Whether it’s a religion or a political movement, the most effective critics are always those who were once believers. Whether it’s David Horowitz dissecting the American Left, Bart Ehrman challenging fundamentalist Christianity, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali critiquing Islam, those that have been on the inside can cut the deepest.
Not all critics write academic tomes. Ex-Muslim cum Objectivist Bosch Fawstin's new book will contain several essays explaining his challenging, often controversial views on Islam and the War on Terror. But as a cartoonist, Fawstin is the ideal person to make the definitive anti-Jihad superhero: Pigman. For the past several years, cartoonist he has been posting images of the characters from his upcoming graphic novel The Infidel on his blog. As the time grew near to begin releasing The Infidel in serial form Bosch realized he had created enough images to warrant a separate book. ProPiganda: Drawing the Line Against Jihad is a collection of the images that have appeared on his blog.
I recently got the opportunity to ask Fawstin some questions about ProPiganda and The Infidel.
DS: Where did ProPiganda, your upcoming graphic novel The Infidel, and Pigman come from? What life experiences led you to develop the ideas you express in ProPiganda and to create this character and this art?
BF: The Infidel came from my desire to respond to 9/11 through my art. While I'm not a soldier, I want retribution against those who had a good day on 9/11. My Muslim background played a part in my desire to take on this subject, and having left Islam years before 9/11 helped me fully absorb the truth about it with no problem. I had initially planned to write and draw a Captain America story, but I realized that there would be no way in hell that Marvel Comics would allow me to say what I had to say about Islam, nor would they allow me to have Cap do what needed to be done to this enemy. I then stepped back and started thinking about what would be the perfect hero to fight against Jihad. Enter Pigman. The Infidel's hero is Killian Duke, who leaves Islam after 9/11 and creates Pigman, the jihadist's worst nightmare. Pigman is an ex-Muslim who fights jihad, wearing pigskin leather to exploit the enemy's pigotry. Salaam Duka, Killian's twin brother, on the other hand, falls back into Islam in response to the atrocity, breaking their bond for good. I've spent over three years developing this story while researching all things Islam, and my blog has been a way to get myself out there while I work on The Infidel. After realizing that I had over a hundred pieces of art, along with a few essays, I decided to collect it all in a 'remastered' collection I call ProPiganda: Drawing the Line Against Jihad.
DS: As an ex-Muslim creating a graphic novel about an ex-Muslim who creates an anti-Jihad superhero is there an autobiographical element to The Infidel? Are characters inspired by you and people you know?
BF: Yes, clearly there is that, and what came to me during the writing of the story was that, in a sense, I've split myself in two with the twins, with Killian representing my best, and Salaam my worst. It's more complex than that, but their responses to the attacks tell you who they are more than anything else. Pigman is also a big part of me, the part that wants to see the enemy get what's coming to them. Initially, the Pigman character was mainly a trigger that sets off the brother's conflict, since I was more interested in showing what kind of man would create such a character as Pigman in this PC world we're living in. But Pigman has become such a big part of the book that his own story echoes Killian's, though on a far larger scale as he battles his archenemy, SuperJihad.
DS: What prompted you to abandon Islam? Could you discuss the circumstances behind that decision?
BF: I didn't so much abandon Islam as fade away from it, and I didn't have much faith to lose to begin with. It's tough to say you've left something if you've never really embraced it. Hugh Fitzgerald is right in saying "the atmospherics of Islam" can affect even the least devout Muslim in a detrimental way. A strong thrust within Islam is to see any and all things outside of Islam as worthless, most particularly non-Muslims. When we did go to mosque there was never any real sense that something important was taking place. The majority of us who were involved in this pretense had no idea what to do, unless we followed the imam's prayer moves (and many in attendance were fooling around anyway). "Islam" was the name of the thing that was held as 'the good' in my household, and it was that vagueness which helped keep it at bay. It was only when I started taking morality seriously that I realized Islam had nothing to offer me.
DS: You say that Islam had nothing to offer you. What did you find that did? What are the schools of thought and who are the thinkers who have most influenced you and your work?
BF: I found Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, first by watching the film version of The Fountainhead, and then by reading her novels and nonfiction works. I felt at home reading her work. It was the first time in my life that I saw the concept of morality being taken seriously outside of religion. A morality that was based in reality and had more to say about life on earth, freedom and the individual than anything I had read before. It was only fitting that my favorite storyteller in comics, Frank Miller, was also influenced by her work, as was another favorite of mine, Steve Ditko, who has spent most of his career expressing Objectivist ideas through his work.
DS: Now that we know a bit more of the background behind your work lets discuss some of the specific pieces in ProPiganda and the ideas they depict. One of the most challenging, interesting illustrations in the book is the “They Say We Say” image on page 43. It's an illustration of a point you elaborate on in the book's essays: the enemy is Islam, the so-called moderate Islam of the West is not really true Islam at all. This strikes me as one of the most important ideas in the book. It's also one of the most controversial. Could you elaborate on this idea for those new to your work?
