Introducing Ms. Marvel (aka Kamala Khan): A superhero to counter Islamophobia?

US Politics
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Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Depending on your socio-political views, you may choose to agree or disagree with me when I say: Islamophobia is in the air. Be it the USA, UK or even Myanmar, there are a good number of people out there who view Muslims as a community that is troublesome and refuses to integrate. In the midst of all this, it was a pleasant thing to read when Marvel announced that the leading character in their new comic book series will be a Muslim girl.

Background

Just like all other super-heroes, this one too has a story — Kamala Khan (a.k.a. Ms Marvel) is an American teenager of Pakistani lineage who hails from New Jersey. Her superpower? Shape-shifting.

As per the comic series, Kamala comes from a conservative and orthodox family (possibly hinting at a crisis between her Muslim and American identities). She has a father who wants his daughter to become a doctor, a paranoid mother and a conservative brother.
While this ‘identity crisis’ talk does not seem refreshing, it surely is not stereotypical either. The name ‘Kamala’ rhymes with ‘Malala’ — again, it can either be a hint that all Muslim females need to be saved, or just a coincidence. It is a question that needs to be asked: will Kamala be portrayed as an independent Muslim female, or is she going to be viewed as just another Muslim girl who is dominated by the patriarchy?

Another thing worth noting is Kamala’s identity crisis. Muslims in the West are often told that their western identity cannot be reconciled with their religious identity. Will Kamala’s identity crisis offer meaningful insight?

Can Ms Marvel Counter Islamophobia?

Kamala is not the first superhero with a clearly defined religious identity. However, therein lies the difference: unlike the other superheroes, Kamala Khan is not a superhero who just happens to be Muslim. In fact, the most interesting part about this new comic book character is not her heroism but her identity — Kamala Khan is more interesting than Ms Marvel.

The fact that Marvel’s new character has a Muslim background is indeed a welcome note. Yet, it is not something to celebrate or be ecstatic about. At best, Marvel is just trying to identify a new niche market in the form of a growing Muslim community. Even if equality or social justice might be the hidden message behind the creation of Ms Marvel, a comic book cannot tackle a concept such as Islamophobia that has existed for centuries. Islamophobia will not vanish just because we have a Muslim superhero — not even if Superman were to convert to Islam.

A superhero from the minority community can be a good thing if he/she does not enforce racial or ethnic stereotypes. In case of Kamala, this remains to be seen. Yet, at the end of the day, a superhero’s identity is not a metric for heroics and virtues. Marvel deserves applause simply for re-affirming the belief that heroes can come from any community.

 

About Sufyan bin Uzayr

Sufyan bin Uzayr is the author of “Sufism: A Brief History”. He writes for several print and online publications, and has recently started his own progressive blog named Political Periscope (http://politicalperiscope.com/).

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11 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    December 3, 2013, 12:56 pm

    What crimes does a specifically Muslim super-hero fight against? Avenge? Crimes against Muslims or general crimes?

  2. Craig Higgins
    December 3, 2013, 2:42 pm

    As someone who’s been reading comic books, specifically Marvel comics, since I was a kid I’m curious as well as to how the new Ms. Marvel is going to be handled. You could certainly make the argument that in the past the company had at best a so-so track record in its portrayals of different groups of people and religions, and of course let’s not forget that Marvel is the home of at least one character that I think most people reading this might see as showing a bit of a one-sided view of the Middle East (Sabra, an Israeli super-woman who wears a white-and-blue costume and is basically in the pay of the Israeli government), if that tells us anything. As I understand it the writer of the new ‘Ms. Marvel’ is herself Pakistani-American and so I would imagine is sensitive to the concerns of Muslims in handling this project. I think without seeing the new book that we should give Marvel the benefit of the doubt here, but I’ll reserve a final judgement until I’ve had a chance to read it.

  3. Ecru
    December 3, 2013, 3:39 pm

    I think we should probably give Marvel the benefit of the doubt for the time being (and as a DC fan I really hate doing that). They do have other minority characters and the Black Panther, Ororo (Storm), Northstar (Homosexual), Forge (Native American) etc have all been treated quite well, not as simple tokens and ethnic/racial clichés. It’s really up to the writers. I also doubt Marvel execs thought “ooh let’s have one of those Muslims as a character” it was more likely a writer who first presented the idea and was given the go-ahead. And let’s remember the X-Men is all about acceptance and prejudice and that’s been running for years. OK sometimes it’s more soap-opera than anything else but at least they try. Sometimes.

    In fact I just did a quick search and found this on the BBC – the writer who first thought up the character is a convert to Islam and what they say about role models seems to bode well, at least for the first few issues.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25114565

    Also on Marvel’s own site there’s a kind of Q&A with the writers who reveals more about the comic. My one complaint would be the conservative Pakistani family. Do they ALL have to be conservative? Isn’t it a bit of a lazy way of creating friction, can nothing else take its place?

    http://marvel.com/news/story/21466/all-new_marvel_now_qa_ms_marvel

  4. maz
    December 3, 2013, 6:23 pm

    Just a continuation of Marvel’s multi-cult bs.

    “Kamala Khan is more interesting than Ms Marvel.”

    Ridiculous. Absurd. How can this be when Kamala Khan is a brand new character? The real Ms. Marvel is one of the most epic heroines in the Marvel Universe. Not only was she the ultimate All-American hot piece of tail, she was also a military intelligence officer, Tony Stark’s go to gal, herald for Galactus, and is where X-Men’s Rogue got her superhuman strength.

