When Holy Terror was mooted, I was excited. I love Frank Miller's work and the idea of bringing a super hero's fists to the face of Islamic terrorism sounded, to me, like a great idea. It wasn't a first day purchase because I couldn't afford it, but I planned on buying just as soon as I could. Then I started reading the reviews. They weren't good. In fact, they were terrible. It seemed that in one fell swoop Miller had gone from feted comic book hero to despicable, graphic novel demagogue. I spent a good while reading the vitriol aimed at Miller and at Holy Terror and decided that I HAD to read this. The reviews brought an expectation with them - would I come to despise Miller? Would this book cause me to re-evaluate how I thought about the man and his work?
I consider myself to be a liberal. I'm not the natural bedfellow of, say, American Republicanism. I'm all for justice, liberty, freedom of speech, of thought, of action, and equality. I'm against war and the misuse of power and privilege. I support women's rights. I support gay rights. I'm a secularist, a humanist and an atheist. I think that part of a Government's job is to look after its most vulnerable citizens (whether they are indigenous or not). I am not given to right wing indignation. I don't think I truly "hate" anyone or anything (although now and again I will use the word without meaning it in its true sense).
But I live a fairly middle class existence in a fairly ok neighbourhood in a fairly ok city in England's North West. To my recollection I have never experienced real hardship and I certainly haven't had my neighbourhood attacked by remorseless terrorists, with no care for their own lives let alone the lives of other people. I can try to imagine how I might feel were such a thing to happen, but it would never come close to the real thing. If a New Yorker were to tell me he hated Muslims, I might think that it was an unfair generalisation but I certainly wouldn't argue with his reasons. I might try gently to encourage some understanding, explain that not all Muslims are terrorists or even supportive of those actions in much the same way that not all Catholic priests are child molesters (but if, as a child, you were abused by a Catholic priest you might, understandably, hate all priests).
Something curious happened in the aftermath of 9/11. Many on the left started to attack the attacked. Thousands died, thousands more had their lives devastated. An entire country mourned. To pretend to understand what that was like when you're on the outside looking in is, at best, disingenuous. Many claimed that the USA had no "right" to seek redress. Suddenly, America and her allies were on a "crusade" against the Muslim East. Hate for terrorism became "Islamophobia" . Muslims were the REAL victims of 9/11. George Bush was evil. America and her allies were only interested in oil. The West was the warmonger, the provoker, the tyrant. For a while, I swallowed this rhetoric too. I saw the apologists on television, repeating the mantra "this isn't representative of mainstream Islam" and figured they had a good point. Not all Muslims are terrorists.
Of course, that's true. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not even most Muslims are terrorists. But the fact is that if you pick up your newspaper tomorrow and read about a terrorist bomb killing dozens, chances are it'll be Muslims who carried it out and it's a further fact that, after such an atrocious act, you will not find Muslims marching through the streets of the West condemning their Muslim brothers and sisters for killing innocent people. What you will find though is mobs of rage filled Muslims in Muslim countries burning American flags, rioting and calling for Jihad. Where are the silent majority and why are they silent? Perhaps the final page of Holy Terror can go at least some way to explaining that - a tribute to the murdered Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh.
Holy Terror has been criticised for making no effort to explore the intricacies of Islam, to distinguish between Joe Muslim and Osama Bin Laden. I remember similar criticisms of movies like Black Hawk Down (all Africans are savages) and Saving Private Ryan (WW2 was won by the USA - where were the British?), and for me it's a straw man argument and typical of the leftish representation of anything anti-terror as being bigoted, racist and imperialistic. Holy Terror is not an examination of Islam, nor is it an evaluation of a civilisation. Holy Terror is a story told from a specific point of view, of two people caught up in a terrorist atrocity and, being able, the action they take as revenge for it. Miller doesn't HAVE to be balanced, he doesn't HAVE to be fair. If you want balance, go buy a history textbook.
Holy Terror is hate filled and biased and offensive. It has to be. These things have been used as criticism but for me they are the reasons it works and the reasons I'm glad to have read it. It doesn't pussy foot. It doesn't apologise. Miller goes for the throat in a rabid, rage-fuelled attack on the elements of Islam that DESERVE to be attacked. The subjugation of women. The hypocrisy of benefitting from what the West offers but at the same time claiming to hate and despise it and, ultimately, trying to destroy it. The violent and merciless action against Western targets and innocent people. Miller picks these things on purpose and goes at them full tilt. The artwork is raw, the language pointed. The depiction of Muslim terrorists is extreme and caricatured. The allusion to America (Empire City) being infiltrated by extremists already is strong. The idea that Islamist sympathisers hold high office is also apparent. This work is not subtle. It's like a hammer to a kneecap.
The reason, I think, that this is the ONLY way that this could have been done is explained on the very last set of panels. A city crippled by fear - not necessarily of bombs and violence, but of causing offense. The idea is very strongly put that people are so scared of offending Muslims (and of the consequences of such actions - if you have any doubt, look at Theo Van Gogh, look at the Danish cartoonists), that everyone is overly polite and deferential to Muslims and to Islam. If we just leave them alone, maybe they won't blow us up. So we won't insult The Prophet (PBUH), we won't criticise the way Saudi Arabia won't let women drive. We won't criticise the mobs for burning our flags. It is, after all, their culture. I can't subscribe to this view. It's censorship. And when politicians and "community leaders" are too spineless to challenge this censorship, thank God for Frank Miller and those like him who will, because that's what Holy Terror does. It says "I won't respect you, Islam. I won't censor my own pen for fear of offending you. In fact, I WANT to offend you. And you need to grow up and join the 21st Century".
I enjoyed it. I thought it was needed. I'm glad Miller created it.