The Apostates and Dissenters: On National Religious Freedom Day

Today, 16 January, is National Religious Freedom Day.[1] Freedom of religion and conscience is for every individual everywhere, but all to often in human history, and even today, this right is not respected. There are people of all demographics who have been persecuted and discriminated against based on their views on religion. I’m celebrating today by writing about we apostates and dissenters, a group too often overlooked.

All too often, discussions on religious freedom focus on well-known established organized religions, instead of on individual freedoms for all. Religious fundamentalists and theocrats are famous for this, of course, as they try to make their supposed One True Faith the law of the land. Even among religious liberals and progressives, though, there can be a tendency to use religious privilege to focus on the rights of well-known established organized religions. The denial of religious freedom and conscience often employs arguments of parents speaking on behalf of kids whose views are never heard and of religious leaders speaking on behalf of a community that likely contains people who disagree with them. Discussions on freedom of religion and conscience need to include those of us who disagree with our families and with the cultural communities in which we were raised.

There are apostates and dissenters whose freedoms are taken away in the name of defending the religious freedom of those who agree with organized established religions. Parents and religious leaders demand that public schools help them enforce religion on their kids; this is unfair to kids from families of faiths other than the one being promoted and also unfair to the kids who disagree with their parents. Employers demand the right to discriminate against employees and employees demand the right to discriminate against customers based on their religious faith; this is unfair to any person who disagrees with the faith being promoted, and is especially harmful in cases in which the discrimination will lead to them not having access to necessities or equal opportunities. Governments silence and censor, sometimes violently, religious apostates and dissenters to preserve the religious views that they want to favor; this allows religion to have a threatening hold on the population. Within families and religious institutions, even those who gladly use the concept of religious freedom to practice their faith don’t extend that freedom to people within their communities who want to leave or challenge teachings. Discrimination and coercion against those who were born into the same faith is still discrimination; claiming to be tolerant of people of other faiths while discriminating against people within and faith and those who want to leave the faith is still religious bigotry. Discrimination against those who don’t have a powerful religious institution at their back to defend them is still discrimination. For religious freedom to apply to everyone, we need to oppose all religious discrimination.

Conscience is not the sole province of institutional religion. Religious apologists sometimes argue that we atheists and dissenters “shouldn’t care” if they force their religious teachings on us; they assume that their religion is synonymous with conscience and that people who don’t believe in an institutional religion can’t claim to be harmed by being forced to follow a religion; they assume that preventing them from following their religion or forcing them to follow another god is a violation but don’t understand why it’s a violation to force us to follow the teachings of “a god we don’t even believe in”. They are wrong. Conscience is a trait of humanity and is not unique to religion. Individuals exercise their conscience regardless of whether they believe in institutional religion or not.

Freedom or religion and conscience are for apostates and dissenters, too. The female-assigned person who hates sitting in the back due to gender discrimination; the LGBTQ person who’s being dragged to conversion therapy by their parents; the person who wants to read books their parents and community deem heretical; the person who falls in love with someone of a different religion; the person who believes but doesn’t want to support a religious institution with their membership; the person who wants to leave the denomination or religion they were born into and join another; the person sitting sadly in Sunday School while the teacher tells the other students lies about them; the person being forced to pretend to believe while they find a way to leave their community; the person who stands up alone against the religious institution and says “No” – all of these people, and more, all deserve freedom.

The best symbols of freedom of religion and conscience are not any religious symbol or institution or book. They are the human mind and heart.

###

References

[1] National Religious Freedom Day. Wikipedia. Retrieved on 16 January 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Religious_Freedom_Day.

For Kamala Khan

Kamala Khan, the superhero known as Ms. Marvel, has gone from being a curious announcement to one of the most beloved characters in the superhero pantheon. For more than a year now, I’ve been reading and reviewing the third (now forth) volume of the Ms. Marvel comic series,[1] in which Kamala Khan[2] is the title character.

There are myriad reasons why I love Kamala, many of which I’ve detailed in my reviews. But one of the most important is this: Kamala’s story is her own story; she is the main character in her own life. This may not seem particularly revolutionary or different, but it is for a character from multiple marginalized demographics. It’s good representation precisely because she gets to have an individual story that treats her as a person. An important part of this is that her story gives her (and by extension, many of us) a voice. The story isn’t being used to do apologetics for those who want Muslim teenage girls to act in a certain way (whether non-Muslims who want Muslims to assimilate or conservative Muslims who want Muslims to follow their interpretation without challenging problems within the religion). Kamala’s story calls out everyone. Her family, religious leader, classmates, and fellow Inhumans all have certain expectations of her and have opinions on what decisions she should make. In this story, when someone’s actions affect Kamala, we see the situation from her point of view and are meant to empathize with her, showing the experience of groups that are often talked about but rarely get to have their say in conversations that are about them.

For this reason, I think this is a good book for challenging the status quo among both Muslims and non-Muslims with regards to Muslim girls and women. Much of the media coverage about the series has focused (understandably) on the fact that Kamala is Muslim, and the potential for this book to give representation to Muslims and hopefully help non-Muslims understand Muslims better. For me, my feeling of relating to Kamala is even more specific than that: Part of the reason why she’s so important to me is specifically because she’s a female South-Asian American Muslim teenage child of immigrant parents who has experiences similar to my own experiences growing up – including being a fangirl, among many other things. There are the many different challenges teenagers face. Stories that only address one aspect of this complicated experience only address a small fraction of my life. Ms. Marvel has storylines and themes that address anti-Muslim bigotry and racism, sexism within outside of the Muslim community, the challenges of being part of the Millennial generation, disagreements with parents on culture, finding inspiration in popular culture, and so many other things. There are expectations that we face from both the larger society of never-Muslims in the United States and also from our own parents and religious communities. This is a good book to read to get an idea of what it’s like to be in this situation that so many of us are in: different groups of people have certain expectations of us, because they want us to agree with their culture entirely and reject others’ culture entirely. We’re trying to find our own way and make our own decisions when our choices are seen as a battlefield in a competition between the people who are trying to influence us in their fight with each other. Somehow, in all this, we have to try to figure out who we want to be.

I’m a nerd who processes things in my own life by reading stories. Kamala has given me a story that has helped me think about and deal with some of my own experiences, including things that happened in my life more than a decade ago. There are parts of my life that I’m seeing portrayed for the first time in Ms. Marvel. This series has literally made me tear up, because Kamala thinks and feels things that I’ve thought and felt. She is braver than I ever was, standing up for herself in ways that I wish I had the courage to do when I was her age; she is more than a decade younger than me, and yet she is my hero. Kamala has given me the words to express things I’d never said. My reviews of this series contain thoughts I’ve long had but often struggled to explain; Kamala’s story gave me a way to say, This is what it’s like. This is what I mean.

