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Malaysia Bans Japanese Superhero For 'Allah'

Comic of pop icon Ultraman 'lost in translation,' banned for Allah reference; part of wider Malaysian ban of word for non-Muslims.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 3/7/2014, 12:40 PM

Japanese superhero Ultraman fights Alien Benzen
Japanese superhero Ultraman fights Alien Benzen
Reuters

The Muslim-majority nation of Malaysia apparently feels threatened by the famous Japanese superhero Ultraman. A Malay-language translation of the comic book "Ultraman, The Ultra Power," was banned Thursday for using the word "Allah" in reference to the monster-fighting hero.

The Japanese pop culture icon started from a TV show in 1966 and has become beloved worldwide. However, Malaysia's Home Affairs Ministry blocked the comic for containing "elements that can undermine public security and societal morals."

Objections to the comic seem to stem from a translated line introducing Ultraman, which reads in Malay "he is considered, and respected, as Allah or the Elder to all Ultra heroes."

However, the controversy may be a case of 'lost in translation,' as the term kami in Japanese refers not only to the monotheistic deity but also to Shinto gods, as well as spirits and powerful forces.

Nevertheless, the Malaysian government argued Ultraman is idolized by children, meaning that equating him with Allah could "confuse Muslim youth and damage their faith." The government added a subtle threat, saying Muslims could be provoked by the comic, reports The Guardian.

Malaysia is currently involved in a seven year court battle with the Catholic church, after the government effectively tried to ban usage of the word Allah by non-Muslims. The fight began when the Home Affairs Ministry attempted to ban a Catholic newspaper for using the word in 2007, starting a fight that has heightened religious tensions in the southeast Asian country.

The new ban has not gone without criticism. Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin pondered on Twitter "what wrong did Ultraman do?"

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, spoke to Time about the ban, saying “banning books is a serious matter and the ban on Ultraman clearly reveals the rights-abusing tendencies of this ministry, its hidden decision-making, and its total lack of accountability to the Malaysian public.”

Malaysia has banned travel to Israel as well, given that the Muslim country does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Last January, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited Gaza, where he supported the terrorist Hamas government. “We may come from thousands of miles away...but we are one Umma (Muslim nation) and we believe in the struggle of the Palestinian people," declared Razak.