the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the attacks carried out by the group across the region, from Libya to Kuwait. Arab comedians have mocked what they see as the jihadists’ hypocrisy, and the Arab world’s most watched entertainment channel, MBC 1, recently began a dramatic series based on the lives of women under the Islamic State.