Earlier this week, Brussels was attacked. Two blasts at the Brussels International Airport and another explosion just 7 miles away at a metro station. Over 30 dead. Hundreds wounded.
Istanbul, Ankara, Paris, San Bernardino, the list goes on. ISIS claims responsibility over and over and over again. And every single time, Muslims as a collective group are blamed. We get hashtags like #StopIslam followed by something about how we all need to be exterminated.
Is it strange then that I turn to comic books and superhero shows to try to escape it all? It’s exhausting every time I hear another political commentator saying, “These moderate Muslims aren’t doing enough.” And I sure as hell don’t have the energy to fight hundreds of thousands of tweets like this:
Aside from being excellent entertainment, superhero content helps me to deal with and understand the problems of our world. By throwing myself into a made up universe, I can take a step back and see what’s really happening here. And lately, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been providing a lot of clarity for me.
The focus of the show this season is on Inhumans: a type of alien species that only exists in the Marvel Universe (in case you were worried). The situation on S.H.I.E.L.D. is that they’re popping up everywhere and humans are having a hard time figuring out what to do with them because they all have special powers. One person might be able to move at lightning speed, another person could melt metal, another could cause earthquakes, you get the idea.
Every time I catch an episode, I can see the parallel so clearly. The way various people on the show talk about Inhumans is incredibly similar to how every non-Muslim in this universe talks about Muslims. Because so often, Muslims aren’t seen as human either. And similar to Inhumans, some Muslims blend in easily while others stand out more (think of hijabs or other “Muslim garb” as some people like to call it).
Several characters on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. talk about Inhumans like they are something to cure. Too many times, that’s how I’ve heard people in the real world (especially politicians) talk about Muslims. Like we’re some disgusting breed of human, just one hijab or halal meat market away from radicalizing.
It is lazy and dangerous to assume an entire group of people is guilty until proven innocent. But despite the Muslim community’s best efforts, from media appearances to Twitter campaigns, this guilt-by-association thinking is still spreading. I see it on the news and on my various feeds. I overhear it in snippets of conversations at subway stations, on the streets, even amongst colleagues and friends.
In Episode 7 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Rosalind, a government employee working to contain the Inhuman problem, explains to Daisy Johnson, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and an Inhuman, how the Inhumans are dangerous. Their powers make them unstoppable.
At the end, Rosalind says, “For every Daisy Johnson, there’s a Lash [an Inhuman that has used his powers to kill people]. And it’s ignorant for you to think otherwise.” So what, in fact, is stopping Daisy from killing Rosalind right now with her powers? But honestly, as Daisy retorts back, what’s stopping anyone from doing that? Sure, an Inhuman could do it faster with the resources he or she has, but anyone is capable of doing horrible things if they really want to.
Just replace the word Inhuman with Muslim and you see the argument I have to have every day. Sometimes I have that debate with myself. Most times it’s with other people who see me, my family, my friends, as suspects.
Even before the tragic attack in Brussels, Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. Now he wants to shut down the borders even more (of course the man doesn’t provide any details on how exactly). And don’t forget, he wants to make sure all suspected terrorists are waterboarded.
Ted Cruz wasn’t much better. He responded to what happened in Brussels by stating we need to, “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Does he even know of any so-called Muslim neighborhoods? Because I live next to a synagogue. So joke’s on you, Ted.
How are these reactions any different from how Inhumans or the X-men and other mutants are treated in the Marvel Universe? And that’s the point of comics and stories like these. They reveal our flaws and our prejudices in a way that shows how dangerous it can be to give in to fear and hate.
Lately, in the fictional world, Muslims (actual Muslims!) are starting to be portrayed more positively. (If you haven’t already, you should really read Ms. Marvel). The news, on the other hand, is a whole other issue. Just watch CNN anchors John Vause and Isha Sesay talk about how Muslim communities need to take responsibility immediately after the Paris attacks.
I’m not really sure what people expect when they say that the Muslim community should have stopped these terrorists. Do they think we come across these assholes at the grocery store? Or that we take yoga classes together? Maybe they think we run into them in our mosques every week. News flash: there’s a high probability that these murderers don’t go to the mosque to plot their terrorist attacks.
But it’s fine, I get it. Next time I see any Jihadi Johns, I’ll be sure to tackle them with every ounce of strength I have in my 5'2" frame. Girl scout’s honor. Do me a favor, though. How about everyone else take some responsibility for all the shootings that take place in the U.S. every single year. Because for every Ronald Reagan, there’s an Adam Lanza.