Burka Avenger: Fighting Islamist Evildoers, One TV Cartoon At a Time

Demure girls’-school teacher by day, super-powered destroyer of villains by night.

That’s the Burka Avenger, a female Pakistani superhero who helps children fight corruption, child labor, discrimination, and, most of all, the Talibanesque oppression of girls who are just trying to get an education. She can fly, and she immobilizes enemies by shooting pens at them and clonking them on the head with books.

The TV show, set to debut this month, was created by Aaron Haroon Rashid, a local pop star known as Haroon.

The execution is just a bit clunky (technically) and a tad cloying (cuteness overload!), but that’s from a white-male U.S.-centric point of view. For Pakistan, it promises to be a breakthrough show, and Haroon has already set tongues wagging thanks to what his young heroine is wearing:

Human rights activist Marvi Sirmed [said] she feels the cartoon wrongly glamorizes the burka, which she calls “a tool of oppression.” “[It is] a symbol of submission of women. It cannot be used as a tool of empowerment.”

That misses the point, I think. It’s a staple of the superhero genre that the protagonist wears a cape or cloak, and the Burka Avenger’s garb is more of a sleek ninja-style outfit than an oppressive black tent. Plus, when the Avenger is a school teacher, she dresses modestly but not conservatively. As Haroon points out, western female superheroes have sex-kitten attributes (Cat Woman, Wonder Woman) that probably don’t sit well with the likes of Sirmed either. What’s a creative pop star/aspiring animator to do?

Haroon hit the right note — the one in the middle — it seems to me. Here’s hoping he has enough superhero powers himself — or at least enough blind luck — to stay safe from Taliban assassins’ bullets.

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