A few days ago, I watched a fascinating television program about Stetson Kennedy. For those who may not know, Kennedy was the unsung hero who infiltrated and unmasked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940’s. He was referred to as “the greatest single contributor to the weakening of the Ku Klux Klan”.
After World War II, Kennedy worked as a journalist for the liberal newspaper PM. His stories appeared in newspapers and magazines such as the New York Post and The Nation, for which he was for a time Southern correspondent. He authored a number of exposés of the Klan and the racist Jim Crow system including Southern Exposure (1946), Jim Crow Guide to the USA (1959), and After Appomattox: How the South Won the War (1995).
In the post-World War II era, the Klan experienced a huge resurgence. Its membership was skyrocketing, and its political influence was increasing. In 1946, Kennedy provided information that included secret code words and details of Ku Klux Klan rituals to the writers of the Superman radio program. The result was a series of episodes in which Superman the “Man of Steel” battled the hateful forces of the Grand Dragon and the Klan.
In the 1940s, The Adventures of Superman was a radio sensation. Kids across the country huddled around their sets as the Man of Steel leapt off the page and over the airwaves. Although Superman had been fighting crime in print since 1938, the weekly audio episodes now fleshed out his storyline even further.
In my view Kennedy reasoned that to make the greatest impact on the Klan and reduce its influence, it would be important to target children, the Klansmen of tomorrow. America had just come out of World War II and the fight against Nazism. Pictures of the atrocities of the holocaust were circulating far and wide. Superman comics had devoted a great deal of activity to fighting Nazism and America’s enemies, and now the Superman series was looking for new material.
What better way to influence and educate the children of the United States that the Klan was everything that America stood against. It would be the battle of “Truth, Justice and the American way”, against the forces of evil; this time, the Klan.
The 16-episode series titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” pitted the Man of Steel against the men in white hoods. The series concerned how a new kid on the block, an Asia named Tommy Lee became the pitcher for the Unity Club Baseball Team because he was supposedly better than the team’s current pitcher, Chuck Griggs an all American. Chuck’s uncle, a Klan member embellishes the story and puts the usual racist spin on it of the white American were being forced out of their place of prominence and displaced by immigrants.
The following is the second episode in the series. Yes, I realize that the series is quite HOKEY. But listening to this episode in its entirety will give you a better idea of what happened, and how it was twisted around racially. The following is the second episode of the series.
One of the unexpected results was that by exposing many of the Klan’s most guarded secrets, from code words to rituals, Superman completely stripped the Klan of its mystique. Within two weeks of the broadcast, KKK recruitment was down to zero. And by 1948, people were showing up to Klan rallies just to mock them.
Cartoons have also being used to propagate hatred. The following video and commentary illustrates how children at an early age are being targeted through cartoons to fester hatred to Jews and others.
Let’s face it, in this last case, the video shows how the minds of young Muslims are being indoctrinated through hate propaganda at a very early age. In Superman terms, this type of behaviour and these beliefs whether they concern Jews or any other religious or ethnic group, does not stand for the Truth, Justice and the American way of Superman, or for that matter the values of tolerance and understanding that we should all embrace.
I truly believe that most Muslims are tolerant and decent people. Many Muslims and Muslim countries fear Islamist extremists and Islamic fundamentalism. But Islamic hatred continues rear its ugly head time and time again. We’ve all seen it through Charlie Hebdo, and now in Denmark.
So here is an idea which may well be farfetched but should still be considered nonetheless. What about the possibility of developing Islamic cartoon characters and superheroes to do battle against the forces of Islamic evil and hate?
Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa did just that. He created a comic book series about Islamic superheroes called “The 99” which are inspired by the Qu’ran’s 99 Virtues of Allah: strength, courage and wisdom amongst them. These values are universal and central to the values of mainstream society, be they Christians, Jewish or Islam. In 2010, the Justice League with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, teamed up with “The 99” and DC Comics and agreed to a six-issue series.
Initially, the comic book was quickly banned in Saudi Arabia and Al-Mutawa received threats of fatwas against him and his project from clerics, but the ban in Saudi Arabia was eventually lifted. Even ISIS called for his death through Twitter.
Al-Mutawa may actually have had something here merely based on the fatwas and calls for his death by ISIS. They view him as a threat to their values, their way of life and their demystification of their movement much like the Klan viewed Kennedy and Superman as a threat to their existence.
Just as in the case of Stetson Kennedy’s successful use of Superman to discredit the KKK, Al-Mutawa’s use of “The 99” may be effective in discrediting ISIS and other Islamic extremists. But the case here is that “The 99” has received criticism not only from Muslim factions, primarily based in Muslim countries, but also from western critics of Islam.
Comments of The 99 have been received from the American media and even those outside Islam who are vocal critics of Islamic extremism. These comments include references to them as “Sharia-compliant Muslim superheroes – including one who fights crime, hidden head-to-toe by a burqa,” and “furthering the mainstreaming of oppression and discrimination.”
Their comments may be misguided when one considers Al-Mutawa’s values and his goal of finding, reinforcing and marrying the similar and positive values inherent to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. As a parent, I have also raised my child with values of consideration, justice, and the tolerance and the understanding of differences.
Islamic extremism, as well as both the Islamic and non-Islamic groups that seek to counter Islamic extremism together and individually, are part of the problem; but they also happen to be part of the solution.
Therefore, it is time that we put aside our differences and work together in an alliance with various different religions to create a vehicle as used by Stetson Kennedy. We could develop an animated series catering to children, specifically those practicing Islam, with characters of all the different religions that come together as an alliance but are firmly embedded and identify with their respective religions. Together, they could work together to battle the forces of evil that threaten all civilizations, and especially western civilization while showing children that each religion has common values that are being threatened by hate and Islamic extremism as well as all types of religious extremism.
As well as using the print media, there may be opportunities to use television as a medium to foster these messages of tolerance and understanding.
To start, Alhurra, supported by the U.S. government is a United States-based Arabic-language satellite TV with broadcasts of news and current affairs programming to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa. The broadcaster was created because of concerns of perceived anti-American broadcast bias in the Arab world. Alhurra now broadcasts to 22 countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
What better medium to reinforce and illustrate western cultural values of tolerance and non-violence to children of the Islamic world than by including this type of animated series within the programming of broadcasters such as Alhurra. By beginning here, Alhurra could become more than a just a vehicle with which to broadcast news and information to the Islamic world, but could actually influence behaviour in this part of the world. This type of program could also be picked up by and expanded to educational broadcasters such as PBS in North America. But the key here that it must encompass participation and commitment to become involved by all religions, as well as all types of organizations committed to fighting racism.