WIRED: There’s been a lot of scrutiny of the character since the announcement, particularly because of her Muslim faith. Do you feel like there’s extra pressure to treat her as a representative for all Muslims?Who said anything about "tokens"? If you asked a realist, they'd say it was awarding all Islamofascists who condone the darkest passages of the Koran. If one knows where to look, there's members of 9-11 Families and victims of the Boston jihadists whom you can be sure would not approve of a propaganda piece that paints a false, superficial picture of Islam with no traces of the worst parts.
Wilson: There’s a burden of representation that comes into play when there aren’t enough representatives of a certain group in popular culture. So the few ones that do exist come under increased scrutiny and pressure, because they’re expected to represent everybody. Obviously, you can’t do that with one character and you shouldn’t, because it would stifle the narrative and prevent them from becoming a fully-realized person. So I think in situations like that, you just have to tread lightly and trust your gut. Kamala is not a token anything in any way. She’s very much her own quirky, unique, wonderful person. She’s not a poster girl for her religion and she doesn’t fall into any neat little box.
If you put the shoe on the other foot and said we’re going to have one Christian character that represents all Christians, the ridiculousness would be obvious right away. Are you talking about white Methodists from Oklahoma? Are you talking about Anglicans in Africa, who are the fastest growing group of Christians on planet Earth? It’s patently impossible for a Muslim character to represent “all Muslims.”
I notice she may also be resorting to a defense that Muslims committing violent jihad don't represent "true" Islam by first implying that "one Christian character" doesn't represent all Christians. Nobody said her creation was going to represent Muslims who believe in jihad, but if she won't be transparent about the Religion of Peace in and of itself, then she's only confirming what's wrong with the portrayal of Islam in various forms of mainstream entertainment today: they won't depict Islam in itself for what it truly is by quoting the darkest of verses like Sura 3:151, which says, "soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of unbelievers". I don't expect it to turn up in the series she's writing either. (And I might as well make a special note that it's easier to make clear that extremist Haredi clans like Neturei Karta and Satmar don't represent Judaism than it is to just merely say jihadists don't represent Islam.)
WIRED: What sort of response have you gotten since the character was announced in November? Has there been any backlash?It's un-American to be calling detractors "illiterate", or hasn't she thought about that? That's an awfully insulting way to talk about people she disagrees with. And since when was it only people not reading comics who "hate" this? What about those who do read comics and manga? That's a pretty laughable defense she's using there. She must think they don't watch movies and TV either, and obviously hasn't considered that her taqqiya (deception) is something that'll tell knowledgeable people how the medium has devolved into something less than honest. Nor has she pondered that there's people who have read the Koran/Hadith and know what the belief system is like, and will be wondering if any of the most telling verses will ever be mentioned inside. Wilson hasn't cited any in the interview, and if she hasn't, then again, we can't count on her to be transparent about it in the comics. Nor for that matter can we expect her to make any mention of non-Muslims who were hit the hardest by the tragedy on 9-11 or deal with them respectably.
Wilson: There’s been some hate from people who don’t read comics, which I ignore because in terms of this medium, they are illiterate. There’s this sense that [Muslims] shouldn’t even be there because it’s somehow un-American… Especially in comics, because [comics] are seen — by people who don’t read comics – as this wholesome, 100% “truth, justice and the American way” product. They’re not thinking about manga; they’re not thinking about all the changes that have occurred in comics over the last decade or so. They don’t know the history of the medium that well… and the medium has evolved.
On the other side, there’s a certain amount of apprehension from the Muslim community about whether or not [Kamala] is going to be a stereotype or a whitewashing. I think lot of Muslims have gotten fatigued by the way Muslim characters, even “positive” ones, are portrayed in the media. But I think that [apprehension] will go away when the book actually comes out, because no one’s actually read it yet! It’s something that we really put our heart and soul into. I’ve spent my entire adult life in Muslim communities of various kinds both abroad and here in the U.S. and these are issues that are really close to my heart. So I hope people will be pleasantly surprised.
And again, despite what she might think, there are Muslims out there who wouldn't approve of how she's written up the the character, no matter how positively she depicts the religion itself. She's also pretty oblivious to how, over the past decade, almost every depiction of Islam in mainstream showbiz has been otherwise positive, favorable, ignorant and unrealistic.
