Naif Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti clinical psychologist living in the United States created The 99 in 2007 — comic book superheroes born from an Islamic archetype. The comics have taken off with an animated TV series on its way and a recent partnership with Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League of America. Al-Mutawa writes in “Concentration Camps and Comic Books”:
“Imagine the good that can come from a frank conversation between THE 99’s burqa clad hero, Batina the Hidden, and JLA’s Wonder Woman the, well, the not so hidden. If we can show how perceptions are unfairly formed, we can take great leaps in a single bound towards transforming them. And what better characters to explore such issues than Superman and Batman who were created by Jewish young men from New York and Cleveland at the height of anti-Semitism and THE 99 who were created by a Muslim during the height of Islamophobia.”
In his recent TEDTalk (featured above), he shares that his primary goal, though, is to improve the way Muslims self-identify. He tells a story (about minute 13) of a time when he asked students at the University of Kuwait to geographically place two negative news stories and interviews. The students incorrectly guessed they took place in the Middle East:
“But, what breaks my heart and what’s alarming is that, in those two interviews, the people around, who were interviewed as well, refer to that behavior as Talibanization. In other words, good Hindus and good Jews don’t act this way. This is Islam’s influence on Hinduism and Judaism. But what do the students in Kuwait say? They said it’s us. And this is dangerous. It’s dangerous when a group self-identifies itself as extreme.
Keep watching the blog for an upcoming interview with Naif Al-Mutawa in the coming weeks.