A terrorist strapped with a suicide vest confronts his would-be victims in a back-and-forth musical chorus that ultimately defuses his violent plans.
That’s the weighty premise of a viral Ramadan ad that’s sparked a wide-ranging social media discussion on terrorism this week.
The three-minute video, a commercial for Kuwait-based telecom Zain, has racked up more than 3 million views on YouTube in the past few days.
It opens on a man hunched over a set of homemade explosives at a workbench as a disembodied child’s voice implores him to rethink his mission.
“I will tell God everything,” the young girl in the voiceover says. “You’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks.”
From there, it builds into an extravagant musical number as a community rises up to stop the terrorist.
“Let’s bomb violence with mercy,” the final tagline reads as fireworks light up the sky.
Twitter users have called the ad “heart-achingly beautiful” and “shiver”-inducing. Many praised the perceived message—a reminder that the vast majority of Muslims oppose terrorism—at a time when xenophobic tensions run high.
Not everyone saw it that way. The hot-button nature of the ad unsurprisingly drew critics, who rallied around an Arabic hashtag that translates to “#ZainDistortsTheTruth.”
Chief among the complaints was the exploitation of high-profile war victims for the purposes of selling mobile service.
Detractors pointed out that the iconic image featured in the ad—a young boy covered in dust and burns–was actually taken in the aftermath of a Syrian state attack rather than a suicide bombing. Some claimed the misattribution downplayed that violence.
Ramadan, a month-long Islamic holiday that began last Friday, is perhaps the biggest showcase of the year for advertisers in the Arab world, on par with the Super Bowl in the United States or Christmas in the U.K.
Zain’s yearly effort is one of the most anticipated of the season, and its ads regularly pull in big numbers.
Most of the telecom’s previous holiday commercials, however, did so with much less controversy.