BF: They say Islam, we say anything but Islam, leaving the troubling impression that the enemy's religion is something other than Islam. There is no "Political Islam" or "Totalitarian Islam" that is distinguishable from Islam itself. Islam is normatively political and totalitarian. We have evaded the true meaning of Islam in the name of respect for religion. But we cannot avoid the consequences of doing so. Mohammed was a Muslim and his religion was Islam; he was not an Islamist practicing Islamism. He was a Muslim who practiced Islam and engaged in its violent Jihad, forcing Islam into a world it failed to get into on merit. And any Muslim who is peace-loving and tolerant is by implication condemning their violent, intolerant "prophet" and the means by which their religion was spread. How Islam spread tells us exactly what Islam means. When the moral standard for an entire culture is a bad guy who crossed the line as a way of life, it explains why his most devout followers are the most violent among Muslims. We can try our best to stay clear of Islam, but Muslims have proven that they will never keep Islam to themselves unless they are forced to. It is a faith that sanctions any evil against those who are not part of it. Our not calling this evil by its name, Islam, is sanctioning it and leaving ourselves at the mercy of those who will stop at nothing to bury all we hold dear.
DS: This understanding of Islam would represent a pretty fundamental shift in the American approach to the War on Terror. Currently US policy from the President down has held that Islam is not the enemy, that Islamic terrorists represent a perversion of Islam, and that the US is not engaged in a war with Islam. The ideas of ProPiganda turn that approach on its head, flipping each proposition 180 degrees: Islam is the enemy, Islamic terrorists are merely acting as Mohammad did, and that we actually are fighting a war against Islam. What implications would such a shift in ideas yield toward how the United States deals with this threat? In one of your essays you challenged President Bush for his "quarter-assed response to 9/11." Would it simply be a matter of getting more aggressive? Do we need to fight the War on Terror Pigman style?
BF: If 2,996 American politicians were murdered on 9/11, do you think Washington would have been interested in exonerating Islam and allowing this enemy to kill again? We all know the answer. Our politicians are so disconnected from the American people, that they now do everything but their job. If they can't defend us, they're good for nothing. They think that their job in this war is to win hearts and minds that already belong to Islam. And while they dispassionately wage a war on "terror", not jihad, they allow the two greatest state sponsors of jihad terrorism, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to remain in business. For now, our government goes big on us and small on jihad, while telling us that we are not fighting a war against Islam, even though Islam is fighting a war against us.
Ayn Rand said, "To fear to face an issue is to believe that the worst is true." And the worst is true about Islam, which is why no one in our government challenged Bush's famous anti-reality check, "Islam means peace." We have gone from the terribly named "War on Terror" to the now even more euphemistic "Overseas Contingency Operation," while the enemy has stuck with the same jihad for over a thousand years.
Those who've sworn to defend us have decided that there are more important things to them than defending us. As I wrote in my introduction to ProPiganda, "Our leaders have decided that, while the protection of America is optional, the defense of Islam is absolute." Our government has waged war the way the enemy wages peace and has never given the enemy a reason to end jihad. This enemy has been out for blood for over a thousand years. Obama, following in Bush's compassionate war mode, is hoping that the enemy tires in the face of our unused power. But they will never tire of spilling our blood; this is what they do, what they've always done, and they have always counted on their savagery to help them overcome all odds against those they conquered. So yes, we need to fight the War on Jihad, Pigman style. Above all, we need to follow the truth to wherever it may lead in order to show us what must be done. We need to terrify the enemy by saying and doing the once unthinkable against them and all they hold dear. You will see what I mean in The Infidel.
DS: I'd like to continue this discussion and this point through bringing up another image from ProPiganda and then posing a two-part question. On page 81 you have an image of PigMan along with the phrase "Can't Bring Gray to a Black and White Fight," clearly an influence from your Objectivist philosophy. The impression I get from Propiganda and your comments is a vision of the necessity to wage a brutal, unrelenting war against the Muslim world. If you'd like to clarify this, perhaps with specifics that would be great. Do we need to invade and occupy Saudi Arabia and Iran? Nuke Mecca? Assassinate Ahmadinejad? What are we talking here?
One of the ideas that I've written about a fair amount is that people do and think intolerable things (jihad in this discussion) for two primary reasons. The first is out of malevolence or evil. The second is out of ignorance -- they just haven't been educated yet. When we're dealing with evil we need to attack it PigMan style. However, when we're dealing with ignorance we need to seduce and persuade. My impression of the Muslim world is that there are many -- particularly our counterparts in Generations X and Y -- who are entirely reachable and persuadable. They don't need the brutality of PigMan but the opportunity to learn what American values and American freedom are really all about. And given the choice between Islam and freedom they'll choose the latter. And I see a value in trying to reach out to them. Do you agree? Disagree? Am I bringing gray to a black and white fight?
