“There’s no such thing as superheroes!”
“There are too!”
“Are not! At least not in real life!”
A week or two ago, my children were fighting again, no surprise. This time the very passionate argument was about the possibility of superheroes existing in real life. At their tender ages, the world of Marvel and DC Comics is very real, thanks to repetitive watching on Netflix. Imagining that a young man could be bitten by a radioactive spider or grow stretchy arms is no less fantastic than flying to Mars in a spaceship. The fight made me laugh. I love their innocence but also realize that there are lessons to be learned in every discussion. And I love discussions!
So I sat the two down and explained some basic facts about the impracticality of the superhero lifestyle. Truth be told, it irritates me that these shows and comics paint the world in black and white, divide people into good guys and bad guys. I want my children to learn about the greys, about the not-so-good guys who try hard to become better. I want them to know that nobody is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but rather we must plod on slowly and steadily, often taking decades if not an entire lifetime to reach our goals. I want them to learn to solve their problems through dialogue, and not by fists and nuclear warheads. In short, I need them to learn that superheroes just cannot be real.
Sadly, I have a feeling I may have to eat my words. A few days ago the world found out that superheroes can indeed fly off the pages of a comic book and have an impact in the real world.
Who doesn’t remember the Islamophobic and extremely offensive bus ads in San Francisco, paid for by the notorious American Freedom Defense Initiative? They made headlines and raised protests from various quarters, to no avail. Freedom of speech apparently allows one to present offensive, foul and incorrect information without any fear of reprisal. If you missed it, you can read about it here.
Questions may arise as to why the San Francisco transportation department felt hate speech was acceptable on government property. As an American I support the First Amendment even when it is used to promote bigotry and hatred towards a group of people. But you know superheroes… they won’t stand for injustice at any cost. Enter Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first female Muslim superhero, who literally jumped off the pages of her comic book and went off to fight the bad guys. Well, no, not literally, just figuratively. But literally too. Take a look:
A San Francisco activist group has taken responsibility for this “defacing” of public property, but so far no one is complaining. In fact, the move by Kamala has led to a national and even international thumbs-up by peace loving people everywhere, and that is what’s critical. It doesn’t matter if superheroes really exist or not – in fact I’m almost 100% sure they don’t – what matters is that heroes exist, and there is still a yearning to live in simpler, more passionate times, when a young woman wearing a dupatta can leap to a religion’s defense like no human being could or did.
So what am I supposed to tell my children, after that lecture the other day about not needing superheroes? I thought of keeping this news secret because mommy should never be proved wrong, but then decided against it. Tomorrow I plan to show them the news articles and the pictures of Kamala, and teach them that Islam really does empower women, and that superheroes do have a purpose in our imagination. I want them to understand that we can honor the First Amendment and still call out hate speech for what it is, a cancer that is infinitely detrimental to our society and our world. I want them to know the difference between freedom of speech and respectable speech, not only when it relates to big groups but among themselves and in our family as well. Kamala has taught me a lot this week, and I’m eager to pass on the lessons to my children.