Marketing Idea No. 270: How to use super heroes and music videos to change the way Islam is perceived

Much of what we perceive of the world is enforced upon us by this excessive force called mass media. Thats why Ethiopia for us is eternally poor (not a beautiful country which is right now in thr middle of a telecom boom and improving GDP) and America is a land of freedom and opportunity (not a country of failing family values system and ever increasing unemployement). Perceptions can be misleading. And sometimes it takes something as radical as Arabic super heroes to change the current perception people hold about the Arab world and Islam in general.

Now, even if you try your damn hardest to dream up the least probable superhero ever to walk the world, it’s unlikely that you’d manage to come up with a character as mind bending as Batina the Hidden. Batina is a superhero of a kind the world hasn’t seen, until now. It’s not just that she’s a Muslim woman, from a country best known for harbouring al-Qaida operatives – Yemen – but that she wears an altogether new kind of super-person costume: a burqa.

She, along with her fellow crime-fighters, a vast team of characters from around the world, including Jabbar the Powerful from Saudi Arabia and Hadya the Guide from London, collectively known as “The 99”, are the world’s first islam inspired superheroes. And in what is perhaps the ultimate comic-book accolade, they will join forces with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics, the US publishing giant, will publish the first of six special crossover issues in which The 99 will be fighting crime alongside the Justice League of America, the fictional superhero team that includes Superman and Batman.

What’s even more remarkable is that The 99 only came into being in 2007 with some remarkable firsts: the first comic book superheroes to have Muslim names and be directed at an international audience and the first to come out of the Middle East. Crossovers don’t happen often and even less often with characters that are just three years old. Even The 99’s creator and mastermind, a Kuwaiti-born, American-educated psychologist and entrepreneur called Naif al-Mutawa, seems to be having some trouble believing the Superman link-up.

It’s his conviction that has seen him so far raise in excess of $30m in three rounds of funding from private investors, fight off a ban in Saudi Arabia (he’s subsequently been re-banned but he’s fighting it again), and persuaded Endemol, the company behind Big Brother, to produce a multimillion-dollar, 26 part animated mini series which will be shown on Hub, the US network previously known as Discovery Kids that goes into 60 million American homes

The 99 is not the only piece of progressive news coming out of the Arab world. There is a new channel called 4Shbab which is taking the Arab world by storm. Dubbed as the MTV for Arab world, 4Shbab is aiming at changing the way people perceive of Islam and reaching out to young people with a very effective vehicle: music videos. Headquartered in Egypt and running out of Bahrain this channel is airing different Arab pop music videos with religious themes but very progressive cinematography and is fast becoming a source of liberal congregation in Arab world.

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