    Besides, you don’t fight Islamophobia by creating fantasy, you fight it by exposing the bias in reality, which this blog is pretty good at doing.

    • Ecru
      December 4, 2013, 12:46 am

      I don’t think that’s fair. This is about the writer and many writers like to explore the “person behind the mask” and find that – the background – more interesting than the superhero persona, it’s not at all uncommon. Wasn’t it Neil Gaiman who wrote a story (not in the comics) about Clarke Kent giving up being Superman simply because he preferred life as Clark Kent? Even the relationship with Lois Lane was better. And surely with a new character to play with this is even more true – the background giving the motive and shape of the new superhero.

      One last thing

      …the ultimate All-American hot piece of tail…

      Did you HAVE to go there?

      • maz
        December 4, 2013, 10:01 am

        @Ecru,

        I didn’t comprehend the article, which your reply clarified and put it in its proper context.

        I was comparing Ms. Marvel aka Kamala Khan to Ms. Marvel aka Carol Danvers, the original Ms. Marvel and considering the absurdity of such a statement.

        But the writer is actually saying that Kamala Khan is more interesting than her alter ego Ms. Marvel. That’s certainly this writer’s opinion but ultimately this is going to be up to the reader to decide.

        I’m reading this from a completely different perspective and questioning why Marvel decided to rebrand a White, blond all American woman as a Pakistani Muslim woman? Why not just create an all new, original character instead of the rebranding of a long established character? That’s why I called it more Marvel multi-cult bs.

      • maz
        December 6, 2013, 11:17 am

        …the ultimate All-American hot piece of tail…

        “Did you HAVE to go there?”

        If are going to compare the Ms. Marvels, yes I did!

        The original Ms. Marvel, while not known for being featured in as many overtly sexual situations as other female characters like as the Wasp, Tigra etc, the way she is portrayed is so hypersexualized it’s ridiculous. It’s been noticed by comic fans that her posterior end is prominetly featured in so many scenes that there is even a tumbler blog honoring her most famous ass.

        http://msmarvelsbutt.tumblr.com/

        Recently, the writers have even cleverly cast her to recognize the hotness of her own ass. In one scene she complains to a news team off-air that she hates doing PR work and public appearances for the Avengers because she ends up finding pics of her ass on social media sites taken by her fans with their cell phones. Funny stuff.

        So basically, with the noted modesty of Muslim women, the writers probably won’t dare sexualize the new Ms. Marvel, let alone hypersexualize her, which fans have come to know and love about the original. So this brings me back to my original question, why rebrand, and possibly ruin the original Ms. Marvel on behalf of some multi-cult, PC bull nonsense? Why not just create an all new, all original character with an original costume and identity?

  5. RoHa
    December 3, 2013, 8:46 pm

    But is she more powerful than Shaloman?

    http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/s/Shaloman.htm

  6. Ecru
    December 4, 2013, 1:50 am

    On a (slightly) related note I’ve just heard about this organisation, “The League of Arabic SciFiers” which’ll hopefully bring more Middle Eastern voices into the genre. The bad thing is that the only reason I heard about them is that Saudi Arabia’s just banned a book by one of the founders – “HWJN” by Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt.

    http://arablit.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/saudis-1-selling-sci-fi-novel-reportedly-yanked-from-stores/

    Well that settles it – I’ll be buying a copy.

  7. Ecru
    December 6, 2013, 12:23 am

    On another note, and I can’t think of where else to post this, expect A LOT of hollering over the casting of the new Wonder Woman for Superman – Batman who is to be played by an Israeli actress/model Gal Gadot.

    Fans of the comic (I’m one – the new version is very good) are almost universally perplexed by this decision since she’s so tiny. And by tiny I mean to say none of us can see how she could possibly bulk up enough to play an Amazon warrior – her skeleton would seem to limit her capacity in that direction and her acting skills……..yeah, let’s leave that shall we. But isn’t cardboard a useful material.

    Seriously the only qualification I can see is that she’s Israeli and Zack Snyder seems to like Israeli “actresses,” replacing Julia Ormond with Israeli Ayelet Zurer for Man of Steel. But no that can’t be it, we all know politics and Zionism play no part in Hollywood……

    • Woody Tanaka
      December 6, 2013, 8:53 am

      “On another note, and I can’t think of where else to post this, expect A LOT of hollering over the casting of the new Wonder Woman for Superman – Batman who is to be played by an Israeli actress/model Gal Gadot.”

      Yeah, this casting is awful. She is a bad actress with bad, accented English. She has a pretty face, so let’s hope that’s why Snyder and his bosses hired her, not because she comes from the Occupation Nation. (But, like you note, there is a precedent here…)

      Anyway, it’s kind of a shame, because I wanted to see this flick, but if Gadot is in it, I’m BDS’ing it. She was not only a member of the zionist Terrorist Squad,, the i”d”f, but she let herself be used in a propaganda campaign of pin up photographs used to get people to overlook the crimes the zionists commit every day against the Palestinians. Further, as far as I can tell, she’s never spoken out against israel’s crimes against the Palestinians or used her celebrity to fight for Palestinian rights and liberation.

      I was really looking forward to seeking Ben Affleck as Batman, but if they want to give work to this israeli, they can forget about me paying to see it.

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