Should I be judged by my own actions? The jury is out in Kuwait

Naif Al Mutawa justifies why all Muslims should not be judged by the actions of a handful of ill-informed and uneducated individuals

The 99, a superhero cartoon series based on the 99 attributes of God, has won in the media category of the Islamic Economy Award. Courtesy The 99
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Shortly before the new year, I received an email informing me that The 99, a superhero cartoon series I created based on the 99 attributes of God, had won in the media category of the Islamic Economy Award.

It is presented to initiatives that help better social and economic conditions of the Muslim population. What made the award more significant is that it was to be presented by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

While the news of The 99’s selection delighted me, I was also happy that the UAE was able to recognise the big picture.

A few days after receiving the email, I received another one from my lawyer updating me on the case lodged against me in Kuwait for heresy and for insulting religion through The 99.

This is the publication that Barack Obama, Sheikh Mohammed, even the Emir of Kuwait endorsed as being a bastion of tolerance. This is the animated series that the World Economic Forum and the UN endorsed for bridging cultures and showcasing the positive values in Islam.

I was worried to get that email. I was worried for myself, but more than that I was worried for the entrepreneurial future of my country.

I know that legally this case can go nowhere as The 99 has all the supporting documents to make it legal in all the countries where it was distributed. It was not only financed by an Islamic bank and subjected to a Sharia board, it was approved by the ministries of information in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, among others. Furthermore, the then Kuwaiti minister of information showered accolades on it during an event, held under the patronage of the Emir of Kuwait, where diplomats and ministers were present.

My main worry is that cases like this may end up terrorising others from pursuing innovative entrepreneurial projects.

A few days after that, I received a request from a major venture capitalist for a discussion on licensing The 99 for gaming. The person, whom I had met at the Young President’s Organization retreat in Dubai, has several game development companies.

The call sparked hopes in me, especially because he was a western venture capitalist who showed interested in licensing an intellectual property from Kuwait and taking it to a global audience. This speaks volumes about the region’s entrepreneurial promise.

Shortly thereafter came the news about the murder of journalists at Charlie Hebdo. There is no doubt that the magazine’s content was heinous and hateful. There is no question that double standards exist in France, where one of the magazine’s staff was fired for anti-Semitism in 2009, while anti-Islamism is condoned. But there is also no doubt that the terrorists who murdered innocent people have brought the magazine to the attention of billions of people and made life for Muslims in France even more difficult. In fact, the action of these terrorists has ensured that the drawings are seen by the whole world. So what exactly was the objective? If it was to stop circulation of the magazine, it surely backfired.

What worried me among other things is the insistence of a section of the media that Muslims need to apologise for the actions of these extremists.

I refuse to take responsibility for the actions of suicide bombers and imams who spew hatred towards others. I refuse to be judged on the basis of actions of the deranged, ill informed and uneducated. I cannot be more responsible for their actions than my Christian friends are for the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, Timothy McVeigh and countless other criminals. Let me be judged by my own actions.

And as I stood on stage receiving a positive judgement from Sheikh Mohammed and the jury of the Islamic Economy Award in Dubai this week, I couldn’t help but think what a shame it is that in my own Kuwait, the jury is still out.

Dr Naif Al Mutawa is the founder and chairman of Teshkeel Media Group

On Twitter: @DrNaif