Kamala, like all of us, is simultaneously similar to and different from her peers. She gets to have fun and participate in fun retellings of common superhero tropes. She gets to participate in the traditions of the genre and the medium and reinvent them at the same time. There are so many superhero tropes that we fans have seen many times over the years, but to see characters from marginalized demographics have those experiences sends a message of inclusion. There are parts of her story that people of any demographic will be able to relate to and also parts which are specifically related to her own background – often in the same passage of the story. She is simultaneously an individual and a character who so many can see themselves in. The creative team treated Kamala and her story with respect, with excellent writing and artwork that convey so much in each and every issue.

Falling in love with this book series has been such a wonderful experience. Growing up, I desperately wanted to love characters who were from the same demographics as me, but they rarely ended up being my favorite characters; this was often because they were (at best) side characters who didn’t get much of a story. How could I count them among my favorites when I knew almost nothing about them? There were rare exceptions to this (several female characters or nerds or fangirls among them) – but until Kamala, no female South Asian-American Muslim fangirl (or even Muslim or South-Asian American) characters were on that list. Growing up part of a demographic that is often underrepresented and poorly represented in media, one learns to accept steps in the right direction while hoping for better books at a later date. There are often stories of which one can say that it’s great they were created, since they’re an improvement compared to previous efforts. One can appreciate the creators who worked on them and took a chance by portraying a character of a marginalized demographic, even if the stories weren’t great. One starts to get the feeling that the truly great stories are reserved for the white, straight, male characters and that the best the rest of us can hope for is a somewhat decent portrayal. Recommendations often come with the caveat of: It’s not great, but it’s a step forward; it’s better than previous portrayals. Being able to say, of the Ms. Marvel series, This is totally frakking awesome – that’s so great. I can say, for the first time, that a character who is like me in so many ways is one of my favorite characters ever.

For Kamala, who is the embodiment and symbol of so many of our hopes and dreams, I’ll say: “We will be the stars we were always meant to be”[3] – and you are one of the stars who lights the way.

###

References

[1] Essays in the “Ms. Marvel” category at The Eternal Bookshelf can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/ms-marvel/.

[2] Essays in the “Kamala Khan” category at The Eternal Bookshelf can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/kamala-khan/.

[3] DeConnick KS, Rios E, Lopez A, Bellaire J, Caramagna J, et al. Captain Marvel Vol. 7 #6. Marvel, 31 October 2012.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #19 “Last Days, Part Four” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“If the world thing you do is sneak out to help suffering people – then I thank God for having raised a righteous child.” (Disha Khan to Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3 #19)[1]

“Like, even if things are profoundly not okay … at least we’re not okay together.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #19)[2]

It’s the end of Marvel Multiverse as we knew it, and also the end of Kamala Khan’s first story volume. This issue starts with the conversation that started at the end of the previous issue.[3] Kamala’s mom has managed to do what so many parents in fantasy and superhero stories often don’t: noticed that her child’s sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. Let’s be honest: for many of us with conservative parents, they’d totally figure it out if we were superheroes. We can hope that our parents would be as supportive as Kamala’s mom.

Kamala has conversations and interactions with most of the other major characters in the story, to wrap up plot threads that started at the beginning of the series. She speaks with her parents first. Her mother is really adorable, and there’s a cute hug. Her father, who does not know that she’s Ms. Marvel and who plays the part of the character who says that it’s not like the world is ending when the world is about to end). Zoe Zimmer apologizes for her behavior earlier in the series and admits that she was jealous of Kamala – a nice passage showing that even the people who were popular and might have been mean to us in school had their own insecurities. People can grow up and reflect on their earlier actions. Kamala reconnects with her best friend Nakia Bahadir, who was upset that Kamala’s been busy and ignoring their friendship. They hug, and it’s adorable. Kamala even has a moment of mutual connection with her brother. The ending reveals that Bruno and Kamala are both romantically interested in each other, but Kamala says she doesn’t want to be in a romantic relationship right now so she can focus on being a superhero. This seemed to me both convenient and relatable. It’s a convenient way to split the difference between those who wouldn’t want a female Muslim character to date a non-Muslim and those who want the character to challenge her conservative family’s views. At the same time, it was incredibly relatable to me, as someone who is interested in dating and romantic relationships but never acted on those feelings. There are many girls and women from conservative families who focus on education and careers (and in the Marvel Multiverse, being a superhero is Kamala’s career) in order to gain independence first, before getting into romantic relationships. The characters are at Coles Academic High School, which has been set up with resources for those taking shelter including: a welcome booth, a random assortment of food supplies (coffee but no evaporated milk), a non-denominational nonjudgmental prayer area (which I found really sweet), water, blankets, medical assessment, and a dance party to face to the end of the world.

It’s all incredibly heartwarming. I’m glad the finale focuses on the relationships between the characters and Kamala as person, rather than on a big fight scene. When you’ve done all you can do, fought the good fight, and now the Multiverse is about to end, how do superheroes cope? By being there for each other. Superhero comics, for all their fun fantastical elements, are appealing because of the themes of doing the right thing; persevering in the face of daunting odds; finding bravery that you didn’t know you had; and working together with other people when you can’t do something alone. Kamala’s story contains those themes throughout.

Reading this series has been such a wonderful journey for me, and I’m very excited for more of Kamala Khan’s story in the years to come.

###

References

[1] Wilson GW, Alphona A, Herring I, et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 19 “Last Days, Part Four”. Marvel, 14 October 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #19.

[3] Sharmin AJ. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18 “Last Days, Part Four”. Posted on 27 November 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 6 December 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-18-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18 “Last Days, Part Three” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“A lot of people think you’re something special, and now I see why.” (Carol Danvers to Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18)[1]

“Good luck, Ms. Marvel. For what it’s worth – I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Captain. For everything.”

(Carol Danvers and Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18)[2]

“I have something to tell you. I’m telling you now because I might not ever have a chance to tell you again, and I don’t want – I don’t want to die without telling my Ammi. I don’t want the last thing the angels write in my book to be a lie…I am Ms. Marvel.”

“Oh, beta…I know.”

(Kamala Khan and Aisha Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18)[3]

I love stories about mentorship, and this issue was such a wonderful portrayal of a mentor-and-student story. Stating where the previous issue left off,[4] Kamala and Carol rescue Aamir from Kamran’s experimental attempt to activate his genetic Inhuman powers. After escaping from Kamran’s gang, the three of them head back to Coles Academic High School to try to get help for Aamir and to wait for the end of the world to occur.

