Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An example of slapdash depictions of Islam in early 80s comics

Earlier, I'd spoken about an example of Marvel's troubling depictions of Islam in the early 2000s. For this post I've researched, I thought to focus on another example from earlier. Much earlier, in fact, from 1981. It involves 2 minor characters who first turned up in the Incredible Hulk, Sabra, a heroine of Israeli background, and, more importantly, the Arabian Knight, from the House of Saud. Both of them were conceived by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema (the brother of the late John Buscema), Sabra appearing in issues #256 and Arabian Knight in #257.

The problem with the latter's depiction begins most noticeably with his marriage. As seen in the following info on the Comic Boards Marvel Guide:
Arabian Knight
Real Name: Abdul Qamar
Occupation: Bedouin chief, adventurer
Other Aliases: None
Place Of Birth: Aqabah, Saudi Arabia
Marital Status: Married (to three women)
Known Relatives: Maya (wife), Rana (wife), Almira (wife), Faisal (son), Hassim (son)
Group Affiliation: Former member of Desert Sword
Source Of Powers: None
Powers/Abilities: Athletic, good hand-to-hand combatant, possesses a magic carpet and magic sword (capable of emitting beams of magical concussive force)
Cause of Death: Killed by Humus Sapien
First Appearance: Incredible Hulk Vol.2 #257
Final Appearance: Thunderbolts #57
He was a Muslim, and yes, it was depicted in superficial terms, but more noticeable here was his polygamy, to three wives. It's galling enough if any depiction of Islam, in and of itself, was made to look as though it's not a problem, if he kept up his polygamy and nobody ever argued against it, I'm afraid that is troubling. The scholars of Judaism long outlawed polygamy (and stoning of adulterers), but in many Muslim regimes, and even concealed in some enclaves in the west, Muslim polygamy still runs amok.

It gets worse. Back in 1982, there was a miniseries, largely obscure today, called Contest of Champions that featured both Sabra and Arabian Knight, among several other heroes/vigilantes. I found a post on Gone and Forgotten, a blog detailing mostly obscure items from the heyday of comics, and the following description - and panel - don't make me very happy:
First round to Grandmaster's team, now we're off to some western Ghost Town where She-Hulk, Captain Britain and El Defensor face off against Sabra, Iron Man and the Arabian Knight. Sabra and the Knight get into a little snit here, because of the historic differences between Israel and … Arabian. Notice, however, that Sabra apparently has no problem being on the same team as BLITZKRIEG, a German superhero actually named after a Nazi war tactic! SURE WHY WOULD SHE??

Anyway, this one's got the hotbed of poltical and social activism at work, which is sort of a theme running through the series - you'll note, of course, the rather famous (as far as this site's concerned, anyway) casual confrontation between Shamrock and Captain Britain on the waiting room floor. Well, this chapter not only has Arabian Knight and Sabra acting like an old married couple, but Arabian Knight and Captain Britain through a few back and forth, and for the heck of it, She-Hulk and Sabra wax on male chauvanism. For an eight-year old, this is heady poltical awareness.
Yes, but how clearly is it conveyed? As the panel with Arabian Knight and Iron Man signals, Abdul's got a dislike for the "Chosen". Yet as the "snit" suggests, they may not make things much better with Sabra, suggesting there's more than bit of moral equivalence at work here. Undoubtably, no mention of the war Muhammed decreed against the Israelites and other infidels during the 7th century, nor how he declared Jews to be the offspring "of apes and pigs". And why indeed is Sabra fighting alongside a German with such a disgusting codename? Or, why was said German given that kind of a codename? Answer: bad writing, one of the reasons this peculiar miniseries has long been so obscure, and also why we can't really appreciate Sabra and She-Hulk's criticism of chauvinism.*

And as much as I'd like to admire that Shellhead is criticizing Abdul for the hatred he's got towards a Jewess (and I do like that he uses the term "nationality" instead of "religion" in reference to Ruth), I sadly suspect that he doesn't level any criticism against Arabian Knight for adhering to a religion and Koran/Hadith founded by a violent, child-molesting savage, that being Muhammad. I suspect he doesn't even take him to task for polygamy, which I doubt Tony Stark would be depicted doing once he got married. And why do I get the feeling any criticism that does turn up of his opinions on Jews/Israelis is muted at best? Of course, it's the fault of the writers, and not just Mantlo, who introduced both Sabra and Arabian Knight back in the day, but also Mark Gruenwald and Steve Grant, co-scripters of this silly mess. One could say the depiction of Arabian Knight symbolizes a failure to properly and courageously criticize other cultures for what we in the west find inappropriate and incompatible with our values.

As someone who makes an effort to ponder how fictional characters cannot be faulted for how they're depicted and characterized, that's why I can't fault Arabian Knight for being so badly conceived. I can only fault the writers like Mantlo, Gruenwald and Grant. And where I'm galled is that Mantlo for one would go into all this without doing any proper research, and if he failed to depict polygamy with clear negativity.** Especially considering what the false prophet taught about women.

Since this time, Abdul Qamar has been killed off in Thunderbolts in the late 1990s, and 2 other characters took up the role of Arabian Knight. I guess the real disappointment is that he never got to become an apostate before his death, and renounce any Islamic indoctrinations he was under. Similarly, it's very sad that Christian Arabs and Pakistanis have never been given a fictional character in their image to admire, nor has there ever been a story about a heroic apostate in mainstream comics.

Simply put, some things just can't be dealt with using kid gloves.

* And even that may be muted, because misogyny is what describes the Religion of Peace much more accurately. In other words, a serious subject was dumbed down badly.

** The same can be said for if Qamar's 3 wives wear chadors but no mention is made of whether this is a choice or obligation. It makes no difference if this took place in the book of the Hulk, whose depiction could mark him as a semi-lefty; if his alter ego Bruce Banner wasn't allowed to criticize Qamar either, then it's still as failed a view of the middle east as ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

marvel sucks islamic dick