“Nobody asked my permission.” This is the slightly un-superhero-like response of Gerry Conway, one of the creators of the Punisher comic book character, to its recent adoption by Iraqi and some Allied forces in Iraq.
The Punisher symbol, a skull with long, fang-like, teeth, has been painted onto helmets and clothing, becoming an emblem of Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militias, according to Time magazine.
Keen to take the moral low ground, Time claims that the character — who in his ordinary life, in the comic, is Frank Castle a Vienam veteran who fights crime using any available methods, including violence and brutality — “a poorly-guided vigilante the Punisher is a well-suited icon for the Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia that have been accused of looting towns, burning homes and murder in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).”
Oddly, as if it could be the official mouthpiece of the terrorist group, the magazine forgets to note the extreme brutality of ISIS. There’s no mention of ISIS’s campaign of mass rape and sexual slavery nor even of its crucifying of those not in step with its ideology.
Of course, for Time, there may be bigger issues. Quoting the neoconservative Middle East Forum — run by Daniel Pipes — the article seems to be a very thinly veiled attack on Shi’ites, who are presented as the bad guys because they hold allegedly “anti-American” views.
American symbols have been adopted in Iraq, “despite of course the rampant anti-Americanism particularly with the Shi’ite militias,” says the think tank’s Aymenn al-Tamimi. “I think they forget the American association and just think, ‘oh, look how cool we are with these death skulls’.”
Yet the symbol seems strangely fitting. Acting when law enforcement fails to catch the killers of his family, the Punisher pursues evil using force denied to police. He is outside the law, yet embodies a more ancient code of justice, or perhaps a more Nietzschean one.
The Punisher “righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him,” Chris Kyle wrote in his autobiography American Sniper. It was Kyle’s unit — which called itself “The Punishers” and sprayed the skull emblem on its vehicles — that introduced the emblem to Iraq.
Although the unit told others in the US army to get their own emblem, the Punisher was soon adopted by Iraqi troops.
But if you’ve been appalled by the mass rapes, crucifixions, and slaughter by ISIS, thanks to Time magazine now you know the other side is worse: un-American, Shi’ite militias probably don’t believe in marriage equality, and now they’ve even gone and adopted a beloved US comic book hero as its emblem. No wonder US think tanks and “conscious objector” comic book creators are so upset.
Angel Millar is the editor of People of Shambhala and the author of The Crescent and the Compass: Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism, and Revolution in the Modern Age.