There’s a passage in this issue, near the beginning, in which Aamir says to Kamran that he doesn’t blame Kamala for Kamran’s actions. Kamala is surprised, because she thought that Aamir hated her, but Carol reminds her that Aamir’s her brother. The reader can tell that this scene was an attempt at the usual resolution of sibling rivalry that often happens in family stories, and in some ways, it was incredibly sweet. On the other hand, it does sidestep the issues that were a source of disagreement between the two of them. Aamir is a self-described Salafi (an adherent of a very conservative interpretation of Islam).[5] Aamir and Kamala’s rivalry earlier in the series was not just a couple of kids arguing over some silly disagreements that siblings have; they were due to his interpretation of Islam, including his views on gender[6] and religion[7] in relationships. There’s also this moment in the issue when Aamir says he doesn’t want superpowers, since he’s happy as he is, and that he will turn to his faith to help deal with these new powers that he has due to Kamran’s actions. It was an odd blend of respectable and also sadly reminiscent of people trying to pray away aspects of themselves they don’t like. As a reader of superhero comics, one can’t help siding with Kamala on this one. Still, their interactions in some ways were very relatable, as even siblings can be very different from each other. One of the things I really appreciate about this series is that it shows Muslim characters with differing views. It also shows how dedicated people can be to defending family members who are in danger, even though they might disagree with each other.

Fortunately, the interactions between Kamala and Carol in this issue are incredibly heart-warming and made this one of my favorite issues of the series. Kamala gets to meet the person she admires for the first time. This issue shows how much it means to kids and teenagers to have adults in their lives who understand what they’re going through and who are willing to be on their side. When Carol tells Kamala that a lot of people think she’s special, one can’t help thinking that it has a double meaning: referring both to the readership that Kamala has gained since her debut and (because of that readership) the place she’s earned among her fellow heroes in her universe. There’s also a nice acknowledgement in the issue that the mentors and students both gain something from the relationship. Carol gives Kamala a gift (a necklace that also functions as a GPS locator), and it’s a touching gesture that Kamala really appreciates. With the end of the world about to happen, the reader can’t hope that somehow the superheroes will be able to find each other, and especially that the adult superheroes might be able to help out the younger generation heroes. Kamala’s going to join the Avengers after Secret Wars,[8] and I’m incredibly excited to see further interactions between her and her favorite superheroes.

I had so much fun reading this issue, and it ends with a nice surprise that made me smile and eagerly anticipate the finale.

###

References

[1] Wilson GW, Alphona A, Herring I. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18 “Last Days, Part Three”. Marvel, 9 September 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. #18.

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. #18.

[4] Sharmin AJ. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17 “Last Days, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 27 November 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 27 November 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-17-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[5] “Salafi movement”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 November 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salafi_movement.

[6] Sharmin AJ. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13: Crushed, Part One (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 27 November 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-13-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[7] Sharmin AJ. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14: Crushed, Part Two (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 27 November 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-14-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[8] Sharmin AJ. Book Review: FCBD 2015 “All-New, All-Different Avengers” (By Mark Waid, Mahmud Asrar, Frank Martin, et al). Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 27 November 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-fcbd-2015-anad-avengers/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17 “Last Days, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

 

“What she’s saying—weirdly, it makes me think of one of Sheikh Abdullah’s lectures. We all face the end alone, he said. And we alone have to account for our time on Earth. The good and the bad. ‘What will be in the book of your life?’ he used to ask. ‘How will you be remembered?’” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17)[1]

“You seem very…at home in your powers.”

“It took me a long time to get here. For a while, I just kind of felt weird and gross.”

“And now?”

“Now I feel weird and awesome!”

(Carol Danvers and Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17)[2]

“I know our job sucks sometimes. Sometimes we have to choose between a bad thing and a worse thing. But you have to remember to take care of yourself. You’re important. People need you—people love you. More than you probably realize.” (Carol Danvers to Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17)[3]

“You know what I’ve gotten really sick of over the years? Moral relativism from second-rate bad guys.” (Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17)[4]

What happens when Kamala Khan meets Carol Danvers when the world is about to end? She freaks out with excitement and doesn’t quite know what to say at first, which would probably happen to a lot of us in that situation. Then, the two of them head off to rescue Kamala’s brother Aamir, who was kidnapped by Kamran in the previous issue.[5] During their search, they have some fun conversations together and encounter some challenges.

This is the team-up that fans of Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers have been looking forward to. Carol is Kamala’s hero, and when they finally have a chance to meet (outside of Kamala’s imagination), Carol gives Kamala advice on their journey through the city while looking for Aamir. As was the case in Kamala’s team up with Logan/Wolverine in issue #6[6] and issue #7,[7] Kamala learns from the older hero and has an adventure. During the middle of the issue, Kamala and Carol encounter some people who were going around the city stealing supplies and give them a productive job to do, helping out at the high school, where lots of civilians have gathered for shelter. I liked that the story shows heroes during an emergency situation trying to handle real-world problems (such as civilians becoming fearful). There’s also a sweet moment when they find some cats; Kamala wants to save them, but Carol explains to her that one of the difficult parts about being a superhero is that you can’t always save everyone. We get to see how far Kamala has come in terms of being a superhero and feeling more comfortable being herself, as well as how eager she is to learn even more.

Later in the issue, they encounter Kaboom, one of the people working together with Kamran. I have to admit that, after often hearing people accuse those who believe in equal rights of “moral relativisim”, it was nice to hear a superhero turn the accusation around and use it against the villain Kaboom who’s hypocritically lecturing Kamala about letting Aamir make his own choices when the Inhuman group Kabooms is part of has been using force to try to get people (including Kamal and Aamir) to join their group. It’s a good example of turning the arguments of the bad guys around on them.

This arc is about how superheroes face the end of the world. In the words of Kamala Khan, “Jersey City’s finest are still out in force.”[8] Even at the end of the world, they still have a job to do. Although this issue is more focused on Kamala and Carol looking for Kamran and Aamir, the creators incorporate aspects of Kamala’s faith. The Islamic concept of the angels on each person’s shoulders writing in that person’s book of life[9] is one of the things I actually remember from my sporadic religious classes. Religious or not, I think many of us think about how we’ll look back on our lives at the end. Superheroes like Kamala and Carol inspire us to live a life that we’d be proud to look back on. That is, after all, what superheroes are about.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17 “Last Days, Part Two”. Marvel, 5 August 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17.

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17.

[4] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #16 ‘Last Days, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 29 August 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 12 October 2015 https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-16-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[6] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 ‘Healing Factor, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 13 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 12 October 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-6-healing-factor-part-one-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

[7] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 ‘Healing Factor, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 12 October 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-7-healing-factor-part-two-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

[8] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #17.

