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- Written by Roshi
- Category: Culture
The start of Mutawa’s journey to bring the comic heroes to children in the Islamic world began as a counter to the proliferation of Jihadist and violent comic books glorifying children in suicide bomber jackets. Mutawa’s dealings with a corrupt Saudi government official who is clearly flush with the personal power he yields over defining “true” Islamic faith in his country make it clear that Dr. Mutawa is driven by the desire to remove the banner of Islam from the hands of a few extremists and fundamentalists in order to hand it back to the general population. When confronted with the choice of whether to oil the wheels of that Saudi official with a cash payoff, Mutawa chooses not to further empower him, and walks away (in despair), though still with verbal recognition that this man does in fact hold the power. He continues to work within the status quo of the modern world, while attempting to transform it through creative means.
In a scene early in the film, Mutawa is shown at a mosque in prayer. The viewer hears him say, “I don’t have anything against fundamentalists. It’s when those people use God to tighten the noose around those who don’t agree that I have a problem.”
Mutawa clearly wishes to not only transform the world’s perception of his region, country, culture, and religion, but also to shift his own region’s, country’, culture’s, and religion’s understanding of itself- starting with the children. It’s that access to the world’s children - East and West - that has extremists on both sides up in arms. For Europe’s and America’s Islamophobes, the comics represent the indoctrination of Sharia Islam. Some have called it a brain-washing scam to turn children into evil minions of Islam (the “evil” being only their own projection of the core nature of Islam). But from that “western” perspective, one could easily retort with just how much American indoctrination goes along with the heroic mythology of the likes of Superman and Batman (the former being much more white-bread wholesome than the brooding protector of the night). After all, our favorite spandex clad comic heroes fight for the “American way,” right? So, why is truth and justice the holy grail when the birthplace is America, while other manifestations of those high ideals are brainwashing?
In Mutawa’s home country and region, the debates are more nuanced and tend to focus more on one faith’s journey to define itself. One thing that "Wham! Bham! Islam" illustrates so well is that, from its inception, Mutawa’s "The 99" has really been a battle within Islam (with the backlash from America a more recent and almost superficial spike on the story’s journey). As more humanist and spiritually libertarian people such as Dr. Mutawa seek to reclaim their Islamic faith from local demagogues, fringe extremists and fundamentalists in power continue to lead the conversation on Islam in the global stage, claiming to represent the whole of the faith.
But the documentary brings to light an even deeper struggle about the smaller arguments of faith and decorum within even the moderate Islamic community. It’s not always corrupt officials in power who object to Mutawa’s portrayal of Islam in "The 99". Even lay people (a group of women in the movie, in fact) say he has done wrong by a variety of choices about his comic heroes. From the way the women are covered or uncovered, to the broader embodiment of Allah’s personality traits in human form, Mutawa never escapes criticism. For a non-Mideastern, non-Islamic audience, it’s actually both fascinating and educational to watch the internal debate of a faith that many in mainstream American like to define as monolithic.
This is why Mutawa knows the power of having the documentary as well as his comic heroes cartoons broadcast in America. At the time this article goes to print, the HUB network in the US has pulled the show after originally agreeing to air it, thanks to vitriol coming from American Islamophobes.
Mutawa’s 99 embody and promote tolerance, kindness, generosity, and fighting for justice. Don’t’ we need more of that in the world? Asking the extreme Right on either side of the planet to see past the red cape of faith that puts them in charge is as productive as asking the Pope not to pray. If the heroes of "The 99" can in fact begin to empower Muslim children of the world to promote peace, kindness, and justice, and stand up against those who would have them embrace martyrdom for their own purposes, and if the introduction of new pop culture motifs into the western perceptions of Islam can diversify the conversation, then Mutawa’s project could be the start of a shift in our modern global history. That shift would lessen the power of extremists. No wonder they are terrified.
If some people still can’t see past their own fears of Islam, then Solotaroff’s documentation of the ups and downs of running the comic book project as a business venture should make it difficult for even those great guardians of all things American to ignore Mutawa’s unrelenting belief in and allegiance to the tenants of capitalism and “the market.” How wonderfully American.
By G. Merati, Aslan Media Contributor
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