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Muslim superhero comics meet resistance in U.S.
The Muslim-themed comic series 'The 99' has been blasted by a small group of critics of Islam in the United States.
October 5th, 2011
02:09 PM ET

Muslim superhero comics meet resistance in U.S.

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Naif Al-Mutawa anticipated a struggle when he launched an Islam-inspired comic book series that he hoped would become a symbol of toleration.

He worried about the comics being banned in Saudi Arabia - which wound up happening, briefly – and he expected to be challenged by conservatives in Islam, since Al-Mutawa wanted to buck the trend of Islamic culture being directly tied to the Koran.

But it wasn’t an Islamic cleric that stalled the series, called “The 99,” after the 99 attributes of Allah, which the superheroes are supposed to embody.

It is the American market, and the voices of Islam’s Western critics, that have caused the most problems for “The 99,” says Al-Mutawa, who is the focus of a PBS documentary airing next week.

In 2010, President Barack Obama called the comic books, which debuted in 2006, “the most innovative response” to America’s expanding dialogue with the Muslim world, which Obama has encouraged. The series features 99 superheroes from across the globe who team up to combat villains and who embody what Al-Mutawa calls basic human values like trust and generosity.

But Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti-born clinical psychologist and graduate of Columbia Business School, says a vocal minority have raised surprising questions about American tolerance of Islam.

Meeting resistance

The idea for “The 99” started during a conversation in a London cab between Al-Mutawa and his sister. It took off, although slowly, after Al-Mutawa raised $7 million from 54 investors across four continents.

The first issue was released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2006. The comic book was quickly banned in Saudi Arabia and Al-Mutawa received threats of fatwas against him and his project from clerics. But Saudi Arabia eventually lifted the ban and the television adaptation of “The 99” will be aired there this year.

Al-Mutawa and his team have now raised more than $40 million in venture capital for the project.

But when word leaked that The Hub, a Discovery Channel cable and satellite television venture, purchased the series and planned to air it in the United States, the response from conservative bloggers and authors was swift.

A burqa-wearing superhero?

Pamela Geller, founder of the Atlas Shrugs blog, called the series, part of the “ongoing onslaught of cultural jihad,” and created a counter-comic strip that made the 19 hijackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks the superheroes.

New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, meanwhile, urged readers to “Hide your face and grab the kids. Coming soon to a TV in your child’s bedroom is a posse of righteous, Sharia-compliant Muslim superheroes - including one who fights crime hidden head-to-toe by a burqa.”

According to Al-Mutawa, the criticism spooked The Hub. “All of a sudden we couldn't get an airdate and I was asked to be patient and we have been,” Al-Mutawa said. “But it has been a year and the actual push-back died down.”

Mark Kern, Senior Vice President of Communication for The Hub, told CNN that “‘The 99’ is one of the many shows we have on the possible schedule, but at this time, no decisions have been made about scheduling.”

Al-Mutawa isn’t shy about responding to the criticism his comics have received in the U.S. “There is nothing different from them and the extremists in my country,” he says. “They are just as bad. They are just intellectual terrorists.”

Geller, author of the book “Stop the Islamization of America,” called Al-Mutawa’s statement “ridiculous victimhood rhetoric.”

“He is the one mainstreaming oppression and discrimination,” Geller says. “I work for equality of rights for all people. So which one of us is the intellectual terrorist?”

Geller also takes issue with Al-Mutawa’s assertion that “The 99” exemplifies “moderation” and “toleration,” pointing to a “burqa-wearing superhero.”

But Al-Mutawa says criticisms of burqas are evidence that, “for some people anything to do with Islam is bad.”

“How cliché is it that characters created to promote tolerance are getting shot down by extremists,” he says.

Chronicling the ordeal

Al-Mutawa’s frustrations are chronicled in the new documentary “Wham! Bam! Islam!,” which will air on PBS on October 13 as part of the Independent Lens series.

The film’s director, Isaac Solotaroff, began shooting before the comic was released.

He said that one of the most surprising aspects of the story is how “a very small group of people who scream very loud, have a disproportionate share of the public discourse when it comes to culture.”

Echoing Al-Mutawa, Solotaroff calls it a case of the tail wagging the dog. He says that initial concerns of censorship in the Middle East began to change as the project progressed.

“We were waiting for a fatwa from a cleric in Saudi Arabia, Solotaroff says,” when it ended up being the U.S. market that has been resistant to “The 99.”

“Realizing that The 99 will not survive if focused solely on the Middle East, Al-Mutawa must now target an international and predominantly non-Muslim market,” reads the website for “Wham! Bam! Islam!”

Citing The Hub holdup, Solotaroff says the project is now stuck in the most important market” for “The 99.”

Al-Mutawa is also trying to gain distribution for his TV series in France and other countries, but his main focus remains the United States.