[9] “Kiraman Katibin”. Wikipedia. Retrieved on 12 October 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiraman_Katibin.

Religious Privilege and Social Justice

When the topic of religion and social justice movements is brought up, progressive religious believers are quick to point out that there are many believers who support equal rights. This is true; I was a progressive believer myself, so I know this from personal experience. However, I have a problem with the ways in which religious believers from established organized religions are privileged in these settings, the ways in which religious arguments are given preference while secular arguments that point out how religion has contributed to injustices are treated as intolerance. This bothers me as a secular person, a non-religious person, and as an ex-Muslim. In this essay, which contains thoughts that have been in the back of mind for a long time, I aim to explain why.

Religious progressives are on the right side of many issues, favoring equality and human rights for people from many marginalized demographics. However, this doesn’t stop some believers, especially those from established and organized faiths, from taking advantage of their religious privilege to be the main voices in social justice movements, centering religious apologetics in the arguments that are made and emphasizing the compatibility of religion with equal rights. An aspect that makes this situation even more frustrating is that believers will then turn around and say that religion is necessary for justice and morality; repeatedly remind non-religious people (as if we don’t already know) that many religious historical figures were at the forefront of equal rights movements; argue that allying with religion is a practical step because religions have experience in organizing people for causes. Perhaps the reason you believe that religion is necessary for justice and morality is due to religious privilege and bias. Perhaps the reason you only know about the religious historical figures who fought for equal rights is because religious privilege made them more acceptable to the mainstream in their time periods and helped them be disproportionately represented in history books – the same history books that leave out non-religious people who fought for equality (or leave out their non-religious views) and that attempt to paper over the parts of religious history that inspired bigotry. Perhaps the reason it seems like a practical choice to shape arguments in a way that caters to religion is because of religion’s privileged status in society, not because it’s inherently more likely to support equal rights or better at advocating for equal rights than secular groups. In other words, maybe religious progressive are using the existence of religious privilege in larger society to argue in favor of continued religious privilege within groups that are supposed to be about challenging privilege.

Secularism is essential to equality, because it’s the only position on religion that is truly neutral. Religious progressives realize this when religious conservatives try to insert their religion into all aspects of society. Those of us who favor religious freedom and secularism (whether we are personally religious or not) argue endlessly that secular is not the same as anti-religion; secularism is the neutrality that’s required for everyone’s religious freedom to be protected. It’s high time that religious moderates and progressives realize that this applies to their attempts to insert religion into all aspects of society as well. Some of the things that religious progressives think are neutral really aren’t neutral or welcoming to all. For instance, a prayer that’s basically Abrahamic monotheism with the serial numbers filed off isn’t really inclusive; it’s just inclusive of the dominant strands of established religion, which leaves out a lot of people (not just atheists, but also believers who don’t associate with those religions). Including prayers or invocations by people from minority religions might be inclusive of those who favor those interpretations of those religions, but it’s still not all-inclusive – and it’s especially not inclusive of those who’ve been alienated from those religions due to bigotry. Of course, a private event is not the same as the government, so it does not have to be religiously neutral; however, if you are having an event that purports to be welcoming to all, then secularism should be the default, with religion or atheism-focused events or talks being clear in their intention. Religion shouldn’t be the focus of every event, meeting, or discussion by default. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that religious believers shouldn’t be accepted or included in equal rights movements; I’m saying that these movements shouldn’t privilege established organized religion while pushing people of non-religious views or personal religious beliefs to the side.

Religious privilege can be detrimental, not just to atheists, but also to those of minority faith backgrounds and those who have personal religious beliefs without membership in a particular religion. I grew up in the United States of America (a majority-Christian country) in a Muslim family and doubted organized religion from a young age. Growing up queer in the United States, I couldn’t help noticing that queer equal rights arguments focused on Christianity to a great degree. It really bothered me that so many mainstream arguments regarding queer equal rights were religious interpretation arguments between conservative Christians and liberal Christians. Why exactly should my rights be based on interpretations of a religion I don’t believe in? I saw issues of queer equal rights within Islam largely ignored by Western equal rights groups and websites, because liberals of Christian backgrounds were focused on changing Christianity specifically and their priorities were treated as the movement’s priorities. They might sometimes bring up the issue of including Muslims in queer rights events, due to a desire to be interfaith, but weren’t allies with those of us who expressed more critical views of the faith, in case that alienated the Muslims they wanted to be allies with. Related to my earlier essay about the problem with one-sided intersectionality that privileges religion,[1] it felt as though even those who attempted to be interfaith were willing to hold white never-Muslim Christian-background queer people accountable for bigotry against Muslims and other minority faith groups but weren’t willing to hold Muslims and other minority faith groups accountable for bigotry against queer people or women. It bothered me that organized established religions received this special treatment of their inclusion being considered more important than inclusion of people (both believers and nonbelievers in gods) who’ve been alienated by them.

There is the whole argument regarding religious arguments vs. secular arguments for equal rights. The actual content of these arguments (and why I think the secular ones are better) is the topic for another essay, but I do want to briefly address the meta/background arguments that focus on tactics of movements. Believers will often say to atheists that equal rights should be more important to atheists than convincing people to leave religion. Well, I can turn that back around: Equal rights should be more important to believers than converting people to their faith or convincing those alienated from religion to return to it. The status quo seems to prefer arguments that emphasize the compatibility of religion with equal rights rather than holding religious institutions and traditions accountable for bigotry (i.e. saving religion’s reputation is treated as a major goal). Arguing that believers who favor bigotry are “not true believers” is used to dismiss valid criticisms of religion’s role in perpetuating bigotry. There are many of us who believe it is important to discuss the role that religion plays in the discrimination that we face, and it’s not right to tell us to stop sharing our experiences and stories in order to privilege the experiences and stories of those who feel that religion is more beneficial than harmful. Ignoring the role of culture, including religious aspects of culture,[2] in perpetuating bigotry helps it to continue; if some of the most powerful institutions supporting bigotry receive a pass because of their power and influence, that’s a big impediment to improvement. I understand that progressive religious believers will try to argue the religious case for equal rights within their faith, but please realize that arguments regarding whether your religious tradition or holy book is compatible with equal rights should not be the basis of the entire movement, which includes people with varying views on religion. By comparison, secular arguments are relevant regardless of religious belief.

