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Superman is an Arab

Superman is an Arab

Author: Joumana Hadded

Published by: Westbourne Press (First Edition: September 2012)

Reviewed by: Steve Younis

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It was brought to my attention that there was a book published titled "Superman is an Arab". Upon contacting the publisher of this book, I was cautioned that it actually wasn't about Superman as such, with the subtitle of the book stating, "On God, Marriage, Macho Men and Other Disastrous Inventions".

However I was still interested in the release of this book as the author, Joumana Haddad is Lebanese - the country I myself am a descendent of (both my parents were born in Lebanon, migrating to Australia when they were small children).

Publisher Westbourne Press were kind enough to send me a copy of "Superman is an Arab", and I immediately started in, reading the introduction to find out why Joumana Haddad had decided to reference Superman in the title of her book. What I discovered was a little concerning as a Superman fan. The contents of the book are both thought-provoking and insightful from a cultural point of view and as social commentary. However I take issue with how she misrepresents Superman in doing so.

The author admits to having discovered Superman through a pile of comic books she stumbled upon at an aunt's house when she was a child. While connecting immediately with Clark Kent, she disliked Superman, feeling "a kind of discomfort and distress" every time Clark changed into Superman. She also resented Lois Lane for swooning over Superman while rejecting Clark Kent.

While all that is fair enough (each to their own), the author goes on to explain why she doesn't feel the world needs Superman...

    Why? Well, first of all, because Superman is a fictional character. Many of you will say at this point: Duh! What's new? Of course he is. Well, guess what: in my world (and in certain parts of yours as well, I am sure), many think he really exists. But that is not the real problem. I am not talking about the 'imaginary friend/saviour' syndrome here. The real problem is that those who believe in the idea of Superman are convinced they are him. And act accordingly. And that is when everything goes wrong. That is when leaders become despots, bosses become slave owners, believers become terrorists and boyfriends become oppressors.

She goes on to explain how these people think they're better than everyone else, think they know what's best for others, think they're unstoppable, and are therefore dangerous. She uses the word "Superman" as a label for men who represent despotism, machoism, fanaticism, falseness, cowardice and hypocrisy.

The Superman I've always looked up to has nothing to do with any of these characteristics which the author connects to Superman. While she makes excellent points about men confusing being manly with being macho, I think the connection she makes in associating Superman with these negative traits is misguided and ill conceived.

Nor have I ever met anyone who thought Superman really exists... well nobody over the age of five.

Admittedly Joumana Haddad's aim in this book is to give her own opinion on a variety of social issues surrounding that "patriarchal system that continues to dominate in the Arab world and beyond", and the rest of the book does that in ways that are both entertaining and insightful. I found her views on monotheist religions and marriage quite thought provoking. And while Superman is rarely mentioned at all throughout the majority of the book (as I said, this book really isn't for Superman fans as such), I found myself unable to read the rest of the book objectively as I couldn't completely put her introductory thoughts on the character out of my mind.

Let's be honest. "Superman is an Arab" is not a book I'd recommend to Superman fans. And I highly doubt Joumana Haddad ever thought her book would be reviewed on a Superman fan site. But if you're interested in social issues surrounding men, marriage, religion, the middle east, and/or the relationships between men and women, then you'll find "Superman is an Arab" both interesting as well as challenging.

Steve Younis

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