“One way or the other,” he says, “‘The 99’ will get on air in the U.S.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Books • Islam • TV

soundoff (525 Responses)
  1. Dublaw

    Oh for crying out loud – it's called freedom of speech! You don't have to like it, or read/watch it – but if you try to suppress it then you're a fascist, so take your gripes out of the good ol' USA and let those of us who cherish FREEDOM live our lives free from your stupidity. Surely you can't think comics have influenced the careers of many youth in our country. "Take shelter and hide behind your bibles, the scary men we don't understand are trying to take over the media. Society will crumble if we let them...". Paranoid losers, get an education

    October 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  2. Jenny

    Guess what?? there are TWO FEMALES in the comic book series that don't wear covers at all! One is in a leather clad suit and the other wears jeans and a tshirt! So before people start throwing racist comments and the phobia starts, read the damned comic first. (I should stand corrected because the same people slamming the comic won't even read the Qurran before slamming it.) How about this, if you don't like it, don't read it but keep your mouth shut because THIS is America and if we can listen to the idiot rants from the likes of Howard Stern, we can certainly have this!

    October 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • bhibsen

      Agreed. I particularly agree with his statement about intellectual extremeists. If the people decrying this series because a character in it wears a burqa, they are extremely ill informed. Part of religious freedom includes the ability to live a more orthodox life. Some choose to do this, and in the Muslim faith, some of those who make that choice choose to wear a burqa. The burqa, when used as a choice, is a statement of faith. When women choose to wear them and are not forced, it is a wonderful statement about the commitment they have made to their beliefs.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Rick From LA

    Are Christian coservaties worried that this series might inspire followers to convert to Islam? Is that why people are trashing it before they see or read it?

    Have faith that the good book shall guide His flock and let this cultural endeavor proceed as no more then normal entertainment. Watch or read it on friday but give praise to Him on Sunday.

    Amen my brothers and sisters

    October 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  4. marc

    Here's an idea if you don't like the comic don't buy it and if you don't want to see it on TV change the channel trust me it works.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  5. machinehead

    I see my child given that hate cult propaganda and someone will regret it. Islam is a cult of hate and death that looks like a good neighbor until they blow up a school bus.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • kikrause

      Far more Christian terrorists have blown up things in the US than any Muslim.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • realrecognized

      how pathetic of a mindstate you have. nazis are christians so should i believe all christians are nazis?

      October 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • LLBD

      I don't want to see stuff like that either. Its more conversion to Islam and its unacceptable.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • realrecognized

      your fear of what you know nothing about is unnacceptable. learning about another culture is not converting to it. you're crapping your pants because of your ignorance.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • marc

      That statement is not true about Nazis they rejected Christianity as spoiled by Judaism, but did support a new pro-Nazi Protestant church that had a few followers. The Nazis tried to minimize the influence of Protestant and Catholic churches, while promoting as pre-Christian German paganism.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @marc
      Research a little more, mein freund.
      "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so."
      – Adolf Hitler, to General Gerhard Engel, 1941

      By its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life. The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values. The national Government sees in both Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) the most important factor for the maintenance of our society. ...
      – Adolf Hitler, speech before the Reichstag, March 23, 1933, just before the Enabling Act is passed.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Jenny

      You are an absolute closed minded moron. And I'm wasting my time respondig to your ignorance. So sad that we have folks like you alive. *gasp* oh dear, I might blow you up. Perhaps you should call homeland security! moron.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • ski2exs

      Excellent Marc,

      It's a trick of modern day neo-nazis and denialists who try to paint a picture of the Nazi party being 'Christian' . . . It is altogether incorrect and misleading. Unfortunately as time passes so many, like the one above, fall prey to this BS.

      I say let the mans little animated TV show air. . . we tolerate Yu-Gi-Oh, Dragon Ball Z and the like, which dipicts fighting all the time anyway. I don't think they'll be much of a following and/or sponsorship here for him though, and without that there won't be many who will care to air it.

      I've one question though. I wonder what 'The 99' will do when faced with having to take down a muslim extremist who is bent on violence in the name of Allah, or what they will do with the woman who doesn't want to wear a burka, would rather walk (or drive) by herself in public in a pair of jeans with Taylor Swift haircut, and who aspires to go to graduate school to become a doctor who ultimately ends up in command of a largely male staff ???

      October 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • ski2exs

      Wow Doc, Don't know much about what transpired in Germany in the late '30's and early '40's in regards to religious practices and leaders, eh?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dachau_concentration_camp

      Not that wiki is definative or anything, but there's one reference that has several other citations in the form of well researched works to back it up.

      BTW. . . Ever heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer???