I understand that, for many people, religious belief is a source of great comfort. It was for me as well; I believed that God loved me no matter what anyone else thought. I don’t make fun of religious people for having an “imaginary friend”, because for years my belief in my “imaginary friend” God gave me the strength to keep up hope despite bigotry and other family problems, gave me hope for a better future. This was an entirely personal belief. I considered joining some religious denomination or group, but never felt comfortable enough to sign up; participation in organized religion reminds me of bullying by conservatives, as one person or group is placed in charge of sermonizing, rather than allowing individual belief. I found solitary prayer more fulfilling and comforting. Believing in God does not mean that a person will feel comfortable at an event that privileges certain religions or that includes sermons or prayers. Personal comfort from religion does not justify including organized religion or public displays of religion in every aspect of a movement, and it does not justify exempting incredibly powerful established organized religions from criticism that other powerful societal institutions receive from the same equal rights movements.

In conclusion, I believe that challenging religious privilege is part of social justice, just like challenging other types of privilege. Privileging established organized religion in social justice movements is counter to the idea of being more inclusive and intersectional, because it leaves out many people who don’t believe in the religions or religious interpretations whose believers have appointed themselves as the leaders. If we’re trying to be more inclusive, then we can’t perpetuate religious privilege in movements that are supposed to be about supporting equal rights for the marginalized.

#

Acknowledgements and Recommended Reading

This is an essay I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, but recent conversations on Twitter with Alex Gabriel prompted me to finally write it.

Alex Gabriel writes a blog,[3] including the following essays that came up during the conversation: “I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse. Are you sorry your religion has?”;[4]Jesus was not a queer ally: why I can’t take LGBT-affirming Christianity seriously (and why queer spaces must remain secular)”;[5] and “Why I Still Need The Atheist Movement”.[6] Gabriel makes important points about religious allies in queer spaces, bad apologetics, and the importance of secularism.

Greta Christina, on her blog,[7] wrote “Being an Atheist in the Queer Community[8] and “How To Be An Ally with Atheists[9] offering the view of someone who’s been involved in both the queer and atheist communities.

Heina Dadabhoy, on their blog,[10] offers an ex-Muslim perspective on this issue in “It Shouldn’t Have to Be So Hard to Be a Queer Atheist” explaining how bizarre it is to hear all praise and no criticism of religion at an LGBT event.[11]

###

References

[1] Sharmin, Ani J. “Storming the Intersection: Improving Inclusion of Muslims and Ex-Muslims”. Posted on 13 June 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/storming-the-intersection/.

[2] Sharmin, Ani. “Religion Is Culture”. Posted on 22 October 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/religion-is-culture/.

[3] Alex Gabriel’s blog Godlessness in Theory can be found at http://freethoughtblogs.com/godlessness/.

[4] Gabriel, Alex. “I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse. Are you sorry your religion has?” Posted on 17 November 2014 at Godlessness in Theory. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/godlessness/2014/11/17/im-sorry-todays-atheist-movement-has-inspired-abuse-are-you-sorry-your-religion-has/.

[5] Gabriel, Alex. “Jesus was not a queer ally: why I can’t take LGBT-affirming Christianity seriously (and why queer spaces must remain secular)”. Posted on 7 December 2014 at Godlessness in Theory. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/godlessness/2014/12/07/jesus-was-not-a-queer-ally/.

[6] Gabriel, Alex. Posted on 31 October 2015 on Godlessness in Theory. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/godlessness/2015/10/31/why-i-still-need-the-atheist-movement/.

[7] Greta Christina’s Blog can be found at http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/.

[8] Christina, Greta. “Being an Atheist in the Queer Community”. Posted on 15 December 2008 at Greta Christina’s Blog. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2008/12/15/being-an-atheist-in-the-queer-community/.

[9] Christina, Greta. “How To Be An Ally with Atheists”. Posted on 16 December 2008 at Greta Christina’s Blog. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2008/12/16/how-to-be-an-ally-with-atheists/.

[10] Heina Dadaboy’s blog Heinous Dealings can be found at http://freethoughtblogs.com/heinous/.

[11] Dadabhoy, Heina. “It Shouldn’t Have to Be So Hard to Be a Queer Atheist”. Posted on 8 December 2014 at Heinous Dealings. Retrieved on 1 November 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/heinous/2014/12/08/lgbt-religion/.

Book Review: Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm”

“You can’t plot murder like a novel. There are always loose ends in real life.” (Cormoran Strike, Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm)[1]

“But writers are a savage breed, Mr Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory over your every failure, write novels.” (Michael Fancourt, Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm)[2]

So, I (finally) finished reading Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm (the second book in J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymously-written Cormoran Strike series) during the month of May 2015. I never thought it would take me this long after the release date to read a J.K. Rowling book since becoming a fan. I read most of the Harry Potter books[3] (after the third) as soon as they were released and even read and reviewed The Casual Vacancy relatively soon after it’s release date.[4] The contents of this review will likely explain the reason for this delay. Onward!

After the attention the titular detective received when he solved the Lula Landry case in the previous book,[5] Cormoran and his assistant Robin Ellacott have had more business. One day, a woman named Leonora Quine shows up at Stark’s office, asking that he help find her missing husband Qwen Quine. Owen is a writer who’s best known for his first book Hobart’s Sin, and has failed to produce anything equal to it since then, according to many of the main characters in the story. Leonora thinks that Owen probably went away to write, as he sometimes does, and just wants him to come home. Thinking it’ll be an easy case of contacting some of Owen Quine’s colleagues to figure out which hotel he’s decided to go hang out at (and wanting to work on a case that’s different from the ones he’d been getting tired of) Strike Cormoran takes on the case. Unfortunately, during the investigation, he finds Owen Quine’s dead (and mutilated) body – and there seem to be quite a lot of people who had bad feelings towards the dead author.

The mystery in this book was more interesting than the first one, partly because it provided a look into the publishing industry. In addition, the fact that the book within the book provided clues as to the identity of the killer was intriguing. Similar to The Cuckoo’s Calling, much of the investigation consists of Cormoran Strike (sometimes with Robin’s assistance) interviewing the suspects, with clues coming from their dialogue and other information casually mentioned throughout the book. It seems as though a lot of people don’t like Owen Quine very much, and we find out some details of the relationships of the characters to each other. We learn stories of old friends becoming enemies, of long-term partners (both personal and business) who have grown to tolerate others they find infuriating, and of industry gossip that affects people’s lives.

