Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Arabian Manga(stan) - Arab cartoons and Islamic 'culture'

Nathaniel Naddaf-Hafrey wonders: Can Comics Change the Arab World?

“I went back to my Arab heritage to draw from its design calligraphy, myths and legends, I tried to incorporate them all into the character. Manga usually features Japanese culture, and I wanted to introduce some Arabian mysticism to the market.”

Asia Alfasi has taken part in (and won) local and international competitions, landed a contract with Harry Potter's publishers, and is being celebrated as a "cool muslim" icon.

Apparently she was the the first female finalist on Hi8us competition, which I thought was interesting. Jazeera had a Japan season quite a while back, and one of Fadi Salama's reports was about the predominance of female manga artists, despite the 'machismo' of much of what they produced...

Anyway, Asia's achievements are just WONDERFUL, especially in light of her being a Libyan!

BUT (being nitpicking me) I've got... issues with cartoons based on Islamic 'culture'

This petty-peeve is actually about a completely different person, a Kuwaiti guy who created the 99 and recently featured on Witness. First off he did the whole revolutionary "first comic based on Islamic culture" thing, which is simply untrue.

My experience would confirm the Fulla-hype for example, in that none of my girl-cousins whine for a Barbie doll/bag/skipping rope - in fact I haven't heard anyone mention Barbie at all since the alternative hit the shelves...and the satellite channels.

But the 99 is more of an addition. It competes with Western imports like Majalit Mickey, and with 3ala'idin and Samir and the gazillion other Arabic comics I grew up reading in the 90s.

So basically the documentary gave me the impression (rightly or wrongly) that this Naif Al-Mutawa person was self importance on steroids personified.

Also obnoxious was the way he kept re-repeating the "comic based on Islamic culture which is NOTHING to do with religion" line, like he was afraid of being shoved into some CIA dungeon unless he transformed his dark materials into something as palatable as Tan's sugar-sister-hooded Chinatown.

About the characters:"there's nothing fundamentally Islamic or non-Islamic about them"

Asked about a muhajaba he says "well is that Islamic, or is that just part of being human?" (yep, he actually used those words) "nuns dress like that, and some orthodox Jews cover their hair or wear wigs "

Which is true, but doesn't alter the fact that the character is a muslim girl wearing a hijab. And that shouldn't be too bitter a pill to swallow unless sugar coated.

Except if your from the Planet of the Chimps, whose comments on Mangastanis include:

Invocations to the Spartan 300:
There is nothing like the spectacle of defenders of Western Civilization slaughtering tyrannical Persian invaders...
And various ever-so-original suggestions for FUNdamental characters, followed by the observation that it was "Sad how these kids are brought up as if terrorist were heroes"

More puzzling was this complaint:
Once again, proof positive that Muslims are completely incapable of original
thought or idea. They copy EVERYTHING from the culture that they so despise,
sprinkle large helpings of Islam all over it...
Bush's endless WWII and Cold War analogies had left me with the distinct impression that we were supposed to copy-cat...

Somebody had a somewhat similar reaction:
I actually like this idea. Assuming these Superheroes are really "Good" guys and fairly Western, and aren't like roaming the globe, forcing conversions to Islam, beating women, and cutting off infidel's heads, killing Jews, then I think it would be good role models for muslim youth. It would give them something to look up to, and perhaps keep them out of the madrasas... maybe.. well, one can hope...

Despite the long string of ifs and buts, and the implications of "really 'Good' guys and fairly Western", in it's context I suppose the above exemplifies tolerance, multiculturalism and all that zift.

AT A LATER DATE: closer inspection reveals the ABC article they're commenting on (which managed to get the "intricate backstory" wrong) mentions a FATWA!!! Make way for Sir Naif Al-Mutawa...


PH said...

Did you know that Asia Alfasi is the sister of another Libyan Blogger, Mani, here is his blog he has even posted some of her manga's on his blog.

duniazad said...

wow! i didn't know that :) mashallah she's a real genius that girl.

Asia said...

Salam Dunia - Asia here. First of all - thank you for all the kind words!
I just wanted to comment on the "unil the age of 8" comment *laughs* - don't worry, I;m Libyan through and through! xD
ga'deen manegedroosh netkalmo ella 3arbi fil 7oosh o manakloosh illa fil Leebi zai il kosksi wil bazeen ;p

Also - so glad that someone is horrified along with me with the Naif Al Mutawwa thing! >__<
DAMMIT! muslims PLEASE be original ;_;

Also, the thing about "Islamic Culture" - I agree with you in some ways but not completely. Islam has transcended different cultures and nations. All practice islam but retain their cultures - and it's this that I want muslims to show! muslims from all over the world - to be original and true to their identities and prove, without a doubt, the harmonious aspect of Islam being a way of life whatever the nation and culture.

Thank you ever so much!

duniazad said...

wa 3alekum ul salam Asia

@_@ I can't believe I've got a comment from a celebrity!!!

LOL @ eating bazin - bas 3an shar6 be2idik mish bil kashik - ma7adish yagdar yishakik fi intima2ik :D

Not that I was doing it - ihna mish msadgin lagyin wahda libiya niftikhru fihia :) It was awkwardly put but I only meant you weren't brought up in libya since you left when you were eight.

I agree completly with your concept of islam as allowing us to revel in the diversity of tribes and nations god created, but what annoys me about ppl like Naif al-muttawa is their attempt to make islam a 'safe' culture instead of a way of life.

Oh and can i add my voice to those petitioning you to start a blog?

I can't draw to save my life, watever artistic genes there were went to my sister who likes cartoons, just letting you know you have a mini-fanclub at our house :)

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