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Shahid Mahmood

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Muslim Superheroes and the House Radicalization Hearings

Posted: 03/09/11 05:13 PM ET

"Without the bitter, the sweet ain't as sweet." --Vanilla Sky

Batman, in his comic book quest for justice, realizes he cannot stand alone in his crusade against global crime. The super-hero's recent choice of a new partner, Nightrunner, an Algerian Muslim living in Paris, has become a source of torment for many right-wing bloggers. Nightrunner is from a large ethnic group in France making perfect sense in casting him as Batman's latest partner. The character, Bilal Asselah, suffered greatly during the 2005 French-Muslim protests and was beaten mercilessly by the police. Ironically, it is likely because of an intolerant right that the creators of Batman created Bilal Asselah in the first place -- an individual who finds solace in adopting the masked identity of the vigilante Nightrunner.

There are certain parallels between the creation of Superman and Batman with that of Nightrunner. Young Jewish artists and writers sketched both Superman and Batman for the first time in the 1930s as fascism raised its head -- heroes, sent to save the world from evil. Their creators drew inspiration, willfully or not, from religious archetypes. Just as the baby Moses was set adrift in a small craft of bulrushes on the Nile, Superman was rocketed to Earth in a capsule moments before his world exploded.

Many years ago Jerry Robinson, the creator of Batman's arch-villain the Joker, asked me to join the "Cartoonist and Writers Syndicate." In his sales pitch for the Syndicate, he told me he enjoyed the manner in which I brought opposites together -- Bush and bin Laden; India and Pakistan; CNN and Al-Jazeera; the Mullah and Nuclear-power. Jerry mentioned, "At a glance your cartoons tell so much about contemporary world history and the absurdity of it all." What he meant was there should always be two contrasting views for a meaningful dialogue to take place. Like Batman and Nightrunner; Islam and the Republican-right are pairings that reflect the times we live in.

A display of these pairings has been on display this week. Peter King, a New York Republican, is chairing congressional hearings this week on the threat homegrown Islamist terrorism poses to the United States. Rep. King feels Muslim leaders are not doing enough to prevent future extremist attacks. He says, "There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening." Inflammatory comments are indiscriminate and affect everyone in the broader Muslim community. Muslim groups have been protesting incessantly. However, there is a point to be made: What are mainstream Muslim leaders doing to distance themselves from radical Islam? It is easy to clamor for the First Amendment, and claim an affront to fundamental freedoms. It is easy to protest against the similarities between these congressional hearings and the McCarthyism of the 1950s. But what is really being done? Not a whole lot. Muslim leaders have yet to issue a fatwa against those Islamists who kill Christians; desecrate Synagogues; disfigure women and distort their articles of Faith to justify wonton acts of destruction.

Based on the future actions of Muslim leaders, Nightrunner will become either an Uncle Tom for affirmative action or a true symbol of hope for underprivileged minorities living in poverty. Hope is worth pursuing, for the other option is not too attractive. Rep. King, in his 2004 novel, Vale of Tears, illustrates an anti-Muslim malevolence in which Manhattan is struck again by Muslim extremists only to be saved by a Congressman hero from New York. History has an ugly habit of repeating itself.

 

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