January 16, 2013

In August of 2006, Dalia Ziada, a young Egyptian writer, discovered her favorite comic-book action hero. He trumpeted justice. He preached of nonviolent pressure. And he had dreams of a promised land that protest might bring. Ziada had just heard the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “It was amazing and really moved me,” says Ziada, now 29 and a Cairo-based activist. “Since then, I decided to use MLK nonviolent strategies in everything in my life, starting from my personal life to major political participation and civil problems – and it worked perfectly.”

Ziada was motivated politically, as she decided to translate a half-century-old American comic book about King into Arabic. “The main motive [was] for me to have this book available for the young activists in the region,” says Ziada, noting that King was a young man “when he launched his movement.”

Since first publishing the book in 2008, Ziada and her group, the American Islamic Congress, say they have distributed thousands of Arabic-language issues of “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” in the Middle East, including in Tahrir Square at the height of January’s revolution.

The book is testament not only to the power of King’s message, Ziada says, but also to the popularity of cartooning in the Arab world, especially among the younger generation. And she is just one of many Arab comic publishers and cartoonists who believe passionately that their work can help inform, inflame and open the hearts and minds of their Mideast readers.

“I want to say,” Political cartoonist Amr Okasha, Egypt before the January 25 revolution is not the Egypt now – and the future will be better than today.”  Ziada has faith that the message of nonviolent protest can continue to resonate with young comics readers in Egypt. The comic she translated into Arabic, “The Montgomery Story” (about the Montgomery bus boycott), was published in 1958 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. “The book is an inspiration to all young people, and it helped so many understand the core strategy of the American civil rights movement and compare it to other nonviolent movements in India and South Africa,” says Zaida.

“The story of MLK is universal because it focuses on the human side inside
all of us,” Ziada adds. “It is about bringing justice to all. . . . The
people in the Middle East are hungry for this knowledge, and they [are]
surely inspired by MLK.”

President Obama commenting on the peaceful protests by the Egyptians which led to revolution and the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak quoted Martin Luther King to capture the meaning of the historical moment: “There’s something in the soul that cries for freedom.” That MLK is still revered and a reference for social change is a tribute to his contribution of enhancing the human condition and transforming people and society in the process.

For more information on the life and times of MLK, go to:   http://www.onlinecollegecourses.com/life-of-mlk. This is a fine course and site. We celebrate and honor the work and achievement of Martin Luther King, Jr, our hero in history.

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