Later this week one of the most anticipated and remarkable East/West crossovers will occur when The 99 and the Justice League of America join forces.
In other words, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman will be joining forces with their Middle Eastern counterparts The 99 – Dr Ramzi Razem, Jabbar the Powerful, and Battina the Hidden to name but a few – to combat crime.
The 99, which only a year after its creation in 2007 was identified as one of the ‘Top 20 Trends Sweeping the Globe’ by Forbes Magazine, is the brainchild of Naif al-Mutawa, and has received the stamp of approval from Barack Obama who praised the Superheroes for embodying “the teachings of the tolerance of Islam”.
It has also inspired a theme park in Kuwait and an animated series is in the offing (although this has been postponed till next year). This week, though, The 99 will go truly global!
But can they really change opinions on Islam and the Muslim world?
The series is obviously aimed at young children and the optimist within me believes that Muslim and non-Muslim children will immensely benefit from The 99.
Non-Muslim children will see brown and white characters acting in harmony on the side of good and so, hopefully, will become more consciously aware and accepting of ethnic-minorities. While Muslim children’s self esteem and sense of place in society will, hopefully, improve as they see popular fictional characters that they can instantly relate to in the mainstream media – and in the current global climate surely this can only be a good thing?
In many respects however children aren’t the problem. As long as The 99 are deemed sufficiently cool – and their collaboration with the DC comic crew will help this – children will automatically accept them – regardless of their appearance.
The 99’s primary enemy is adults on both sides of the globe.
Last week the New York Post ran an article entitled ‘Cancel The 99 before it starts’ and there has been considerable fury across the web. Many Muslims, meanwhile, have declared al-Mutawa’s creation as blasphemous, and in a great interview with the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr yesterday he talks of opposition from within his own family.
It seems that the those most angry are those who have misunderstood al-Mutawa’s intentions. The heroes are based on the 99 attributes of Allah, but these are not attributes exclusively dedicated to Islam, they are attributes that all mankind should be committed too.
However, I fear that the good message and intentions of the comic maybe lost in the unnecessary and misguided focus on the characters origins rather than their actions.
The cynic in me says that in a world where we have recently witnessed controversy over plans for a Mosque near Ground Zero, France ban the burka and a Dutch politician denounce Islam, opinions – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – maybe difficult to change.
In many respects altering Western attitudes maybe easier than changing those of conservative Muslims. Let’s not forget that Salman Rushdie, Pokemon and the Eyptian version of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ have all been issued fatwa’s, and undoubtedly there are people who want, and are waiting for, The 99 to be issued one.
This could arguably be what The 99 needs to detach itself from its present negative connotations though. A fatwa on a comic strip that aims to improve the global reputation of Islam would be ridiculous and therefore attract mass media attention, which in turn would illustrate the al-Mutawa’s commendable intentions.
The 99 this week will embark on their longest and toughest battle yet against their most determined, ruthless and daunting foe, and (excuse the cliché) they maybe winning the battle, but they are long way away from winning the war. However, surely if just one opinion is changed then they have been successful?