Saturday, June 30, 2012

Drawing the Line Against Jihad

When cartoonist Bosch Fawstin tried to sell the first chapter of his serialized graphic novel The Infidel through conventional channels, he received word that the distributor he had chosen rejected the comic as “violating our terms of service.” That general phrase no doubt referred to Fawstin’s use of storytelling elements that make Western publishers nervous: unapologetic American heroes delivering payback to jihadists who are motivated not by “blowback” against the CIA and colonialism, but by the religious imperative of Islam itself.
Fawstin is a cartoonist who scored a nomination for an Eisner Award – the comics industry equivalent of an Oscar – for his debut graphic novel, Table For One. He’s also a FrontPage contributing artist and the author/illustrator of ProPIGanda: Drawing the Line Against Jihad, a collection of images and essays that serve as a companion piece to The Infidel. Feeling certain that the distributor’s rejection of chapter one didn’t bode well for chapter two, Fawstin decided to digitally serialize the works himself from his blog site. Download them here.
A story within a story, The Infidel is about twin brothers Killian Duke and Salaam Duka whose lives veer in polar opposite directions after the 9/11 attacks. Killian (who just happens to closely resemble his creator Fawstin) responds to the atrocity by creating a counter-jihad superhero comic book called Pigman, while Salaam submits fully to Islam. Pigman's battle against his archenemy SuperJihad is mirrored in the escalating conflict between the twins. The novel also reflects Fawstin’s own personal journey from Albanian Muslim to apostate to Ayn Rand devotee.
In The Infidel, Killian’s character Frank Warner (note the implication of the last name) watches the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 and knows immediately that Islam is the reason. He begins “thinking about all the terrible things that must be done to those who had a good day on 9/11.” Frank dons a costume made of pigskin, which Muslims consider unclean, to become his alter ego Pigman to take on jihad. He travels to the Afghan-Pakistani border to confront al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden face-to-face in a cave hideout (The Infidel #1 was completed just prior to bin Laden’s actual death at the hands of SEAL Team Six). The result is an action-packed catharsis.
Killian’s Muslim friend asks him, “How do you think true Muslims will respond to your work?” “They’d kill me for it if they could,” the cartoonist replies. Then why do it? “I love seeing this enemy get what it deserves at the hands of a ruthless hero.”
Killian confronts a group of Muslim proselytizers near the WTC ruins; the resulting scuffle comes to the attention of “Bo Riley” of “Ox News,” who questions Killian on his talk show about Pigman being perceived as “an insult to 1.5 billion Muslims.” Killian responds:
I’ve heard that 1.5 billion times. Your average Muslim is morally superior to Mohammed. They’re individuals who may or may not be the problem. Organized Islam is.
Riley brings on an opposing viewpoint from a CAIR-type organization, a character named Soze Keiser (a nod to The Usual Suspects’ mysterious evil mastermind Keyser Soze), who complains with typical CAIR hyperbole that in the Muslim mind, the offensive Pigman is the equivalent of 9/11.
Later, Killian Duke appears on a panelist of cartoonists who discuss how their art expresses their varied responses to 9/11 and the Islamic threat. Needless to say, Killian’s blunt viewpoint is the only one that doesn’t reek of cultural guilt and outright appeasement. One panelist argues with him that “religion isn’t to blame. Those who perverted religion are.” To which Killian responds, “Jihadists have allowed Islam to pervert them, not the other way around.”
Killian’s twin Salaam, angered that his brother’s work is so flagrantly disrespectful (read: truthful) to Islam and Muslims, tries unsuccessfully to dissuade his brother to stop, then decides to teach him a violent lesson in censorship. This only inspires Killian to take matters up a notch in his art.
In The Infidel #2, jihadists strike another terrible blow against a symbolic target of the United States. Instead of wringing his hands and wondering “why they hate us,” as the Western cultural elites tended to do after 9/11, Pigman decides to hit the enemy tit-for-tat, or “an icon for an icon,” as Fawstin puts it. The result is a devastating retaliatory blow.
I have written previously about Frank Miller, creator of The Dark Knight Returns and the graphic-novels-turned-films 300 and Sin City, and one of the most influential and well-known cartoonists alive. His 120-page graphic novel Holy Terror took on the subject of jihad too, but to a disappointing reception from fans and reviewers. I asked Fawstin recently if there were any other cartoonists out there besides him and Miller confronting jihad in their artwork. He replied,
Miller is the only other, but since he has said in interviews about Holy Terror, "I don't know squat about Islam," he's taken himself out of it. So as far as cartoonists working in comic books go, in terms of critically taking on Islam and its jihad directly and explicitly – I truly don't know of anyone else in comics doing so besides myself. Hard to believe.  
In one sense, yes, it is hard to believe that graphic novelists are so unwilling to address the most serious civilizational threat facing the Western world today. And yet it’s perfectly easy to believe as well, since our pop culture response to this clash of civilization versus barbarism has been largely timid: denial, self-censorship, self-flagellation, appeasement. In a FrontPage interview, Fawstin observed that “comics have been as truthless and as gutless as any corner of pop culture about Islam and Jihad since 9/11.
Until The Infidel. As Killian Duke says,
For me, there is before 9/11 and after 9/11. Seeing fellow Americans jumping to their deaths from the Towers brought out in me… a desire to kill. But I’m not a soldier. I’m an artist.
As Fawstin put it, “This story has allowed me to say all that I’ve wanted to say about this post-9/11 world in the best way I can say it, through comics.”
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/28/12)