Unfortunately, despite some interesting parts in the plot, the characters made the book a chore to read at times. They were, almost to a one, incredibly frustrating. Many of the suspects and related characters were stereotypes in my view. Perhaps this is due to the genre (since the detective only finds out sufficient information about the suspects to solve the mystery), but I thought Rowling could have done more to develop these characters – or, at the very least, made some of them interesting to read about. I also feel obligated to add that this is yet another book in which in which Rowling has included a queer character as a side character whose portrayal in that respect was handled poorly. In this book, there is a transgender character, and the fact that she is transgender is part of the plot of the story. This is one of the very few details we find out about her, and this is treated as her major defining characteristic. In The Casual Vacancy, a daughter of two of the main characters is queer and shows up briefly. In The Cuckoo’s Calling, one of the suspects interviewed by Strike is never (if I remember correctly) identified as queer, but the way he’s described fits the stereotype of gay men, with little individuality. And, of course, Rowling outed Albus Dumbledore as gay after the Harry Potter series was published. It’s getting to be a frustrating pattern of portraying queer characters as side characters whose queerness is never mentioned, stereotyped, or briefly thrown in. It pains me to say it, since Rowling’s Harry Potter series means a lot to me precisely for the diversity and equal rights metaphor, but her handling of real-world minority characters has been mixed. Many of the characters in The Silkworm are meant, it’s clear, to serve as a commentary on the publishing industry. Given Rowling’s depth of experience on that topic, I’m sure there are many valid points made. Perhaps the negative portrayals in this book and the preceding one are intentional, but they make me less enthusiastic about reading the series, due to the parade of horribleness.

And what of our heroes? Even the two main characters, Cormoran and Robin, made me roll my eyes multiple times, due to the interaction between them and their acquaintances. There were some rather moving and heart-rending moments between the two, such as when Robin is excited to be a detective, when Cormoran is remembering his experiences in the military, when the duo trek through a storm for an interview with a suspect, or when Robin attends her future mother-in-law’s funeral. However, there were also many moments that very incredibly frustrating, such as the moments of tension between Robin’s fiancé Matthew and Cormoran or Cormoran’s insulting observations about other characters. I wanted to know more about Cormoran and Robin when I finished reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, but as I’ve kept reading the series, I’ve started to feel that while I’m finding out a little bit more about these two characters, I’m also finding them more annoying as characters as I do so. I find it disappointing that Rowling, whose characters have been one of the best parts of her stories in the Harry Potter series and The Casual Vacancy, has written a book that made me less interested in finding out what happens to them as I read on.

The writing in this book was enjoyable in some way and not in other days. Rowling shines, once again, in description and in turns of phrase that make the story come alive in the readers’ minds. There are some gruesome passages that are fittingly frightful and characters who are appropriately appalling. Regarding this book’s attempts to address issues within the publishing industry, one can’t help feel that Rowling is using the story to portray aspects of the industry that we as readers don’t often see. Many industries have seedy aspects that happen behind closed doors and could use some light shed on them. It does make an aspiring writer want to run away from mainstream publishing even more than before (or to find some relatively untainted corner a bit away from the mess).

The next book in the Cormoran Strike series Career of Evil,[6] is about to be released.[7] I’ve already ordered the book and plan to read it. I believe this series is set to have about seven or so books,[8] so I really hope it improves and that I like future books better than the first two.

###

References

[1] Galbraith, Robert. The Silkworm. London: Sphere (an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group), 2014, Ch 42, p. 380.

[2] Galbraith, Robert. The Silkworm. London: Sphere (an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group), 2014, Ch 43, p. 397.

[3] My essays about Harry Potter can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/harry-potter/.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: J. K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’”. Posted on 16 November 2012 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 October 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/book-review-j-k-rowlings-the-casual-vacancy/.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Robert Galbraith’s ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’”. Posted on 28 October 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 31 May 2015 at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/book-review-robert-galbraiths-the-cuckoos-calling/.

[6] “Career of Evil”. Posted on 24 April 2015 at Robert Galbraith’s official website. Retrieved on 7 June 2015 from http://robert-galbraith.com/career-of-evil/.

[7] “Career of Evil to be Published October 2015”. Posted on 11 June 2015 at Robert Galbraith’s official website. Retrieved on 12 June 2015 from http://robert-galbraith.com/career-of-evil-to-be-published-october-2015/.

[8] Sims, Andrew. “J.K. Rowling may write up to 7 Cormoran Strike books”. Posted on 24 February 2014 on Hypable. Retrieved on 18 October 2015 from http://www.hypable.com/jk-rowling-crime-novel-series-number-of-books/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #16 “Last Days, Part One” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“When I said a broken heart feels like the end of the world … this isn’t quite what I was talking about.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #16)

Kamala’s still feeling upset after Kamran’s betrayal,[1] but she doesn’t have much time to be sad, because the Marvel Multiverse is about to crash and burn iridescently in the event known as Secret Wars,[2] before reforming in the (exciting but laughably named) All-New All-Different Marvel.[3] People are panicking as chaos descends on the Earths, and Kamala tries to step up and act as an organizer to get people to work together. She doesn’t exactly know what’s happening herself, but she’s trying to figure it out. If the end of the Multiverse wasn’t enough to be getting along with, Kamran shows up again with a devious plot. Kamala has to figure out how to save her brother, save the innocent civilians threatened by the end of the Multiverse, and figure out how to be a superhero in a situation that we know she will not be able to stop.

This story arc will feature the team-up fans have been waiting for: Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. The story ends with a page that is sure to make fans feel elated. Kamala is standing on a rooftop and suddenly a familiar superhero is standing beside her – in the last panel of the issue. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this story arc, due to the team-up between Kamala and Carol. Throughout the series, since the very beginning of Kamala’s story,[4] we have known that Kamala was inspired to become a superhero because of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, such as the Avengers, and especially Captain Marvel. As fellow superhero fans, we get excited for Kamala to be able to meet her favorite superhero and look forward to reading about their story together.

One thing I wanted to mention was a little moment in the story during the conversation between Kamala and Kamran that I could really relate to: Kamran tries to make Kamala feel guilty for not being able to protect her family when he’s the one who drugged her parents to kidnap her brother Aamir. This is a familiar tactic that wrongdoers and manipulators use against their victims, trying to make them feel guilty. They know just what will hurt their target the most. Many people will be able to relate to this, but I think the fact that Kamala is a teenaged girl adds another aspect to that passage, as girls are sometimes told they have to preserve the “honor” of their family and blamed if others hurt them. It’s a good follow-up to the previous story arc, in which Kamran tries to blame Kamala for his own actions.[5]

We see lots of civilians in this story, as everyone is trying to figure out what to do. Characters are trying to gather everyone at the school, which is being used as a shelter. I found it interesting that teenagers are organizing everyone. Where are the adults in the situation? I guess it’s one of the conventions of stories with teenaged superheroes: the adults aren’t around so that the teenagers can be the heroes. It’s also possible that, hopefully, the adults are trying off-panel to figure things out on a larger scale to try to stop the end of the Multiverse. Of course, Kamala and other characters are trying to help the civilians, which is what superheroes should do.

