A popular Japanese cartoon is sparking off outcries in the Muslim world where some fear it could fuel a backlash not seen since European papers carried cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and a Dutch lawmaker released a controversial film earlier this year.
Shueisha Inc, a Japanese publisher involved in the production of the cartoon ”JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” and its animation version, suspended sales of some of the original comics and the DVD series Thursday, but said the material was not intended to be offensive.
At issue is a 90-second segment from “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” which depicts Dio Brando, a villain, picking up a Quran from a bookshelf and apparently examining it as he orders the execution of the hero and his friends.
The animated movie is based on the wildly popular comic book by Hirohiko Araki, which has been carried in Shonen Jump, a weekly magazine, from 1987 to 2003. The cartoon series’ pirated version with Arabic subtitles has been distributed on websites since March 2007.
After a viewer posted negative comments and the still scene, it sparked off more protests. Eventually responses were carried on more than 300 Arab and Islamic Web forums with some accusing Japan of insulting the Quran.
Sheikh Abdul Hamid Attrash, chairman of the Fatwa (religious edict)
Committee at Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority based in Cairo, dismissed the cartoon as an insult to Islam.
”This scene depicts Muslims as terrorists, which is not true at all,” he said. ”This is an insult to the religion and the producers would be considered to be enemies of Islam.”
In responding to the accusation, the Shueisha official explained that it was ”a simple mistake.”
”Neither the original comic nor the animation intends to treat Muslims as villains. But as a result, the cartoon offended Muslims.” said the official. ”We apologize for the unpleasantness that the cartoon may have caused and will carefully consider how to deal with religious and culture themes.”
The official said one of animators came up with the idea of using an Arabic book in order to give the scene a more authentic feel as the villain was hiding out in Egypt.
With that in mind he went to the library and found a book, which turned out to be the Quran and inserted it. No one realized the mistake as no one could read or speak Arabic, the official said.
Other reactions included website postings citing their offense as the suggested correlation between the villain and his reading of the holy book, as well as the underlying message suggesting that children who read the Quran will become villains.
”There are prejudiced pictures about the greatest and purest divine book, our Great Quran, in a new cartoon series called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure…what is the purpose of putting these pictures?” a well circulated Internet message asks.
Although the Japanese publisher explained that the Quran was not included in the original comic book version, the scene appears in episode 6 of the cartoon’s first original animation video, ”Stardust Crusaders,” which was produced by A.P.P.P (Another Push Pin Planning) Co in 2001.
”There is a wicked man in a cartoon series called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and this villain appears in a clip while reading Holy Quran…even the Japanese began to depict Muslims as evil persons and terrorists in their cartoon films,” said Qannas al-Jazira, one of al-Hesbah most active members.
Al-Hesbah is a major Islamic website used as a clearing house for Islamic militants’ statement.
Despite the apology from the company, some such as Aly Yassin, are not willing to accept the error.
As an Egyptian Internet cafe owner in Cairo, Yassin, believes the objective of the Japanese producers is to say, ”This evil character derives its subversive ideas from this book, the Holy Quran…this indicates the deep-rooted rancor against Islam and the misconceptions about Quran meanings.” ”This is unjustifiable,” he said.
Still others, such as Gamal Qutb, the former head of the Fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar, were even tougher, suggesting that Muslims would boycott Japanese products unless Japan takes action against the controversial video.
”Muslims will be forced to adopt a position toward their civilization, from arguing their worship through boycotting their products to responding in the same manner if necessary,” he noted.
On the other hand, Henry, 50, a Christian administrator in Beirut, who only gave his first name, spoke about his concern about Muslims’ intolerance toward freedom of expression. He thought that a boycott of Japanese products or an attack on producers was going too far as he pointed to negative examples prevalent in the Hollywood film industry.