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A Disturbing Double Standard

While Dutch politician Geert Wilders is on trial in Holland for telling the truth about Islam -- especially about Islamic jihad -- and while Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, and American cartoonist Molly Norris, are both in hiding for having, presumably, “blasphemed” Islam—guess who the greatest “blasphemer” might really be?

His name is Dr. Naif al-Mutawa, and he is also a Kuwaiti clinical psychologist. He has created “99” Muslim cartoon action superheroes. Ninety nine is the number of names given to Allah by the Koran. Each super-hero’s name corresponds to one of these 99 names.

Think about it. While I have no problem with Dr. al-Mutawa’s right to pen any cartoon he likes, the very Muslims who have protested the Western cartoons about Allah’s messenger, Muhammed, are now mercifully silent about this division of the One God into 99 parts, each part to be represented by a fully visual, visible, action hero.

Thus, we now have 99 “images” of Allah. We have Hadya, the Guide; Noora, the Light; Jabbar, the Powerful; Mumita, the Destroyer—and, by the way, she’s a female cartoon figure; Darr, the Afflictor; Widad, the Loving; Batina, who reflects God as the hidden one—and yes, she is fully burqa’ed. Interestingly, of the eleven figures previewed, their ethnic and national origins are quite diverse. They are religious Muslims but they are also blonde or dark-haired Caucasians from the United States and Europe; Black Africans from South Africa, Ghana, and the Sudan; Arabs from Saudi Arabia and the UAE; one Indonesian and one Filipino. It will be interesting to see what the full lineup is for the entire “99.”

Initially, the Kuwaiti psychologist wanted to show Muslim children that there are exciting role models within religious Islam other than that of becoming a jihadist. Fair enough—indeed, a highly laudable goal.

Dr. al-Mutawa created the “99” three years ago as a comic strip which appeared throughout the Arab world, including in Saudi Arabia. No one called for his death. No one saw this as sacrilegious. Ninety-nine fully pictured action heros, fragments of God if you will, not merely of Mohammed his Messenger, and no fatwas, no outcries. Sounds like a bit of a double standard if you ask me.

Why? Because, according to some Muslims, Islam forbids images. There are no images, only lovely designs, in mosques. Until now, the West has been terrorized by Islamic fatwas, (death edicts), for publishing cartoons of Muhammed, God’s messenger. But heroic cartoon representations of God Himself are apparently acceptable.

Once successful at creating a cartoon, Dr. Mutawa went further and, funded by a Dutch company, turned his “99” into cartoon episodes.And now, his action cartoons are coming to a television channel in your American home town.

Britain was about to run the series on television when some protests caused a “production” delay. But the United States is currently poised to run these cartoons on a new network, The Hub, formerly known as Discovery Kids, run by Time Warner and DirectTV.

Now that the West is about to showcase this program in Britain and in the United States, one must ask whether these ostensibly anti-jihadic cartoons will also begin to teach Islamic values not only to Muslim children, but also to children of other faiths in the West?

There is no reciprocity between the West and the Arab Middle East in terms of mutual religious tolerance. Despite a few high profile controversies, mosques are legal and welcome in the West. However, churches, synagogues, Hindu and Buddhist temples are not only unwelcome in the Islamic world, their practices are forbidden and their followers persecuted and murdered.

Would a "Flying Nun" cartoon make it over the airwaves into Mecca? Would a Jewish or Israeli cartoon figure be allowed into Egypt, no less Saudi Arabia?

Thus, what can it mean that American children of all faiths will learn about the amazing 99 powers of Allah—when Saudi and Kuwaiti children cannot learn about the amazing powers of the One God whose name is not only Allah? 

More importantly: What will children in both the Middle East and in the West learn about the values of democracy, modernity, tolerance, the Enlightenment, women's rights and gay rights from these Muslim religious action figures?

Some time back, I wrote about how the formerly all-American cartoon action hero, Wonder Woman, had been given a multi-culturally correct makeover. With a new international market in mind, being identified as an American action hero was viewed as “bad for business.” Hence, our amazing American Amazon princess was stripped of her red, white, and blue stars and stripes (that was her uniform) and transformed into a more universal figure -- both nationally and ethnically.

Thus, as this specifically American action hero is being made over to appeal to a larger international audience—one which includes an oil-rich Arab and radicalized Muslim audience—we have specifically religious Islamic figures, including face-veiled women, being introduced to our children in the West as alternative heroes and role models.

There is something disturbing about this picture.

Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. is professor emerita of psychology and the author of thirteen books including "Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman" and "The New Anti-Semitism." She has written extensively about Islamic gender apartheid and about honor killings. She once lived in Kabul, Afghanistan. She may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com.

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Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, the author of thousands of articles and of fifteen books, including "Women and Madness," and "An American Bride in Kabul." She archives her articles and may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com