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Draped crusader

The right is bound to take fright at seeing Bilal aka Nightrunner in the Batmobile.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2011 22:57 IST

Comic book heroes were always about politics and social engineering. Super-man was strictly Apple Pie American as opposed to that Soviet-seeming villain Lex Luthor. But the Cold War’s over and comic book writers are now more nuanced. So along with Batman’s wondrous boyfriend-cum-sidekick Robin in America, the masked crusader’s got a Muslim sub-superhero to help him run crime-busting operations out of Gotham City in Paris. By day, this new hero is Frenchman Bilal Asselah, an Algerian Sunni Muslim immigrant, and by night he is al Capone, er, no, Nightrunner.

From December, Batman has decided to ‘install’ superheroes he can kick derrieres with across the world. In France, with the Parisian suburban riots in immigrant districts in 2003 still moderately fresh in memory, Batman’s choice has provoked reactions from (American) fans.

Why this should be so was a bit of a mystery to us till we saw Nightrunner in his costume. France under President Nicolas Sarkozy has banned the hijab. Nightrunner’s costume may not resemble anything remotely ‘religious’ to fellow Muslims. But to rightwingers who see a fidayeen lurking in every ‘Moslem’, a full-body costume is terrifyingly close to the dreaded full-body hijab.