During these efforts by the teenagers, there’s a moment between Bruno and Josh that I found interesting. We know Josh from earlier in the series, including issue #1[6] and issue #2.[7] Bruno is Kamala’s friend and has been in the series throughout. Bruno and Josh are working together to get the civilians to the school and fight off looters. There’s a moment when Josh calls Bruno a “geeky guido” (with “guido” being an insulting reference to Bruno being working-class Italian-American). Bruno points out that it’s an insulting term, and Josh says it’s an “old habit”. It’s not mentioned again, as they have other things to focus on at the moment, but I found it interesting. We don’t know as much about Bruno as we do about Kamala, since he’s not the main character, but there are moments earlier in the series when we found out some facts about his background: he’s working during high school to help support his family;[8] he’s trying to get a scholarship so he can go to college;[9] he’s a grandson of Italian-American immigrants.[10]

There are immigrants in the United States, and in every country, from wide variety of backgrounds, and I appreciate that the series acknowledges that. Too often, in political discussions, this fact is brought up disingenuously, to promote discrimination rather than promote equality and solidarity between people. Certain groups of immigrants, usually people of specific racial and religious backgrounds from certain European countries, are considered acceptable immigrants, while other groups are considered unacceptable, with variations due to time period and other contexts. When people discuss discrimination they face, others who are now more accepted (by being more-recently included in the “white” category in some contexts) will bring up their own background to tell others to stop complaining about discrimination. In this series, Kamala and Bruno are friends. When Bruno mentions his immigrant background, he does so to point out a similarity between his family and the Khan family, not to deny the existence of discrimination. Bruno’s family doesn’t have as much money as Kamala’s family and he does face stereotypes due to his background. At the same time, Kamala’s appearance makes it clear to others that she’s not white, so she would face discrimination in certain situations when Bruno might be considered white. She also faces discrimination due to her religion in a way that would probably happen less often to Bruno, since she’s Muslim and he’s Catholic in a majority-Christian country. The series acknowledges (albeit briefly) that European-American immigrants also face discrimination and socioeconomic marginalization in society, but also does not use it as an insult against non-European immigrants like the Khan family. Learning a little about Bruno’s background in the series has made me curious to learn more about the experiences of his grandparents when they moved here and his experiences as well. In the tradition of Steve Rogers, who’s a child of Irish immigrants (or Superman who’s literally from another planet) there are superheroes who are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. Issues of social justice are nothing new to superhero comics; we’ve just decided we can include these issues more clearly and with greater diversity.

This issue mostly sets up a premise that will continue in the remainder of the story arc. One of the interesting aspects of the Last Days stories is that, because they are being published after Secret Wars is already underway, we know that the superheroes will not be able to stop the end of the Multiverse. Therefore, this is a story about how people react when something disastrous happens and about how people keep trying, even right up until the very end. Superheroes are supposed to do the right thing, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how two of my favorite superheroes deal with the end of the Multiverse.

###

References

[1] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15 “Crushed, Part Three” (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 23 August 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 23 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-15-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[2] Secret Wars. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 23 August 2015 from https://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Secret_Wars.

[3] All-New, All-Different Marvel. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 23 August 2015 from https://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/All-New,_All-Different_Marvel.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 “Metamorphosis” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on on 26 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 29 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-1-metamorphosis-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15 “Crushed, Part Three” (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 23 August 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 23 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-15-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[6] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 “Metamorphosis” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 26 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 29 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-1-metamorphosis-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[7] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2 “All Mankind” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 3 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 29 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-2-all-mankind-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[8] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 “Metamorphosis” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on on 26 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 29 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-1-metamorphosis-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[9] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 “Side Entrance”. Posted on 12 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 29 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-3-side-entrance-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[10] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14 “Crushed, Part Two”. Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 29 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-14-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15 “Crushed, Part Three” (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al)

“I gave him power over me – power over what I do, power over my identity. No more.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15)[1]

“You think being tough is the same as being mean. I thought you were this romantic hero. But you’re just a villain. You’re just a bad guy’s lackey in a pair of nice shoes.” (Kamala Khan to Kamran, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15)[2]

“I’ve faced giant robots, bird-men, Viking dudes…never a broken heart. I don’t know how to fight this feeling. I’m just glad I don’t have to fight it alone.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15)[3]

The story continues where the previous issue left off,[4] with Kamala facing the three Inhumans who have kidnapped her: Kamran, Kaboom, and Lineage. The latter is very obviously the leader of this group. This group of Inhumans wants Kamala to join them and it’s revealed that they have resorted to kidnapping to try to force her to do so. Kamala disagrees, fights back, and escapes with her friend Bruno.

Is it possible to write a metaphor to address victim blaming and rape culture in a positive way? Yes, it is, and the creators of this issue do it wonderfully. There are multiple moments in this issue that clearly reference and comment on situations in which victims are blamed for harm that others do to them; this issue challenges the victim-blaming narrative. Kamala’s actions in the previous two issues were the perfect set-up that would lead some people to wrongly conclude that a victim deserved to be raped or otherwise taken advantage of. (She went out with the boy willingly, she was out in the middle of the night, she disobeyed her parents, and so many of the things we hear.) In this story, Kamran uses victim-blaming language to make it seem that he did not do anything wrong in deceiving Kamala by offering to give her a ride to school and then taking her to their headquarters instead. Anyone who’s ever heard these types of arguments will recognize the phrases that Kamran uses, to try to guilt the victim into not holding the wrongdoer responsible for their actions. Kamala doesn’t believe him. The story is squarely on Kamala’s side, and that’s something I really love.

There’s another reason I really appreciated the direction that the creators decided to go with this story line. They had the courage to address and challenged an assumption that some parents have: that their children should automatically be able to relate more to someone of their own background rather than someone of a different background. The sexuality of Muslim girls and women is much discussed but very seldom do we get to see story in which a Muslim teenage girl gets to make her own decisions without being blamed for others’ actions towards her. Often, these stories are told in a way that privilege cisgender men: either privileging white men by showing them as the real hero of the story with the Muslim woman as a side character who is overly sexualized and needs rescuing, or privileging Muslim men by challenging stereotypes about them while leaving stereotypes about Muslim women an unchallenged part of their religion and culture. Muslim girls and women do face sexism, and it was relatable to see a story that acknowledges that and challenges of the common arguments put forth as apart of male privilege: the idea that women belong to men of their own race or religion. In this story, we see the situation from Kamala’s perspective, and she is allowed to make her own decisions without being blamed for the actions of others who try to hurt her. When she realizes the situation she’s in, she realizes that the way Kamran has treated her is unfair. She is portrayed as strong and confident.

