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Superheroes inspired by Quran nothing to fear (Fear Not)

The Huntsville Times. Kay Campbell, October 21, 2011

99.jpgSome of the 99 superheroes created by Naif Al-Mutawa based on the characteristics of God (which human beings should aspire to emulate) named in the Quran.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The contested reputation of Muslim leader Fethullah Gulen is a case study in the vexations faced by Muslims who are working for peace in a world too often convinced that all Muslims are either murderous zealots, friends of murderous zealots, covering up for said murderous zealots, or future murderous zealots.

Turkish Islamist fundamentalists claim that Gulen, who now lives in the U.S., is working for Jewish interests inside of Turkey. Also, Gulen is a Trojan horse for the American C.I.A. (this in the land where the Trojan Horse was invented) to infect Turkey with Western decadence.

But Turkish secular nationalists say that Gulen is an Islamist fundamentalist trying to sneak Iranian-style religious rule into Turkey when he advocates for freedom of religious expression in the public square. Also, he is a Trojan horse for American Christians who are attempting to Christianize Turkey.

Then there are some American Christians who hold that Gulen, despite his work to increase interfaith dialogue around the world, is an example of the benign, even benevolent mask of the "creeping Islamization" of the United States - a, you guessed it, Trojan horse for the mullahs aiming to strap suicide gun belts on our teenagers and burkas on us women.

"What are we to do?" asked Dr. Satilmis Budak, a devout Turkish Muslim, loving father, conscientious electrical engineer professor at Alabama A&M University, generous benefactor of the Peace Valley Foundation and someone who considers Gulen a leader in world peace. "They say he is so many things."

I thought of Budak's question this week when I heard about the uproar over whether or not American children will get to see "The 99," a recently animated comic written by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, an American psychologist and businessman who based his 99 super characters both on his love of Superman and also on the 99 characteristics of God named in the Quran.

Al-Mutawa wants, he says, to create positive role models for children around the world.

A creative voice from a so-called "moderate Muslim"? Oh no. Detractors point to the comic series as a nefarious scheme to trap children - lured by the wonder of aspiring to super-attributes such as compassion, wisdom, foresight, light and strength - so they can be, in fact, covertly evangelized for Islam.

I often receive, as I did this week, a letter from someone concerned that my essays do not explain how the engineers, scientists, physicians, honor-roll students and artisan-chef housewives I know at the Huntsville Islamic Center represent, in actuality, a danger to all we hold dear in the United States - however much these Muslim Americans decry violence fueled by any religion, especially their own.

So I herewith proclaim to all, near and far: Be very afraid of anyone who seeks to impose religious behavior via civic law. Struggle against all who would attempt to impose limitations on your God-given talents because of their own definition of your place in the universe. That's un-American. It's un-Christian.

As it happens, it's also un-Islamic, according to hundreds of Muslim clerics.

And thinking that Muslim Americans are trying to do these things is also inaccurate, according to a recent meticulous survey by the Pew Research Center, "Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism."

Despite those facts, the story getting cast in the U.S. is that it's "High Noon" for Western values, according to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who speaks in Huntsville later this month.

Which values? The ones that aspire to making sure all citizens are truly free to worship God as they see fit within the bounds of public safety? The ones where people are innocent until proven guilty? How about the ones where facts outweigh self-righteous, chauvinistic invective spewed over the airwaves?

Pew's poll is not nearly as exciting as the spectre of sneaky Muslims attempting to conquer America by tricking our children into behaving like compassionate and wise superheroes or spreading peace by attempting respectful interfaith dialogue.

But here is what I find more durably exciting: Remembering that we Americans are always stronger and better when we nurture the knowledge and talents of everyone from as many backgrounds as possible. It makes our music better, our food better, our games better, our arts better, our cities better - even our comic books better.

Fear not, America. If we stay true to our true "Western values" of democracy, respect for diversity, the rule of unbiased law, the protection of minorities - even faith minorities - and the curiosity that took us from the atom to the moon, the people who should be afraid are the oppressors everywhere, no matter what their faith.

Kay Campbell, editor of Faith & Values, can be reached at kay.campbell@

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