Monday, July 29, 2013

Secularizing the Burqa and a Star Wars Hijab

by Salman Hameed

I'm certainly entertained by the idea of a burqa (or burka) as a superhero cape. This was bound to happen. Already in Pakistan, I had heard of the "ninja-burqa". So here comes this new animated series in Urdu, Burka Avenger. I think it is a fantastic idea and, in it, there is an interesting secularizing of the burqa: the teacher doesn't take the burqa for religious reasons, but rather to beat-up the bad guys (not to mention that he bad guys seem to have at least similarities with the Taliban and their position regarding female education). Oh well, here is a trailer in English (the series is in Urdu):


Burka Avenger Trailer from Aaron Haroon Rashid on Vimeo.

Of course, there is also a precedence of Muslim superheroes in the series The 99 (see earlier post, Sharia-compliant superheroes). But Burka Avenger comes with its own Pakistani flavor. Here is a brief description of the key plot lines and a good sense of humor in the show:

The series is set in Halwapur, a fictional town nestled in the soaring mountains and verdant valleys of northern Pakistan. The Burka Avenger's true identity is Jiya, whose adopted father, Kabbadi Jan, taught her the karate moves she uses to defeat her enemies. When not garbed as her alter ego, Jiya does not wear a burka, or even a less conservative headscarf over her hair. 
The main bad guys are Vadero Pajero, a balding, corrupt politician who wears a dollar sign-shaped gold medallion around his neck, and Baba Bandook, an evil magician with a bushy black beard and mustache who is meant to resemble a Taliban commander. 
Caught in the middle are the show's main child characters: Ashu and her twin brother Immu and their best friend Mooli, who loves nothing more than munching on radishes in the company of his pet goat, Golu. 
In the first episode, Pajero wants to shut down the girls' school in Halwapur so he can pocket the money that a charity gave him to run it. He finds a willing accomplice in Bandook, whose beliefs echo those of the Taliban and many other men in conservative, Islamic Pakistan. 
"What business do women have with education?" says Bandook. "They should stay at home, washing, scrubbing and cleaning, toiling in the kitchen."
Bandook padlocks the gate of the school and orders the crowd of young girls outside to leave. Ashu steps forward to resist and delivers a defiant speech about the importance of girls' education – perhaps marking her as a future activist. 
"The girls of today are the mothers of tomorrow," says Ashu. "If the mothers are not educated, then future generations will also remain illiterate." 
Bandook is unmoved, but the Burka Avenger appears and fights off the magician's henchmen with martial arts moves reminiscent of the movie The Matrix. Using his magical powers, Bandook disappears in a puff of smoke. The Burka Avenger hurls a flying pen that breaks open the padlock on the school's gate as the children cheer. 
The show, which is slickly animated using high-powered computer graphics, does a good job of mixing scenes that will entertain children with those that even adults will find laugh-out-loud funny. 
In one episode, Bandook builds a robot to take over the world's major cities, including London, New York and Paris. As he outlines his dastardly plan with a deep, evil laugh, one of his minions butts in and says, "But how will we get visas to go to all those places?" – a reference to how difficult it can be for Pakistanis to travel, given their country's reputation.
And while we are on the subject of mixing religious garbs with entertainment, here is a highly entertaining tutorial video of how to make a Princess Leia Hijab:

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