As a kid, I would sit in front of the television and watch cartoons, mouth agape, twiddling my toes, completely oblivious to the world around me. Little did I know that at that moment I was learning lessons that would stick with me for the rest of my life. I learned not to judge people based on their appearance but from what was on the inside from “Beauty and the Beast”. I learned to never be ashamed of who I was from Aladdin. I learned that good always triumphs evil from every single cartoon. Finally, from Elmer Fudd, I learned that gravity has no affect on you as long as you don’t look down (this lesson needs more empirical testing).
My passion for animated cartoons continued in adulthood. I found myself drawn towards Japanese anime, prompting my transformation into an “otaku”, a Japanese word for a person obsessed with anime. Not only was I able to see similarities between the implicit lessons found in Disney cartoons and those found in Japanese anime, but I also discovered a very interesting aspect of Japanese culture. This new found interest encouraged me to explore Japanese culture in its entirety.
This is the power of animation: it can present life’s most important lessons to an audience in a subtle way and it can provide the grounds for creating genuine interest in a foreign culture. These are the reasons why I am using animation as a vehicle to bridge the communication gap between the West and the Muslim world. I want to use animation to initiate a non-confrontational and constructive dialogue that focuses on noting criticisms from both sides and working on ways to address and alleviate them. In particular, I would like to use animation to encourage people to view predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan in a new light. Pakistan encompasses a rich culture and historical legacy that, if given the chance, would remove some of the misconceptions the West has about Pakistan and Islam.
In my first project, “Find Heaven”, I addressed the issue of extremism and militancy that we see in the Muslim world today. A day after the release of “Find Heaven” I was contacted by a school teacher in Pakistan. She had shown “Find Heaven” to her students and they had liked it so much they decided to perform it for their annual school day. This experience is but one of many that has supported my belief that animation is a powerful tool that can spur change and encourage people to think critically.
The world has become a darker place since the time when I was a child. With all the intolerance we see emanating from the Muslim world against the West and vice versa, it is hard to stay hopeful and expect things to change. And here is the most important lesson that I learnt from cartoons. Sometimes you just have to say “Hakuna Matata” and hope that tomorrow is a better day.