Sunday, April 20, 2008

Four-Color Terrorist Fighters - Can Comics Defuse "Jihadi Cool"?

Interesting article in Newsweek about making Jihad look less cool in the eyes of Muslim 8-14 year olds. The one potential avenue for Sociologist Scott Atran's ideas are comic books with Muslim superheroes - something that's been a reality for some time - which could give positive heroes to emulate, rather than shadowy masterminds, suicide bombers and would-be Mahdis.

I've had a little first-hand glimpse of so-called "jihadi cool" at work. When my wife was teaching English at a school for young National women in the UAE, teachers would grouse that some of their students would, when forming teams to compete against each other in classroom exercises, want to call themselves "the Bin Ladens." In some ways it's no different from American kids wanting to name themselves after some bad-boy rock group or something equally bad-ass and frightening, but given the gravity of the situation it was shocking that someone would be that tactless. The fact that tact gave way to chuckles via OBL was rather disconcerting.

Can Muslim super-heroes alone change the hearts and minds of a generation of kids who think Osama bin Laden is "cool?" Possibly not, given the disparity in circulation of message between the comics and the Jihadists. But it might at least pave the way for a positive PR campaign that will carry more weight with the at-risk kids than, say, bombing Iran.

But I think the telling (read "scary") thing in this article was Atran's surreal encounter with the Bush/Cheney White House:

In Washington last year he was briefing White House staffers on his findings when a young woman who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney said in the sternest tough-guy voice she could muster, "Don't these young people realize that the decisions they make are their responsibility, and that if they choose violence against us, we're going to bomb them?"

Atran was dumbfounded. "Bomb them?" he asked. "In Madrid? In London?"

Much like in most superhero comic books, hindsight is 20/20, and reality can't happen here.


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