Published: 15 November 2011
Region: USA & Worldwide
By Fitri Adi Anugrah and Pedja Urosevic
“It’s tiresomely obvious, but not made clear at all in this work that Al Qaeda is a terrorist group, and the fact that although members of that terrorist group are almost always Muslims, does not make all Muslims part of it. Frank Miller has fallen into the trap of smearing the whole Muslim community in his enthusiasm to point the finger at terrorists.”
The comic book is a powerful medium that can educate, entertain or inspire or, with equal force, it can enrage and irritate.
Five years ago the cartoon adaptation of the official United States account of the September 11 attacks ago was a great success because it told a straightforward story from the government's report in an accessible and attractive way. It followed in the steps of the positive tradition of cartoons as a compelling force for story-telling as with Joe Sacco’s cartoon comic Palestine which almost 20 years ago provided colourful insights into the complex and controversial realities of the Israeli occupation.
But the cartoon can also be a dangerous form of expression. The publication of the images of the Prophet Mohammed by a Danish newspaper in Denmark in 2006 sparked a global confrontation that lingers to this day. And a few weeks ago a children’s colouring book We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom was launched in America to mark the 10th anniversary of September 11.
It was condemned as an attention-grabbing publicity stunt aimed at promoting hatred of Muslims. On one page it shows a picture of a soldier shooting at Osama bin Laden, seen cowering behind a veiled woman. Above is the message “Children, the truth is, these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.”
As always, there’s a balance to be struck between free expression and hate speech but in this case there’s no balancing at all, merely the intention to manipulate young minds and to frame a negative portrait of Islam and Muslims.
Now there’s a new publication that similarly seems to provide a cartoon portrait of all Muslims as linked to extremism, terrorism and radicalism. This time it comes from Frank Miller, the renowned comic book artist known for his work on Batman, Sin City and both comic book and a movie ‘300’.
Much of his super-hero work is widely and richly recognised, but he seems to have completely lost touch with reality in his latest work, The Holy Terror, which turns out to be 244 pages of graphic Islamaphobia.
The Holy Terror is about Superhero named Fixer and Cat Burglar who are fighting terrorist and suicide bombers in the fictional town of Empire City. Although Miller tries to suggest that he is just against Al Qaeda, The Holy Terror appears to be simple propaganda full of anti-Islam expression.
By a means of illustration:
Fixer: “Leave one of them alive. To talk”
Cat Burglar: “Spoil sport.”
Fixer: “We’ll have to torture him.”
Cat Burglar: “Torture. Okay I am down with that.”
(Tortured terrorist screams while on ropes in bondage. Finally, female character breaks his spine with words - ‘you’ll never walk again’ – and then goes on to inform him – ‘your eyes are next’.)
Throughout the book, ‘Allahu Akbar’ is heard as the prelude to the detonation of a bomb, a far cry from the expression of the greatness of God, as it is for most of the Muslims.
Predictably in a work of this kind, the name Mohammed, the holy prophet for the Muslims, is used as a name for a murderer.
The Holy Terror is full of stereotype. The Muslim/Arabic women are depicted as backward, abused and beaten by the men. They are always wearing the Niqab that fully covers their body and face.
When asked to explain his work, Miller admits the work is "… a piece of propaganda... Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for."
Of course, Captain America is never depicted fighting Germans; his enemies are the Nazis. There are no simplistic stereotypes such as images of German characters eating sausages or drinking beer in an attempt to portray a cultural background that led them to become Nazis.
It’s tiresomely obvious, but not made clear at all in this work that Al Qaeda is a terrorist group, and the fact that although members of that terrorist group are almost always Muslims, does not make all Muslims part of it.
Frank Miller has fallen into the trap of smearing the whole Muslim community in his enthusiasm to point the finger at terrorists.
What he demonstrates in The Holy Terror is an example of irresponsible use of freedom of expression.
Even if Miller wants to reinforce patriotism and to strengthen the resolve of Americans in combating terrorism, his disrespect and insulting portrayal of Muslims and use of stereotype to emphasise negative characteristics is unjustified and a wretched waste of the talent and skills that have made him soar in the world of superheroes.