      Please, do the world a favor and do some research.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • ski2exs

      BTW, Doc

      What you're looking for in that citation is section 9.4, which deals with the detainment of 'non-compliant' clergy.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @ski2exs
      I am familiar, thank you.
      During the years that I lived in Vahingen, I took the trips to visit Auschwitz and Dachau.
      I remember quite well the "Auslanders Raus" rallies in downtown Stuttgart where the modern Nazi mentality would come out to play.
      Mein Kampf sits on my bookshelf at home.
      Regardless of the insane "cleansing" that went on in the latter days of the war, the overwhelming majority of Germans were Christian and remained ignorant of the strong arm tactics used by the Reich's Elite to quell dissenting voices.
      Publically, Hitler referenced religion constantly, recognizing it as a powerful tool of statecraft.
      That the leadership wielded religion like a weapon does not take away from the fact that the average Nazi was indeed Christian in their own mind.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. ...Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross."
      – Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922

      The fact that the Curia is now making its peace with Fascism shows that the Vatican trusts the new political realities far more than did the former liberal democracy with which it could not come to terms. ...The fact that the Catholic Church has come to an agreement with Fascist Italy ...proves beyond doubt that the Fascist world of ideas is closer to Christianity than those of Jewish liberalism or even atheistic Marxism...
      – Adolf Hitler in an article in the Völkischer Beobachter, February 29, 1929, on the new Lateran Treaty between Mussolini's fascist government and the Vatican

      : “The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism [Nazism] is hostile to religion is a lie.” Adolf Hitler, 22 July 1933, writing to the Nazi Party

      October 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • ski2exs

      And let me guess there Doc, your copy is sitting there collecting dust just like many of the family Holy Bibles one will find on the coffee table.

      Now, you can quote hitler scripture all you want, but unless you can qoute from his "Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice" and give people a real look at how he felt, then my point above about neo-nazis and denialists have been well made.

      Have a day now, Roehm

      October 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • ski2exs

      And BTW, the fact that most GERMANS were Christians, has nothing to do with the fact that the Nazi party had no favoritism towards religion, and moreso, regarded it as another 'obsticle' it need to overcome in it's quest towards a 'superior' race. Most people today will never understand why it was that Nazism happened to chose the Germans to play it's part for evil, more than it was the Germans choosing Nazism.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  6. snake

    go ahead and put it on tv. see how many will watch. i expect it to be cancelled before the end of the season.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • saopaco

      Vote with your dollars, folks- Snake is right.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Red

      Such van arrogant little coward-to be so cowed like a weakling by a cartoon. Who hasn't even bothered to READ the comic himself.

      http://www.the99.org/

      October 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  7. Recovering Republican

    This new super hero can have his nemesis be Rush Limbad , a fake conservative white noecon zealot who hates anything not white or rich. ***Any likenes to Rush Limbaugh is strictly accidental***

    October 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • LLBD

      I wouldn't say its accidental – but he is an accident looking for a place to happen!

      October 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  8. Neeneko

    Wait, why is a burqas wearing hero discrimination? Is not the point of freedom, in part, to be free to decide what you wear? Is the person really saying that people should not be allowed to wear what they want?

    October 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • marc

      yes, that is what that person is saying...

      October 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Jake

      The problem is that while the woman in the comic can decide what she wears, women living under Islamic law in the real world can't. Its like having a black superhero choose to "work" for food and board in a shanty behind his "master's " plantation. Hey, the guy in the comic can leave anytime he wants, right?

      October 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • steveinmo

      Good grief, it's a comic book Jake. When the kids read it, if you allow them, then it's your burden and responsibility to teach the rest of the real world and truth to them. I suppose you do that with all the other drivel on the TV and in the theaters, or do you just accept Hollywood's skewed view of history as true? I don't see the difference, just bigotry.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  9. Professor Xavier

    Muslims cannot produce anything original. 99 is a rip off of Xmen

    October 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Let's be honest. There is very little originality left in the superhero genre.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • LLBD

      Yep, fully agree – a rip off of the X Men. And its a conversion tool to Islam for those who desperately need to read comics!

      October 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • ThinkForYourself

      @Uncouth – Little originality left?!? What planet have you been living on. Open your eyes, man! The third reboot of The Hulk is going to blow your socks off. It will be a completely original take on the story of the Hulk and will in now way resemble the other two films depicting the exact story within the past decade.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  10. Uncouth Swain

    I dunno...sounds like an interesting concept at least. Most heroes are reflections of the culture and 99 sounds like that.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  11. Hehe

    The Islamic faith is actually very peaceful. Extremists give it a bad rap. However, there are extremists for Every religion. I for one, would enjoy looking at this comic. I would greatly enjoy more religious/faith based tolerance in America. Though, I doubt it will ever happen.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • snake

      you are a liar, islamic people are not peaceful. get a crowd together and bring in a woman accused of adultery and see how quickly that crowd turns into a violent mob wanting to stone her to death without any whitnesses against her. get a crowd of muslims together and bring in a westerner accused of trying to convert a muslim and see how quickly that crowd turns into a violent mob wanting to kill that westerner.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • realrecognized

      im sure you know zero muslims personally to think that everyone gets violent.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • sheela

      pay no attention...a snake is after all a snake...natural instinct is to bite and spread venom...