WIRED: Do you think the fact that Kamala is a woman as well as a Muslim will provoke different reactions?Really? She hasn't seen the leading picture of Colleen LaRose, who wears a burka? Or what about one who insisted on wearing it at Disneyland? There's also 2 Muslim women - victims of honor killings, I might add - seen in this AFDI advertisement who wear burkas. Yet again, I think Wilson is being pretty dishonest, naive and certainly ambiguous here. No, of course not all Muslim women wear head coverings, but that doesn't mean they aren't upholding the worst beliefs in the religion (if they adhere to it, they're de facto casting a vote in favor of the worst parts no matter how "moderate" they might be), and not all of them are wearing it optionally either. Some have even lost their lives for not doing so. In LaRose's case, it does stem from a form of self-isolation, contempt and low self-esteem, but there's also plenty who are wearing those backwards garments because they're forced to.
Wilson: Possibly yes. We have this conversation in the American Muslim community a lot. Because the traditional mode of dress for Muslim women is so distinct – the headcovering, which is not there for guys – women carry a greater burden of representation than Muslim men do in non-Muslim societies. So there is that extra level of scrutiny about things like how the character is dressed or whom she interacts with. In the case of Kamala, I really wanted her to be representative of young American Muslims as they are, not how we idealize them. Most young American Muslim women do not cover their hair, so she doesn’t cover her hair… The key thing is authenticity, and not trying to please everybody with a cardboard cutout that doesn’t feel like a human being with flaws and quirks and charms.
WIRED: There’s a long tradition of super-powered characters like the X-Men in superhero comics serving as metaphors for issues of societal prejudice. Is there a metaphor behind Kamala’s shapeshifting powers?I think this is pretty dishonest and distorted too, because Metamorpho is a shape-shifter who gave his powers a good name, and Plastic Man could count too. Why, even Dr. Strange might count, recalling an issue of the Defenders where he disguised himself magically as another person. But I'm not surprised she's unconcerned about religious aspects. Specifically, she doesn't care what critics of religion think of any refusal on her part to acknowledge the Koran's content, and she's not giving a good impression of herself when she describes the dissenters as "illiterates".
Wilson: At the very early stages, I [said] I did not want her to have stereotypical girl powers. Nothing’s going to sparkle; she’s not going to float. I wanted her to have something kinetic and physical that would look fun on the page. There was a lot of back and forth about what her power set should be, and we settled on making her a polymorph.
Polymorphs have a very interesting history in comics, though, because they’re most often bad guys. They’re painted in a negative light because their powers are considered somewhat sneaky compared to the classic power sets like being strong or flying or shooting lightning bolts. So when we decided to make her a polymorph, it was very fraught because she can use her powers to escape what she sees as the conflict in her life between her family and faith and being an American teen. She can hide [from it], and that temptation is there. She can use her powers to try and be all things to all people, which also isn’t healthy. In a way, you’re unpacking two stereotypes, one about Muslims and one about shapeshifters, which I thought meshed nicely with the storyline. But it was a big risk. And I’m still having conversations about what lines to cross and which ones not to cross.
WIRED: In terms of her faith or her powers?
Wilson Both. Actually, in a lot of ways I’m a less concerned about the religious aspect. I’ve been writing about religion for a decade now and I’ve had these conversations many times. But when it comes to a polymorph, that means that you can change the look of a character in ways that are often very intrinsic to identity. You can change the character’s outward appearance of gender, you can change the character’s outward appearance of race.
She also told the UK Guardian a week ago:
Kamala's faith, she says, "is part of her personal journey, but she is in no way a poster child for religion [...]Well I'm sorry, but if her religion plays the kind of role it does here, it's not a matter of whether she's a poster child, but whether her storytelling acknowledges the verses in the Koran. If not, then once again, we have a case of a belief system nobody wants to be open about.
In the end, she does not sound like a very respectable or dignified person and her defenses sound silly at best. Oddly enough, the Kuwaiti Naif al-Mutawa who published The 99 comic was more honest about Islam 3 years ago, though he still signaled he was unhappy that anyone would take a negative stand about it:
Al-Mutawa called “Holy Terror” par for the historical course for Islam.Not everything. If Holy Terror took an unapologetic and critical approach, that's just what most realists today appreciate. It doesn't mean the book wouldn't be lousy, but the position on the Religion of Peace in itself is much preferred to one that takes a naive, dishonest approach that won't be open about the contents of the Koran's belief system. His claim we like to inject "new information" is also pretty fishy, suggesting he's still deriding anybody with a negative opinion of Islam as some kind of a schemer. Too bad.
“There’s no denying that terrible things have happened in the name of my religion – as they have in the names of most religions, if not all religions,” he said. “As human beings, we’re a little bit lazy. We don’t like to change the schemas in our minds. We like to fit new information into existing schemas. That’s why to some people anything to do with Islam is going to be bad.”