21 January 2011
Islamophobia is not just rife but socially acceptable in Britain today. Indeed it “passes the dinner-table test” of being seen as normal and uncontroversial in polite society. So Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim to sit in the Cabinet, was to warn last night.
Her speech has surprised and riled many, not least her fellows in the Conservative Party. What she says is true, which is what so irritates her critics. Prejudice against Britain’s Asian community does not, since 9/11, attract the social stigma that prejudice against other religious and racial groups rightly brings.
By Martin Wainwright Forget Superman, Wonderwoman and even the Incredibles. The new kid on the block from one of America’s “big two” comic publishers is a teenage Muslim from Bradford, where his father runs a successful chain of corner shops. Bucking the trend for largely negative portrayals of young Asians, particularly in the United States, Ali is an eager livewire whose arranged bride, Sofia, the source of much angst in early frames, turns out to be equally quick-witted, as well as a babe. The 40-page first episode of the story, Vimanarama, went on sale in Britain yesterday, after a launch on Tuesday in the US, where critics gave it a warm reception. Reviews commented on the cartoons’ “infectious sense of wonder” and gripping plot, “whether it’s in the rain-soaked streets of Bradford or in the brightly lit underworld at the end of the book”. The initially unlikely setting is down to the story’s British author, Grant Morrison, a major name in comic writing, particularly in the specialist field sold through outlets such as Forbidden Planet and Where the Wild Things Are shops. A Glaswegian, his 25-year career includes stories for Marvel Comics’ The X-Men and for Batman and Superman, whose publishers DC Comics have brought out Vimanarama. Morrison turned to Britain’s Asian community for a storyline during the aftermath of the World Trade Centre disaster, when the media were full of debate and discussion about Islam and the West. In a recent interview with comics website Newsarama, he said: “There are devout Muslims in the book and couldn’t-care-less Muslims, so everyone gets a shout.” But the story is primarily a ripping yarn, with Ali and Sofia discovering a subterranean world beneath Bradford when a crate of turkish delight cracks open a hidden entrance in one of the family’s shops. Promotional material from DC Comics sums up the plot as “a modern-day Arabian Nights in the form of a Bollywood romantic comedy set on a celestial stage”. The contents include fossilised demons, a 15,000-year-old Asian superman, and too many frames of pouring rain on Bradford streets for the local tourist board’s taste. While the comic has been welcomed as a positive promotion for the city, a spokeswoman said: “They seem to have got our weather mixed up with Manchester’s.” The story – in three parts costing _1.95 each – faithfully portrays the variety in the local British Asian community, with some women decorously wearing headdresses while others have jeans and trainers. American readers are given occasional cross-cultural references in case the setting all becomes too foreign: one double-page image by the story’s illustrator, Philip Bond, has the 19-year-old hero speeding into action on a mountain bike in front of a line of British Asian cheerleaders in short skirts and bobby socks. Morrison says that he immersed himself in research about Islamic history and theology, which figures in crisp word-bubble exchanges and the exotic population of the secret underworld. But the core of the story, he told Newsarama, should appeal to “anyone who’s ever been a teenager in the grip of immense and ridiculous forces beyond one’s control and understanding. Which is surely everybody who gets past the age of 12.”