      October 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  12. Dave

    I have heard of plenty of Christian Terrorist, You only have to look at the history of North Ireland, IRA, INLA, UVF & UDA. These 4 groups are both Catholic and Protestent.

    Although some people in US will not think of them as terrorist, but freedom fighters. Depends on the country you live and the people that they kill

    October 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • James Attree

      Stop showing your utter ignorance about N. Ireland.

      The IRA, INLA, UVF & UDA are all political terrorist groups whose defining feature is their nationalism where by one wants to be part of Ireland the other part of Britain.

      Religion is not what motivates them if it were there would be not terrorism because everyone single one of their religious leaders gets on very incidentally (Paisley excluded) and does not encourage these acts of terror on both sides of the community. They just happen to be different religions. Its like in Sri Lanka, the Tamils and the Sri Lankans are not motivated by religion but nationalism, they just happen to have different religions.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Neeneko

      @James Attree

      Ahm, religion is a huge element of the IRA. The entire point was they were a particular irish religious group that wanted power taken away from another irish religious group and given to them as the 'real' irish.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      How about the Manmasi National Christian Army and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, who force Hindus to convert at gun point and are known to encourage the murder of Hindu children?
      Those people are simply following Saint Augustine's doctrine of 'cognite intrare' – or 'lead them in' which justifies and encourages torture, vandalism, forced conversions and using violence to convert others in the name of Christianity.
      How about The Army of God and other groups who kill doctors in the U.S. ?
      What about white supremacist Christian terrorist groups like the Aryan Nations, Aryan Republican Army, Phineas Priesthood, and The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord?

      October 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  13. jose

    Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" will outsell and outdo the "99".

    October 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  14. Dale

    Just another verion of the old trix tracks of how every you spell it

    October 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  15. Sam

    I think there are a lot of things politically wrong with this as well as morally wrong. I think this should not be allowed in the United States of America due to the history with the terror attacks that we have had against us by the muslim world. I also think it would be wrong to subject our children to this. The hub won't last long if they air the cartoon. It's not something meant for family viewing it should be on adult swim on cartoon network if they want to put it on any network.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • kmcg

      Your response is exactly why they should be shown in the US.

      You fail to understand that most Muslims consider the Koran's teachings to encourage peace and love. This series will show that most Muslims only want to be good human beings.

      Just as the Bible can be read and interpreted for evil means, so can the Koran. Do not discriminate against those who wish to interpret the peace and love.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Or This

      Ever hear of the Constitution? "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." Do you really want to throw the Constitution away because you are afraid? If that had been done every time Americans had been afraid about something, the entire Constitution would have been nullified long ago.

      Fortunately there are people of character who can see beyond a temporary crisis to the long term good of individual rights.

      As Benjamin Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

      October 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • seraphim0

      Subject our children, eh? Kind of like subjecting them to televangelists?

      Come on. There already has been a burkha wearing superhero. Dust of the young x-men, and she had rave reviews from the fans.

      Thank whatever god you worship (or don't worship, your choice or whatever), that not everyone is as close minded as you.

      This xenophobia is unbecoming of america.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "I think this should not be allowed in the United States of America ..."
      Seriously? People still think this way about books, comic or otherwise?

      October 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Red

      Read the comic FIRST.

      http://www.the99.org/

      Available in English for free download.

      October 9, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  16. Donna Rowe

    I read about the comic books in "Rock the Casbah" by Robin Wright. The villains depend upon which attribute is being portrayed, but among them are Islamic terrorists. The superheroes are from all nations, not just those with a Muslim culture. The blond dude is an American. The burqa wearing heroine is from a country where that is standard wear. If I understand it correctly, the source is Muslim culture, but it's more along the lines of Chronicles of Narnia being based in Christian culture. Even non-Christians can appreciate that series of books, even though Aslan represents Christ.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  17. hippypoet

    i can't wait for an Alfred the butler comic – keepin the figures crossed!

    October 6, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      The was one back in the day.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  18. the dog next door

    it wasn't me i swear, i was told to do it...

    October 6, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  19. JohnnyCanuk

    ...“One way or the other,” he says, “‘The 99’ will get on air in the U.S.”...

    By the sword, if necessary? Hmm?

    October 6, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Havildar

      Same way the nuts of Fox are on the air.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • sheela

      your name says it all really...what an idiot!

      October 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  20. J

    the only reason this is news is because it's on the news...

    people still read comics?? BFD

    October 6, 2011 at 9:29 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.