Bats In Their Belfry: DC Comics’ New Muslim Hero Angers Islamophobes

By Arturo R. García

Not to be outdone by the Council of Conservative Citizens, right-wing bloggers have found a new cause for umbrage: DC Comics’ newest member of the nascent “Batman Corps” is French, an Algerian immigrant, and – cue the melodrama – a Muslim.

The character in question, Bilal Asselah, recently debuted in Detective Comics Annual #12 and Batman Annual #28. Bilal, a resident of Clichy-sous-Bois – the Paris neighborhood that saw widespread rioting in 2005 – takes to parkour as a way to escape his troubles and ends up becoming an urban legend, dubbed The Nightrunner.

“For the first time in years, the Baniliue had something to talk about other than the violence,” Bilal says in an internal monologue. And pretty soon, he attracts the attention of the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, who’s visiting Paris as part of the “Batman, Incorporated” storyline; Wayne’s plan is to appoint and train an array of Bat-affiliates around the globe, and he offers Bilal the chance to help him put a stop to a series of assassinations. Bilal’s response is refreshingly endearing:

But, as noted by Kevin Melrose at Comic Book Resources, it hasn’t taken long for the ethnocentrism to start rolling in. From the rather ironically-named “Astute Blogger”:

How about that, Bruce Wayne goes to France where he hires not a genuine French boy or girl with a real sense of justice, but rather, an “oppressed” minority who adheres to the Religion of Peace. And this is a guy whose very parents were murdered at the hands of a common street thug!

Because, of course, immigrants aren’t “really” from their countries. And from Warner Todd Huston, who Melrose credits with getting the ball rolling on the Captain America Tea Party debacle earlier this year:

In this age when Muslim youths are terrorizing the entire country, heck in this age of international Muslim terrorism assaulting the whole world, Batman’s readers will be confused by what is really going on in the world. Through it all DC makes a Muslim in France a hero when French Muslims are at the center of some of the worst violence in the country’s recent memory.

Left unsaid by both, of course, is the fact that the riots in Clichy-sous-Bois didn’t just materialize out of thin air; the deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré were the tipping point in the neighborhood’s existing struggles with chronic unemployment and governmental neglect, neither of which, as France24 reported in October, had improved in the five years since the riots.

At the Chene Pointu estate, near where Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré died, residents are still living in an environment that would best be described as a high-rise slum.

Top-floor residents have to climb ten flights of stairs. The lifts have been out of action for years.

The stairwells are a picture of misery and degradation, as are many of the apartments – rife with damp and peeling paintwork because of leaks. Often there is no hot water.

Many of these flats are owned by slum landlords who ruthlessly exploit vulnerable tenants, often “sans-papiers” (unregistered, literally without documents) and poor families.

Some 6,000 people live in the two tower blocks that comprise the Chene Pointu estate, almost a quarter of the population of Clichy-sous-Bois.

“We are not living any better than we were five years ago – in some cases the situation is much worse,” says François Taconet, who heads an association campaigning for the rehabilitation of the estate.

It’s anybody’s guess how long Bilal is allowed to operate, in or out of canon. He and the other characters introduced in the Batman Incorporated story and comic might fall into obscurity, or be stripped of their rank (or worse) upon editorial whim. In the meantime, far be it from us here at Racialicious to completely dismiss the views of people like Mr. Huston or the “Astute Blogger.” In fact, here’s a hot tip for them to pursue: as it happens, DC has been guilty of exploiting an undocumented immigrant superhero for decades on end. We’ll even provide a picture for reference:

Sic ’em, boys!

Top image courtesy of Trevor McCarthy