Tags: rick ungar | islam | the 99 | comic | series

Rick Ungar: Islamic Peacemakers Face Attacks on All Sides

By    |   Tuesday, 23 September 2014 01:56 PM

Some years ago, I received a call from a close friend — who I can identify as a successful investment banker and fund operator, a practicing Jew and a significant supporter of the State of Israel — who wanted me to drop by his office to meet a fellow who was about to launch a comic book series.

While it was not all that surprising that my friend would seek to bring me into such discussion, given my long history in the comic book and character business, what made the request more than a bit odd was the fact that the gentleman he wanted me to meet had created a comic series to be titled "The 99," involving Muslim superheroes with powers designed to emulate the 99 virtues of Islam.

My curiosity alone made this a meeting I was not about to miss.

That gathering was my first introduction to Dr. Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti-born, American-educated child psychologist whom I would come to learn held the tenets of peace and tolerance expressed in his Islamic faith in high regard; so much so that he sought to utilize his talents to foster intercultural understanding among comic-book readers throughout the world.

In the years following that initial introduction, I have strived to keep up with the development and storylines of "The 99," always with a careful eye out for any indication that the series had strayed from the original intent of preaching interfaith understanding as initially explained to me by Dr. al-Mutawa.

Indeed, I grew particularly concerned about Naif's ability to stay true to his mission when I read that the Saudi government-owned Islamic Investment Bank had made a significant investment in his company.

Yet, al-Mutawa has never waivered.

Today, Naif's characters continue to fight for good and multicultural appreciation in the world just as they did in the very first issue of "The 99," exposing readers to the positive virtues of Islam at a time when so much of what we see, experience and read would — as a result of extremists who use religion to excuse and promote the ugliest sort of violence — give us ample reason to think otherwise.

So successful has al-Mutawa been in exposing the virtues of the Islamic religion — virtues like peace, love, and tolerance — through his characters, that, in 2010, DC Comics agreed to do a six-part series in partnership with Naif's superheroes wherein Superman, Batman, and other DC characters representing the ultimate in American good guys teamed up with members of "The 99" to take on and defeat the bad guys.

As I leafed through those issues featuring some of our most revered American superheroes, thoroughly enjoying the unfolding journey the characters were taking towards understanding and trust for their counterparts from another culture, I felt a certain pride that came from simply knowing Dr. al-Mutawa. Never would I have believed, during that first meeting in Los Angeles, that Naif could so dramatically succeed in bringing our cultures and religions together in such a fantastic manner.

Then I heard that the children's cable network The Hub was going to air the animated series based on "The 99" characters. Knowing first-hand how difficult it is to launch such a television show in the United States, I was stunned and proud that The Hub — whose president is also a longtime friend — would take such a controversial step.

I recall thinking that, just maybe, we are finally getting somewhere. Maybe such an effort would remind Americans that while there is some terrible evil in the world caused by brutal extremists who justify their horrors by relying on their own perverse reading of the Quran, the behavior of these terrorists does not represent the many who practice Islam, holding firmly to their belief that the religion is one of peace and tolerance.

Sadly, the desire to expose an American audience to the crime-fighting virtues of "The 99" via an animated television show was a step too far for some of our own extremists.

As reported by CNN, "Pamela Geller, founder of the Atlas Shrugs blog, called the series part of the 'ongoing onslaught of cultural jihad,' and created a counter-comic strip that made the 19 hijackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks the superheroes.

The CNN story continued: "New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, meanwhile, urged readers to 'Hide your face and grab the kids. Coming soon to a TV in your child's bedroom is a posse of righteous, Sharia-compliant Muslim superheroes — including one who fights crime hidden head-to-toe by a burqa."

Naif al-Mutawa's response to the American fear-mongers?

"How cliché is it that characters created to promote tolerance are getting shot down by extremists."

Clearly, Ms. Geller could not be bothered with actually reading a few editions of "The 99" — or watching a few episodes of the animated series — or she would have found it intellectually impossible to conclude that the books or cartoons were attempting to turn the 9/11 hijackers into superheroes.

Meanwhile, The Hub, which had paid good money to purchase the cartoon series, pulled it from the schedule, claiming that it was merely one of many shows that were under consideration for addition to their broadcasting schedule but no decision had been made.

Nonsense. Networks do not purchase series if they are simply considering them. They first consider them, decide if the show works for them, and then they buy the series. The Hub had succumbed to the pressures of those in this country who insist on hating Muslims, even when they present the finest of intentions and provide lessons designed to bring cultures together.

Today, things have not gotten any easier for Dr. Naif al-Mutawa as extremists in the Middle East have decided to go after Mutawa's efforts to foster understanding between cultures and religions.

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia along with the ministry of Islamic affairs in Kuwait have now issued fatwas condemning "The 99," despite the fact that the animated and comic book series have a long history of exposure and distribution in those nations. What's more, The head of the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas has stated "'The 99' is a work of the devil that should be condemned and forbidden in respect to Allah's names and attributes."

And now, The Kuwait Times reports that ISIS members have issued death threats and offered unspecified rewards for the assassination of Dr. Al-Mutawa.

One wonders if Pamela Geller — and the others all too ready to pile on Dr. al-Mutawa — understands that she now finds herself in agreement with the Islamic State in her condemnation of al-Mutawa's efforts to promote cultural tolerance and appreciation?

If "The 99" were, as Geller stated, a part of the "ongoing onslaught of cultural jihad," does it not stand to reason that ISIS would be building statues in al-Mutawa's honor rather than wanting him dead?

What a shame that people like Geller cannot overcome their own visceral hatred of anyone or anything Islamic. It is a hatred that condemns the efforts of those seeking to bring people together, leaving those who wish to do good in the world at risk of suffering at the hands of the very enemy that Geller and friends should be using their platforms to revile.

But for those of us capable of understanding that there are people in every religion who have the intention of emphasizing our similarities rather than our differences, and seek to promote peaceful understanding and dialogue, it is every bit as important that we stand up for these good guys with the same ferocity we employ in standing against those who rely on religion to do extreme evil.

Dr. Naif al-Mutawa is a man seeking to use his characters to bring people together. To say that he deserves the appreciation and support of anyone who believes that religions can, and should, co-exist in the world would be a truly significant understatement.

Richard "Rick" Ungar is a senior political contributor and the host of Steele & Ungar on SiriusXM POTUS Channel. He regularly appears on Newsmax TV.

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Some years ago, I received a call from a close friend — who I can identify as a successful investment banker and fund operator, a practicing Jew and a significant supporter of the State of Israel — who wanted me to drop by his office to meet a fellow who was about to launch...
rick ungar, islam, the 99, comic, series
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 01:56 PM
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