Suleiman Bakhit is CEO of a Jordanian comic production company called the Aranim Media Factory, after a combination of ‘Arab’ and ‘anime, which sold 1.2 million comics in 2010. He believes that comics can be as influential as the already revered and much narrated myth in the Persian Gulf region. Alladin, Sinbad the Sailor and Rostam, are the home-grown classics. But Bakhit began working on more contemporary settings and issues for his heros. After Bakhit began publishing his own comics however, he was attacked with a razor blade by extremists in Jordan.
He told Wired Magazine “I had to cauterise my own wound with a piece of steel. But two good things came out of this. One, my dating life improved exponentially. And the second thing was that I realised that they were trying to mark me with shame, to transfer their own shame to me, and replace it with pride.”
Bakhit also founded the Hero-Factor project, an organization dedicated to promoting heroism as an antidote to armed extremism for Middle Eastern youth. In the video below at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Bakhit explains how his comic books are a way to spread tolerance, empower women, educate young men and counter extremist narratives by providing the Arab youth with positive role models. The importance of examining and deconstructing extremist heroic narratives in order to successfully counter them is Bakhit’s life mission, and he does this with both male and female superheroes. Bakhit says “cultivating heroic imagination among kids is the best technology for defeating terror“. Bakhit was motivated to create his company, in partnership with the King Abdullah Development Fund, after experiencing discrimination in the U.S. following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and canvasing local youth about their opinions. During this time he also realised, thanks to a comment from a child, that the youth in the Middle East had no role models to look up to. Bakhit is now a TED Global Fellow.
“I go to a lot of poor areas and ask the kids, ‘Who are your role models?’ Sometimes they say Zarqawi and Bin Laden. But in one neighborhood I gave them comics and when I went back a few months later; the superheroes were now their role models. It doesn’t even have to be real people they look up to. There’s a huge lack of positive role models in the region. There are few if any public leaders that youth can relate to. Superheroes are an aspiration for what we want to be.”
“The Middle East is one of the fastest growing toy markets in the world,” he explains. “We have the largest population of youth in the world, with 50 percent under 15.”
Meanwhile, the news and viral videos are teaching kids to hate and take up arms, even kill themselves in the process.
They “preach terrorism as a heroic journey,” Mr. Bakhit said in an interview. “The biggest threat in the Middle East is terrorism disguised as heroism.”
Currently the company have no functioning website, but it seems it is reforming. He says the government is softening its stance, and he is in the process of restarting his business with a new name, Hero Factor. But he says he is considering domiciling it in the British Virgin Islands.
They did however launch a game in 2011 which has now all but disappeared. Happy Oasis which is, yes you guessed it, Farmville set in a desert oasis was in Arabic and English (pictured). Both men and women could buy and drive cars in Happy Oasis, an issue that is still at the forefront of the international focus as regards Saudi Arabia, where women take to social media to defy the country’s strict rules against female driving.