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Products for grant FT-265568-19

Representations of Islam and Muslims in Contemporary Graphic Narratives
Zeynep Esra Santesso, University of Georgia

Grant details:

“Human Rights: Witnessing in the Islamic Graphic Novel" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “Human Rights: Witnessing in the Islamic Graphic Novel"
Author: Esra Santesso
Abstract: What does it mean to represent—visually and textually—a people who are unconvinced of their own agency and indeed humanity within the postcolonial world as they feel victimized by ensuing civil wars and political unrest in their nations? In this paper, I focus on Amir and Khalil’s Zahra’s Paradise and Hamid Sulaiman’s Freedom Hospital, two graphic novels set in Iran and Syria respectively, each addressing a range of issues related to human rights—from free speech to the policing of values and morality under theocratic and/or totalitarian regimes, from torture to state-sanctioned murder. Focusing on the disappearance of a protestor after the fraudulent elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise follows one mother’s quest for justice. This emblematic story, weaving fact with fiction, illustrates the chaotic environment in which the Green Revolution has led to a “major purge of reform-oriented individuals” by the authoritarian state, using Islam as a façade to legitimize its power. As one reviewer puts it, as Zahra moves from hospital to courtroom to prison to cemetery, she is “confronted with doublespeak worthy of Orwell and confounded by a labyrinthine bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka.” Freedom Hospital also features a woman, Yasmine, who navigates between different militarized fractions fighting for the control of her town as she tries to build a hospital. The war-torn territory forms the backdrop of panels that feature faceless, nameless figures – casualties of war – scattered across the pages. Suleiman also makes a point of giving a count of the dead on each passing day before he embarks on a new story line. Both works focus on people trapped in a state of exception, attempting to work out how to respond to their chaotic environment as humans—even when their positive rights are violated so severely that, in Hannah Arendt’s words, they face “expulsion from humanity altogether.”
Date: 09/12/2019
Conference Name: Postcolonial Studies Association Conference

“States of Exception: Civil Unrest in Muslim Homelands” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “States of Exception: Civil Unrest in Muslim Homelands”
Author: Esra Santesso
Abstract: This paper pursues a comparative analysis of two graphic novels set in the Arab world that engage with violence and unrest: Sherine Hamdy's Lissa (2017) and Hamid Sulaiman's Freedom Hospital (2016). Hamdy’s Lissa sheds light on the Egyptian uprisings against government corruption by focusing on the friendship between an American and Egyptian girl. In Freedom Hospital, Sulaiman takes the reader through the contested territories of the Syrian revolution as various military operations create an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Cultural translation remain at the heart of both works as they explore how to communicate and thus educate the “West” about the banality of violence, as marked, for example, by the number of dead on each page in Freedom Hospital. The suspension of law and therefore the transformation of the citizen to bare life not only point to the collective traumatic experienced by those who remain trapped within repressive regimes, but also show the futility of human rights discourse in war-ridden territories. Santesso ends her paper with a discussion of how the two texts represent visually people who are unconvinced of their own agency and indeed humanity within the isolated, insulated worlds they inhabit.
Date: 7/24/2019
Conference Name: Modern Language Association International Symposium

"Muslim Superhero and American Multiculturalism" (Article)
Title: "Muslim Superhero and American Multiculturalism"
Author: Esra Santesso
Abstract: The release of Frank Miller’s Holy Terror in 2006 inspired a backlash by conflating terrorism with Islam, and catering to the Islamophobic attitudes which emerged in the immediate post 9/11 period. Almost immediately, numerous authors and critics identified the need for a vigorous Muslim engagement with graphic novels – work that could counterbalance the tendency to reduce Muslim characters to villainous caricatures. Still, the actual introduction of a Muslim protagonist in a graphic novel took some time: the presentation of Kamala Khan by Willow Wilson as the new Ms. Marvel (2014) was heralded by readers and critics alike as a much-anticipated counter-narrative. Ms. Marvel: No Normal and Generation Why feature Kamala Khan, an American-born Pakistani girl, who struggles to negotiate between her conservative background and teenage anxieties as a second-generation immigrant. In this series, the creator, Muslim-American Willow Wilson, combats anti-Muslim attitudes, and draws attention to common grounds between Islam and Christianity. But the graphic novel form offers particular challenges as well as advantages when compared to mainstream American Muslim fiction: an audience traditionally skeptical of overtly political works and especially the central presence of “identity politics”; the necessity of conveying Muslim identity through recognizable visual elements without reducing that identity to simplistic clichés, etc. This paper will explore the ways in which Islam is used as a thematic frame through which to challenge misconceptions about the faith group, while also tracing the techniques graphic novelists (such as Tom Craig’s Habibi, or Ahmad Philips’s The Muslims) use to mask or minimize the impact of that challenge.
Year: 2019
Access Model: Book
Format: Other
Periodical Title: Hyphenations: Muslim Writers, Artists, and Performers in America
Publisher: Syracuse University Press