Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan fights Islamophobia!

Sometimes a superhero gets to be a real-life good guy – or girl.

At least three Captain Marvels have had stories in which they face, and battle, bigotry, prejudice, and disctimination. In "Mr. Tawny Gets a New Home" from 1947, the original Captain Marvel helps Mr. Tawny against a neighborhood group that doesn't want tigers moving into the neighborhood. Marvel Comics' Captain Mar-Vell, as a "white" Kree, not of pure "blue" Kree blood, found himself to be a pawn of the political maneuverings of Zarek, a high government official who hated the "inferior" white Kree. Monica Rambeau faced the "glass ceiling" as a woman at her job in the New Orleans Harbor Patrol, and later appeared in a one-shot issue about racial bigotry on a college campus.

Now the new Ms. Marvel it taking on anti-Islamic sentiment on the streets of San Francisco.
Not too long ago the mantle of Ms. Marvel was dropped by Carol Danvers, the character who had carried it from its inception as that of the “First Feminist Superhero” in the 1970's. Now it has been taken up by Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim Afghan-American girl in New Jersey. She has the power to make herself or parts of her body change shape or grow bigger or smaller according to her imagination and willpower.

In both cases these heroes have stood for a minority that had recently become talked-about in the news and were finding their voice. The feminist movement had grown in the 1960's and hit the mainstream in the 1970's with Ms. Magazine and the drive for the Equal Rights Amendment. Since the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, Muslims in America have become more visible, even if a lot of that visibility comes from people noticing them for the first time and associating them with the terrorists who committed the attack.

One particular example of this attention has over the past few years, been coming from a group calling itself “The American Freedom Defense Initiative.” This is a group founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in 2010 and also goes by the name “Stop Islamization of America,” which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about its political leanings. (the Wikipedia listing is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Islamization_of_America, and if you want to see what they write about themselves, go to http://freedomdefense.typepad.com/)

One of the things for which it has become known is buying ads on buses. In the particular instance of interest to the Captain Marvel diaspora, is this one (shown in versions seen on Washington DC and San Francisco buses, respectively):



It purports to show one Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, “Leader of the Muslim world,” in conference with Adolph Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany

In January of this year (2015 for those of you reading this in some other year and don't bother reading the dates on the post) they managed to raise enough money through an Indiegogo.com campaign to defray a part of the cost of posting this ad on buses in Washington D.C. A similar ad also ran on buses in San Francisco. You can read the details over and over again in The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2014/05/15/in-metrobus-ads-pro-israel-group-features-photo-of-hitler/, The Huffingtn Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/20/anti-muslim-ad-dc_n_5360246.html, The Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/19/dc-bus-ads-feature-hitler-anti-quran-campaign/, International Business Times http://www.ibtimes.com/new-american-freedom-defense-initiative-sponsored-anti-islam-ad-hits-public-bus-dc-1584340, Newsmax http://www.newsmax.com/US/Adolf-Hitler-Haj-Amin-al-Husseini/2014/05/19/id/572169/, DCist http://dcist.com/2014/05/pamela_geller_is_back_with_another.php, and Loonwatch http://www.loonwatch.com/2014/05/washington-dc-geller-is-back-with-another-anti-islam-metro-ad/ (be prepared for some fascinating opinionating in the comments sections).

I looked up this Grand Mufti on Wikipedia and a few other sites. He is a very interesting character with an adventurous history of wars, revolts, riots, nationalism, conflict and cooperation with various sides of colonial issues, arrests, etc, etc. His title of “Grand Mufti” was apparently gained through some nifty maneuvering and assistance by British authorities, and though it did give him great influence over many Muslims and Islamic organizations and leaders, he was not exactly “leader of the Muslim world,” as the poster says. Nonetheless, he did have meeting with Hitler and did actively work to forward the cause of Axis victory. He did state that he wanted to rid the Muslim world of Jews, although whether or not he supported their extermination seems to depend on which website you read.

The point here, however, is that this poster attempts to equate Islam with hatred of Jews, and that we therefore should hate Islam. There are some people in this world who object to characterizing Muslims this way.

It just so happens that the new Ms. Marvel is Muslim, an Pakistani-American teenage girl in Jersey City, New Jersey named Kamala Khan. She has proven to be a very popular character not only among Muslims and girls, but comic readers in general, even expanding her popularity beyond the general comic book audience.

In a brilliant piece of unsanctioned guerrilla usage of a culture-specific superhero icon, someone in San Francisco used images of Ms. Marvel and text expressing indignation against hatred, bigotry, and Islamophobia to deface the bus ads there, covering them up almost entirely. The only words left clearly visible were “STOP THE HATE...to Islamic countries.”





Ms. Marvel writer and Kamala Khan writer C. Willow Wilson tweeted about this, supporting the First Amendment rights of free speech of both the advertisers and the artists, and supporting the message her character was being used to spread.

You can see accounts or this at the following websites:
Most of these acounts dscribe the artist as “anonymous,” but
https://baqup.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/saying-no-to-hatred-with-superheroes/, saying they did this, but the blog post on the web page is somewhat equivocal on whether or not it was actually them who did it.

And you can find an incredibly diverse collection of opinions, conspiracy theories, and revisionist history at the Facebok post of Street Cred – Advertising for the People https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=348076972052222&id=102257986634123

The defacement was clearly illegal, and the ads were protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but implying that all Muslims have the same objectives as Nazi Germany is wrong.

I think the most insightful comment about this was these tweets by Ms. Wilson, who supports the right t the AFDI to post their ads:

“To me, the graffiti is part of the back-and-forth of the free speech conversation. Call and response. Argument, counterargument.”
“To me that says free speech is working--it is enabling and fostering public exchange.”

What do you think?

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