Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Can a comic book about MLK change the Middle East?

Last year, I -- as North Africa Director of the American Islamic Congress -- proudly worked on editing and publishing the Arabic version of "The Montgomery Story" Comic Book. Publishing such a book in Egypt was a challenging story of overcoming many obstacles over the course of almost four months. Thousands of copies of the Arabic version is now distributed all over the Middle East. Last week, I received a notification from my colleagues at AIC-Boston office that a Vietnamese activist group got inspired by our idea of translating the comic book into Arabic and they translated the comic book into Vietnamese and published it to inspire young people there. I also, knew that the comic book was translated and published in Spanish. Among all these pleasant news, I received an email alert today that the famous academic website: History News Network published this interview with me about publishing such an important historical book for Arabic readers. I am really happy! Enjoy reading the article with me:

Can a Comic Book About MLK Change the Middle East (At Least a Little)?
By Noah Mendel
May 11th, 2009

The American Islamic Congress (AIC), a multi-national civil rights organization, announced in March that it had published an Arabic translation of an old comic book celebrating the life and ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

First published in 1956, amidst the Civil Rights movement, “The Montgomery Story” centers around the events of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Spearheaded by Dr. King and famed-activist Rosa Parks, the bus boycott successfully put an end to segregationist policies on Montgomery's public transit system.

Dalia Ziada, the director of AIC’s North African Bureau, was responsible for translating and editing the Arabic version of “The Montgomery Story,” eventually distributing 2,000 copies throughout the Middle East.

Formed in the wake of 9/11, the AIC is part of a much larger social movement gaining steam throughout the Middle East. Comprised mostly of young people, this movement, recently labeled the “soft revolution” by Time magazine writer Robin Wright, seeks to reconcile cultural conservatism and religious observance with modernity. The AIC’s self-prescribed motto, for instance, is “passionate about moderation.” In addition to comic books, the AIC utilizes Internet resources like Facebook and Twitter to promote women’s rights and free expression and combat terrorism.

The intent behind both the original and most recent publication of “The Montgomery Story” was to disseminate Dr. King’s message of non-violent resistance. “The Middle East is famous for being the ever-conflicting area,” Ziada said. “On the regional level, there are a good number of wars, clashes and murders every day. On the domestic level, there are a huge number of arrests, crackdowns, and suppression over human rights and civil rights activists every day.”

The response, however, particularly from young people, has often been violent and ineffective in enacting change, Ziada told HNN. “In my opinion, it is time to use nonviolent action in dealing with the historical problems of the region and the domestic conflicts of each country in the Middle East.”

Dr. King famously advocated a non-violent response to Jim Crow politics throughout the 1950s and 1960s, helping to make huge legislative and social gains for the advancement of African-Americans. “Martin Luther King’s legacy offers a powerful alternative to violence, and we hope this new Arabic comic book can inspire young Middle Easterners to take responsible action for reform,” Ziada said.

Ziada herself first became familiar with Dr. King’s message of non-violence in 2006 while attending an AIC-affiliated conference in Cairo. Ziada wasted little time in applying her newly-found knowledge. “On the same night of the presentation, there was a very big issue in our family: one of my uncles was going to circumcise his daughter the next morning.”

Ziada herself is a survivor of female genital mutilation, and has since led reform efforts against the practice. “I used to fight against FGM in my family (with traditional methods) since I was 10 years-old. However, this time, I decided to use the nonviolent method of King.” It worked, and in the morning Ziada’s uncle called saying that he was convinced; his daughter went unscathed.

Spreading the message of non-violent resistance throughout the Middle East is ultimately a means to an end for Ziada and the rest of the AIC; that is, to inspire action. “The main message I hope that Arabic readers will take from the MLK comic book is that: change is not impossible. It is time to stop using our muscles blindly. Let's try using our intellect in innovative, creative ways to pressure decision makers and end dictatorship, tyranny and the suppression practiced against us.”