G. Willow Wilson’s writing addresses the theme of this issue and this arc in a nuanced and sympathetic way that will have readers relating to Kamala and cheering for her to succeed. We want to hug her to make the sadness go away and simultaneously laugh with her at the jokes (including references to Star Trek and Star Wars). Takeshi Miyazawa’s artwork in this story arc is really great, showing the character’s emotions through the artwork really well. The various situations (such as conversations between characters and action scenes) are both really well done. The characters and backgrounds are both detailed. Ian Herring’s colors are really bright and fun; they’ve been a constant for this series, even when the line work artist has changed, and it’s so fitting for Kamala’s story.

The end of the issue sets up the storyline that will be the focus of issues #16 to #19, Ms. Marvel’s Last Days story arc. Several Marvel series have Last Days story arcs that tie in to the Secret Wars event; as might be expected, Last Days shows what the heroes were doing in during the last days before the Marvel Multiverse crashed and burned iridescently.[5]

I look forward to each issue of Ms. Marvel with the same anticipation I felt about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series[6] – perhaps even more. I’m very much looking forward to the conclusion of this volume and the beginning of the next volume of the Ms. Marvel series.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Miyazawa, Takeshi; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15 “Crushed, Part Three”. Marvel, 13 May 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15.

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #15.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14 “Crushed, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al). Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 23 August 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-14-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[5] Secret Wars. Marvel Database Wiki. Retrieved on 23 August 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Secret_Wars.

[6] My blog posts about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/harry-potter/.

The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends a Bit Further Towards Justice

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

“The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

(Justice Anthony Kennedy, majority opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges)[1]

For the past several days, I’ve been listening to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and on 26 June 2015 I felt like singing the refrain “Glory, glory, hallelujah!”[2] The Supreme Court of the United States of America, in their decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, declared that same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right, due to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[3] (The opinion is available on the Supreme Court website.)[4] This case will go down in the history books alongside Loving v. Virginia, the decision that did the same thing for interracial marriage in the United States in 1967.[5] I feel such joy that this day has come and honored that it has happened in my lifetime.

Marriage has been redefined and redefined and redefined throughout history, and it is a step forward when it is redefined for the better, as it has been with this ruling. I have always been ambivalent on the subject of marriage in general, due to its long history (up to and including today) of being an oppressive institution in many ways, but I am cheered by progress in marriage equality. I know what it’s like to grow up in a culture and community in which many people expect not only heterosexuality but also arranged or semi-arranged marriages with little to no chance to date. These types of expectations, along with marriage restrictions based on characteristics such as race and religion, place unreasonable limits on relationships; they place too much power in the hands of parents and community leaders to interfere in people’s personal decisions, while demonizing those who do not conform. A just society should take the side of those who are being discriminated against by their families, not with the families that hurt them. This ruling tells people: It doesn’t matter who you want your children to marry. They get to marry whom they want to marry. The law of this country sides with the people who want to marry someone of the same sex or gender, not with those who would stand in their way. Progress in marriage equality is not only beneficial for same-sex couples specifically, but is a step forward in the redefinition of marriage, romance, family, and love as concepts that should be about equality and mutual respect.

Almost immediately after the announcement, people started discussing the work that still needs to be done to advance LGBTQIA+ rights and human rights in general. One of the things I love about social justice advocates: They do not rest on their laurels. This battle is won, but the war is not over. Celebrate, and then move forward. March on. Bend the arc a bit further. I would not have the rights I do today if not for the many people throughout history and today who raise their voices for equality on all fronts, and they have taught me that justice is something that must constantly be fought for and defended. There is much more progress still needed to make my country, and this world, a more just place for everyone. In the courtroom, we appeal to the law. And of course, outside the courtroom, there is a need for a change of hearts and minds, because the views of the people in one’s community have a great impact on equal rights. Human society must change and improve if we want to see a better future. Spare a thought, a moment of silence, for those who and for all those throughout history and even today who face injustice, and then commit to fighting that injustice.

The arc of the Moral Universe does bend towards justice, but only as long as there are people here to bend it.

It bent a bit further on 26 June 2015.

#

Recommended Reading

James Obergefell, the man whose name is on this historic case, wrote a moving open letter “My Husband” regarding the ruling.[6] The case that legalized same-sex marriage started with Obergefell and his husband John Arthur attempting to make sure that Obergefell would be listed as Arthur’s surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. At the time, John Arthur was terminally ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerois (ALS) and has since died. Obergefell can’t celebrate this historic moment with his husband, but because of him and because of the many others who fought tirelessly, this moment has come.

Greta Christina wrote a great essay “Same Sex Marriage a Constitutional Right!” about the ruling, discussing the great jubilation and the work still to be done.[7]

Chelsea E. Manning wrote a great article about continuing the fight for equality “Same-sex marriage isn’t equality for all LGBT people. Our movement can’t end”.[8]

Glenn Greenwald wrote “Today’s Court Ruling, Though Expected, Is Still Shocking – Especially For Those Who Grew Up LGBT In The U.S.” discussing the history that lead to this historic decision.[9]

Kristen Hare compiled front pages announcing marriage equality from every state in Union from the Newseum’s collection.[10]

###

References

[1] Supreme Court of the United States of America. Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio, Department of Health, et al. Docket 14-556. Posted 26 June 2015 at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.

[2] The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_Hymn_of_the_Republic.

[3]Obergefell v. Hodges”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges.

[4] Supreme Court of the United States of America. Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio, Department of Health, et al. Docket 14-556. Posted 26 June 2015 at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.

[5] “Loving v. Virginia”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loving_v._Virginia.

[6] Obergefel, James “Jim”. My Husband. Posted at Medium on 26 June 2015. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://medium.com/@WhiteHouse/my-husband-69362c9d63df.

[7] Christina, Greta. “Same Sex Marriage a Constitutional Right”. Posted on 26 June 2015 at Greta Christina’s Blog. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2015/06/26/same-sex-marriage-a-constitutional-right/.

[8] Manning, Chelsea E. “Same-sex marriage isn’t equality for all LGBT people. Our movement can’t end”. Posted on 26 June 2015 at The Guardian. Retrieved on 28 June 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/26/same-sex-marriage-equality-all-lgbt-people-our-movement-chelsea-manning.

[9] Greenwald, Glenn. “Today’s Court Ruling, Though Expected, Is Still Shocking – Especially For Those Who Grew Up LGBT In The U.S.” Posted on 26 June 2015 at The Intercept. Retrieved on 28 June 2015 from http://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/06/26/todays-supreme-court-ruling-though-expected-still-shocking/.

[10] “Front pages from all 50 states on the same-sex marriage ruling”. Posted on 27 June 2015 at Poynter. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/353539/front-pages-from-all-50-states-on-the-same-sex-marriage-ruling/.

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