BF: First thing, it is the Muslim world that is waging a "brutal, unrelenting war against" us. They are forcing us to do things we don't want to do and it's up to them how ugly it's going to get. I will show how I think a superpower ought to respond to those who attack it in The Infidel. Regarding Muslims who are mere sheep to their jihadist wolves, those killed by us in the line of fire are the full responsibility of jihadists who habitually hide among civilians. About those Muslims who may be, as you put it, "entirely reachable and persuadable," if they do exist at all in any great number, their full liberation will only come in a post-jihad world. But today, when Muslims are given the choice between Islam and freedom, they choose Islam. They did so in elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and "Palestine." A "Palestinian" terrorist even thanked America for giving them the weapon of democracy after his terrorist group was voted in by those who celebrated 9/11. In any given culture, there is always a small minority of evil people. In the Islamic world, however, that small minority established Islamic rule and holds power to this day.
DS: The final image I'd like to discuss is perhaps my personal favorite from ProPiganda. It's "Comeuppance" on page 56 and features an image of Pigman beating a Muslim husband who protests "But the Koran says I can beat her." His wife stands smiling in the background. Then you quote a verse from the Koran which claims men are superior to women and justifies domestic abuse. Like many elements of superhero comics it's an escapist fantasy, expressing a desire to liberate the millions of oppressed Muslim women from a truly misogynistic society. Is this particular critique of the Muslim world one we can look forward to seeing explored more in The Infidel? And has your research into Islam given you any insights on the religion’s misogynist tendencies?
BF: I deal with Islam's inherent hostility towards women in the book in a number of ways, mainly through a female character who has been a victim of it her entire life and who, like Killian, saves herself from Islam after 9/11. Having saturated myself with all things Islam these past few years, I've come to believe that Mohammed understood the power women had over him and men in general and that he wanted to do whatever he could to keep that truth from women. He even told his wives that when he peered into hell, the majority of its inhabitants were women. When asked by one of his wives why that was, he answered, "Because they did not listen to their husbands!"
Women are considered a necessary evil in Islam since they are the only way to deliver male Muslims into the world. I was shocked as a teenager to see that the reaction to the birth of a girl in my family was the same as if someone had died. It was mainly Muslim women who responded this way, no doubt because they understood too well the mistreatment these girls likely would receive. For others, it could have been that Islam got to them so deeply that they really did believe women were just no damn good. Islam has pitted men against women and the Islamic culture's humanity has been crippled by it, to absolutely no one's benefit, no matter what male Muslims believe. In general, I think Muslim women have more power over Muslim males than does Islam itself; and this fact is to be covered up at all times. Literally.
All men understand how much we need women, but Muslim men seem to see this need as a threat, as if their need makes them dependent and therefore weak in the face of women, most especially beautiful ones. So when Mohammed got really desperate to spread Islam, he went for the hard sell and told his dupes that if they threw their lives away for his ideology, they'd be guaranteed 72 slavish virgins to do with as they please. Misogynists killing and dying for women, only in Islam.
DS: What were the books that influenced your understanding of Islam, politics, and comics?
BF: I've read dozens of books on Islam and its jihad, and also books on fanaticism and violence, but I'll just mention the ones that most come to mind:
Why I Left Islam by Ibn Warraq
Stealth Jihad by Robert Spencer
The Man Who Warned America by Murray Weiss
Islamikaze by Raphael Israeli
The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic
The Legacy of Jihad edited by Andrew Bostom
Jihad by Paul Fregosi
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
Violence by James Gilligan
There are also dozens of writers who've written articles about the threat we face, such as Yaron Brook, John David Lewis, Lee Harris, Hugh Fitzgerald, Raymond Ibrahim, Bassam Tibi, V.S. Naipaul, Bat Ye'Or, Ali SIna, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Steve Vincent, Theodore Dalrymple, Phillis Chesler, Mark Steyn, Nancy H. Kobrin, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, David Pryce Jones, Bruce Thornton, Amber Pawlik, Robert Tracinski, Martha Crenshaw, Vernon Richards. There are more, but I don't know how much space you have.
Anything by Ayn Rand, my favorite writer.
In comics, my favorite artist of all time is Alex Toth. My favorite comic book writer is Frank Miller.
My favorite comic books/graphic novels are:
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
Daredevil: Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli
Batman: Year One by Miller & Mazzuchelli
DS: Bosch, I appreciate you taking the time to explain your ideas further. When will we be able to buy The Infidel? And do you have any plans for future projects?
BF: The Infidel #1 will be released in late July, with all the chapters to be later collected in a one volume graphic novel. Unless, of course, a publisher gives me an offer I can't refuse and publishes it as the book I intend it to be. As for future projects, Pigman has become such a big part of The Infidel that I can definitely see a Pigman series at some point. I have a number of story ideas, but one that has stuck with me for years is one I had in mind as a follow up to my first graphic novel, Table for One, but then 9/11 hit and things changed. It's a mind travel story that has stayed with me for years and something so different from my work so far that I can't wait to see it myself. Thanks for the opportunity to reach an audience I've been a part of for a good number of years.