A couple of months ago an article came across my news feed about a Jordanian man who was writing comic books to try and combat terrorism. Given my love of stories about the power of stories, I saved the article, but only recently did I get around to reading it.
Suleiman Bakhit, head of the Hero Factor Project, talks about his belief in the power of storytelling, particularly the use of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey archetype. He explains that terrorist recruiters use this style of myth making to encourage young people to join their ranks. In fact, Bin Laden’s life very closely followed that of Muhammad’s in the sense that both of them left wealth, retreated to a cave, and re-emerged as new leaders (though with very different views on how to lead and what was important).
Bakhit believes that giving Islamic youth the opportunity to read stories about positive role models will sway them from joining the ranks of the extremists. Instead of telling stories about the evil of the West or the glory of martyrdom, he writes stories about hope and resilience. Also, importantly, he creates a lot of powerful female characters that young girls can look up to.
Personally I found it both sad and strange that children in Arab countries didn’t have any heroic figures in literature to look up to. It sounds like the types of stories I’ve taken for granted, like Star Wars or Batman, simply don’t exist there and don’t have any equal, which makes it all the more easy for extremists to perpetuate their myths. Without other ideas to consider, young people’s world views are more easily molded.
As I’ve said in other posts, stories are one of our most impactful ways of communicating ideas. They are far more engaging to audiences, and, especially at a young age, can form the grounds of many people’s opinions. I’ve found they can even sway opinion more readily than lists of facts or simple statistics.
In our ever-changing world I think we need a whole new set of myths for a great many issues from global warming to bigotry, stories that can show us how important these topics are and potentially how to handle them. I think the work Bakhit is doing is incredibly important, and I find it hugely inspirational. The world needs more voices like his.