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Ponnada: Fighting against Islamophobia

BY SRI PONNADA | FEBRUARY 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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Marvel Comics, the American comic-book publisher that created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and many other favorite American superheroes, débuted a new superheroine this month that I hope we’ll all come to love as well.

The new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a second-generation Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey, and her special power is polymorphism — she can shape-shift. Sixteen-year-old Kamala isn’t the company’s first Muslim superhero, but she is the first to get her own title, and of course, the title of Ms. Marvel.

When I grew up, most of the comic-book superheroes I encountered were white, male, and American. There weren’t many superheroines, much less ones who were people of color or immigrants. So as an immigrant woman of color from India, Pakistan’s neighboring country, I have to say I am very excited to see Marvel trying to expand diversity in comic-book culture.

However, there’s apparently been a lot of scrutiny of the new Ms. Marvel since Marvel announced her, mostly because of her Muslim faith.

In an interview with Wired.com, G. Willow Wilson, the character’s creator with origins in Egypt herself, said there has been a lot of hate from people who aren’t familiar with comics. Apparently these people think that Muslims don’t belong in comics because they are not “American.”

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised that there has been backlash to the new Ms. Marvel.

Gallup reports that Islamophobia — an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes — has vastly increased over the past decade.
In fact, Islamophobia exists right here in Iowa City, on our own campus.

Marah Sharairi, a sophomore at Kirkwood Community College, says she was harassed by a group of guys while on her way to the Seamans Center.

Sharairi was walking back to the building from Kum & Go with a friend when the men started yelling vile things at them.

“They were cussing at us and saying things like ‘f-ing go home,’ ” Sharairi said, “Then they threw a cookie at my head, but I moved, so it didn’t hit me.”

Sharairi, who wears a full veil covering everything but her hands and eyes, said that people often stare at her everywhere she goes. She isn’t the only Muslim who experiences such behavior.

Data collected by Gallup in 2010 show that Muslims are most likely to have experienced ethnic or religious discrimination.

There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and 3.48 million Muslims in North America alone. Yet people continue to hold ridiculous prejudices like Muslims are “un-American” or that Muslims are terrorists.

The truth, however, is that most of these people are simply leading normal lives, doing “American” things such as eating pizza and watching a game on TV.

This is exactly why we need characters like Ms. Marvel.

The creation of Kamala Khan is a clever way to try to familiarize ignorant people with individuals who are generally looked upon as being foreign and dangerous. By making Kamala Khan the new Ms. Marvel, Marvel has not only given a voice to Muslims in America but also a relatable role model to young Muslim women, and other women of color such as me.


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