Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Leave Harry Potter Alone!

For some reason, I feel like talking about this! The new Harry Potter film is about to be released in theaters, and the last Harry Potter novel by the brilliant J.K. Rowlings is bound to break all kinds of records in bookstores later this month. Again, we are hearing the same complaints by the uber concerned Evangelical right, that Harry Potter is an enemy of God and a threat to the purity of our future generation. In the Academy Award nominated documentary film "Jesus Camp," the head of the camp, Becky Fischer, announces with religious zeal that Harry Potter is an "enemy of God" and that if he was around during the time of the Old Testament, he would have been "put to death." She shouts on, "You don't make heroes out of warlocks!" Cheers and applause follows, not just by parents, but also by the dozens of 9-12 year old children. Others like Ms. Fischer express their opposition towards J.K. Rowling, calling her irresponsible and a temptress who lures children to "her seductive call" of godless paganism. I suppose the reason why this issue is so controversial and sensitive is because, as Ms. Fischers says, "Satan goes after the young" and according to these Christian groups, Satan himself has taken the form of Harry Potter - a lovable and fascinating adolescent - in order to corrupt the youth.

Before I continue, I must admit that I overact a little when it comes to boycotting movies because of the messages I believe they convey. Maybe it has something to do with me being Muslim. Hmm, okay bad joke. But I have come across arguments stating that some of the works of C.S. Lewis (author of "The Chronicles of Narnia") and J.R.R. Tolkien ("Lord of the Rings") both contain somewhat obvious, though subtle, anti-Muslim/anti-Eastern sentiments. This is not uncommon in literature, especially with fiction writers. Roald Dahl (author of "Matilda" and "Charlie and Chocolate Factory") has been often criticized for his work being anti-Semitic and racist towards Africans, while Dante Alighieri wishes a painful torment and death to Prophet Muhammad and Ali (both mentioned by name) in his acclaimed "The Divine Comedy." And as some of my friends remember, with my ill-temper, I demanded a boycott for the recent film "300", where 300 Spartans slice and dice thousands of Persians. In an interview with NPR, the creator of "300", Frank Miller, called Islam "sixth century barbarism" and declared that Iraq started the war. You can read the entry I wrote for that on my other blog: Realm of Mystics and Seekers (sounds like the most appropriate place to write something like that, rrrright?)

I am not trying to make a mockery of the Christian individuals and organizations who oppose Harry Potter. But unlike Dante and Frank Miller, who are unapologetic about their controversial material, J.K. Rowling is a "churchgoing Presbyterian, who is infruriated that people think her books occultish and anti-Christian." Islam expresses abhorrence towards witchcraft and paganism as much as Christianity (if not more), so I can understand how from an indoctrinated perspective, it can be quite difficult to overlook the witchcraft element of Harry Potter. But this is fantasy, it's not preaching Wicca or paganism to children. That would be like saying "Star Wars" is preaching a religion in of itself, but we all know that we can't move objects with our minds or a wand, right? (hopefully). Sure, J.K. Rowling's receives letters from die-hard fans who want to be accepted intp Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but every fan-based medium has its group of eccentric fanatics (there are people out there who can speak the language of Huttesse, which is a fictitious language in the Star Wars films. I am guilty of knowing the name of the language as well as knowing how to say a few phrases, but uhh, let's not get into that). The novels themselves are wonderful fantasy and escape stories, but they also contain morals and messages on friendship, self-esteem, self-discovery, and trusting a Higher Calling. Although I have seen the films, I have not read any of the novels as of yet. Recently though, I decided to pick up one of the Harry Potter novels and read it for about ten minutes. I was amazed to see how well written they are, but more importantly, these books have made children read more. How often do you see children turn off their Playstations or Xbox's to sit down and read a book? The novels contain no pictures, yet children are drawn to the magic of J.K. Rowling's writing. Before the Harry Potter series, children were intimidated by 200+ pages. Now, thanks to Harry Potter, they are reading over 500 pages. I remember a couple of years ago, I met my 10 years-old kid cousin who is immensely in Love with "Star Wars", and I was so excited because I was just as obsessed when I was younger. I gave him two "Star Wars" novels (about 200 pages each) and the next time I saw him, he had read both of them! It's no secret that reading, especially for children, helps improve our writing and communication skills. Very rarely do we find things for our children that is fun and educational at the same time, so these readings ought to be encouraged, not discouraged! I understand parents being concerned about the youth, and I believe we should all be, but there are far worse things out there than Harry Potter. When children become teenagers and when teenagers become young adults, and so on, unless you isolate them 24/7 from the outside world, they are bound to have encounters with what we don't want them to be exposed to. I was exposed to a lot of things in fifth grade that I knew my parents wouldn't want me to know about, but it was nothing they could have prevented since the inappropriate material was coming from the mouths of my fellow classmates. If you don't allow your child to read/watch Harry Potter, they will find someone in school who is allowed to and they will secretly watch it without telling you. But as I argue, Harry Potter is harmless because there is no attack on Christianity nor is the author or filmmakers supportive of those sentiments. It's important for our children to know about their religion, their spiritual and moral values, but if there is something parents disagree with, they need to communicate to children in a manner that they will understand, not in fervent judgment. I don't have any children by the way, I'm not a parent, so I don't wish to pretend that I know what I'm talking about, lol.

The other thing that I feel needs to be understood about Harry Potter is that he's a "Messiah" character, as I like to call them. In the same tradition that Anakin (and Luke) Skywalker are in "Star Wars" or Frodo is in "Lord of the Rings," or Neo is in "The Matrix", Harry Potter - in respect to the world in which he lives - is prophecized to bring an end to the tyranny of Lord Voldemort. These Messiah characters are usually believed in by a few supporting characters, but battle with self-doubt and struggle with choices they have to make. They are often called "The Chosen One". Eventually, the Messiah character makes a remarkable discovery about him/herself and finally understands what he/she must do. If anything, Harry Potter is Christian allegory. I have no idea what Harry Potter does in the last book, but if he does, in fact, sacrifice himself, then he would be no different than many of the other Messiah characters in literature and film. Even if he doesn't sacrifice himself, he still is an accompaniment to those characters. There is a book on the shelf now, which I recommend to anyone who still considers Harry Potter "evil", called "Looking for God in Harry Potter." I think this would be a great additional reading parents may want to seriously consider giving to their children, especially if they're concerned about their sons or daughters wanting to be warlocks or witches, respectively. In the end, as I think about these wonderful stories (from Harry Potter to Star Wars to the Matrix), they are fantastical re-tellings of our spiritual texts and beliefs and we can relate to them because as we cheer on the "Chosen One" we are also subconsciously remembering the ones who we consider Chosen by the Great Truth. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Siddhartha. Ya Allah, how You have inspired our humanity.

Or... you're just having a great time at the movies! (or reading!)

*hums the Harry Potter theme song*


irving said...

A most excellent article on the Harry Potter phenomenon :) Wands of power and rings of power always delight the mind of the young, who feel powerless in an adult world.

Kaplagh (as we say in Klingon)

and Ya Haqq!

~JehanZeb~` said...

lol Irving!!

I never got into Star Trek, but I'm sure that if I wasn't into Star Wars, I'd definitely be into Star Trek (my friends had some silly 'Star Wars versus Star Trek' mentality, lol). Thanks for commenting! Your thoughts describe exactly what these stories intend to do! I suppose some day I'll learn Klingon, lol.

Kama ta kido (Huttese)!

Anonymous said...

i share the same thought as u there is nothing wrong with useing that as an outlet.and i was lost till i found harry potter