Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In The City of All Faiths

"Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice"~ Josephine Baker

"Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, not at all, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you." ~ Reverend Dexter, BABYLON 5

“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

I don't like the word "tolerance." Tolerate means to put up with something, to, according to Webster, "allow" it. It implies that whatever you're tolerating is different, inferior or wrong. Selma G Hirsch, in THE FEARS MEN LIVE BY, said "Respect—not tolerance—must be our goal." This gets back to the whole Star Trek IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) thing. Even respect isn't enough - we should delight in our differences. Octavio Paz put it as, "life is plurality, death is uniformity."

And this is where myths and stories come in. A wonderful example of this is a new trend in comics by Arabic and Indian creators. The stories show that people everywhere have the same needs and wants.

AK Comics were published and sold through the Middle East. The company was founded by Ayman Kandeel in Egypt "to fill the cultural gap created over the years by providing essentially Arab role models, in our case, Arab superheroes to become a source of pride to our young generations. Editor Marwan Nashar read Spider-man but "always wondered why there weren't any Arabs leaping off buildings."

But Arabic or Islamic pride is not a main concern of AK's heroes. AK wants to promote peace through understanding - understanding that different cultures are all human at heart. And the similarities stand out in their comics more than the differences. The street scenes and day to day lives could be from any city anywhere.

The cornerstone of the AK universe is the City of All Faiths. The superheroine Jalila is its protector. In her secret identity Jalila is a nuclear scientist. Aya, Princess of Darkness, is a law student in her real life and Zein, the Last Pharoah, is a philosophy professor. "The religious backgrounds of the heroes remain undisclosed so that no religion or faith can be perceived as better than another."

Respect for different faiths and strong women characters? That's not what we'd expect to appeal to the Arabic world! At least not the stereotyped Arabic world we are told about

A new Arabic superhero series appeared in the last few months from Teshkeel Comics: the 99 (pictured above). Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, psychologist and children's book author, created the heroes, each of whom represents one of the 99 attributes of Allah. But again the stories are not about Islam. 99 gems containing ancient wisdom were lost around the world, and the people who find them are gifted with super powers. People of all kinds from all over the planet.

Virgin Comics features writers and artists from India, and works ancient Eastern mythologies into modern superhero myths like THE SADHU, DEVI and SNAKEWOMAN, and comics that tell the Indian myths directly, their India Authenic series. Devi can be read online at http://www.virgincomics.com/devi.html

There are too many misunderstandings between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. Some are born of ignorance, some created deliberately (*cough* weaponsofmassdestruction *cough*). Take the word Jihad. Its primary meaning in the Qur’ān is the inner struggle against a person's own demons; wars to defend the faith are dismissed as the Lesser Jihad.

We fear what we don't understand. A wise little old green man once said that fear leads to hate.

Shared stories that lead to understanding can, literally, save the world. And that's supposed to the job of our superheroes in the first place!


Dawn said...

Where can I get my hands on these comics you've mentioned?

Doctor Zen said...

AK Comics is on hiatus, planning to revise their output in the form of graphic novels.

Teshkeel has just started with two free specials and about 3-4 issues of the ongoing series.

Virgin has been around for a couple of years, and offers most of its series in trade paperback collections.

I get them all at a good discount thru G-Mart online subscription service. Call me. I'll add G-Mart, Virgin and Teshkeel to my links in case anybody else is interested.

theoldbastard said...

The comics philosophy sounds great, though I don't have much time to investigate them properly at this point.Superheroes were never my thing as a kid; just down-to-earth heroes were good enough for me. Nevertheless, kudos to all those people involved in breaking down the walls.

The Reverend Dexter and that wise little old green man knew a thing or two. Ignorance has many servants yet in this world, but it is a smaller world than it used to be, and I have hope that youth today will value things in common more than my generation did and build accordingly.