Previously: Infidel #2.
For all of its fear-inducing uncertainty, to this point, Infidel has been fairly straightforward. Not just the “haunted house” aspect of its story, but also the underlying social commentary being made with horror tropes. This issue complicates things; rather, this issue acknowledges how complicated things actually are. Fittingly, it is Infidel‘s wordiest issue, so far, because it certainly has a lot to say.
The previous issue ended with Leslie and Kris falling down a flight of stairs, or did Aisha push them? Your answer to that question depends as much on who you are as it does what you actually saw. This is because we are all biased; that is to say, we all enter every situation with preconceived notions based on past experience and knowledge. This issue focuses on this aspect of the human experience and how our many biases interact with each other.
First, we learn a great deal more about Aisha and Medina’s lifelong friendship and why it’s so strong. I love how this flashback is illustrated almost like a child’s drawing; very rudimentary in its appearance. As children, Aisha and Medina bonded over shared experiences, beyond just the fact they are both Muslim women in America. Specifically, they both dealt with childhood trauma in the form of losing a parent, as well as each of them having a strained relationship with their remaining parent. In Aisha’s case, her mother was/is very religiously strict. This is something we got a bit of in the previous issues, but it’s expounded significantly upon here. This goes a long way toward maybe telling us why she was so forgiving of Leslie, even when Tom was not. When you know someone, love them, and spend years with them in your life, not only are you biased in regard to that relationship, but that relationship also colors your relationships with other people.
Next, we spend some time with Ethan, Reynolds, and Grace. This is a very different situation, but it’s not any less valid. We find out Grace has some problematic, at best, views. After hearing Grace share these views, Reynolds and Ethan are forced to question their relationship with her and, through this, themselves. We’ve all been in situations where a friend or relative says something that is in some way prejudiced or offensive, whether it be Islamophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, or just mean in some way. How you react usually involves complicated emotional mathematics, except unlike in actual math, there is no absolutely correct answer. You’re going to fuck up. You’re going to look the other way sometimes and feel bad about it later. You’re going to get angrier than you should have sometimes. You’re going to let your relationship with someone cloud your judgement sometimes. Some friendships are going to end. Some relationships are going to become stronger. It’s going to happen, and it’s all okay. What’s not okay is that you don’t learn from it; that you keep putting yourself in the same position with the same people.
We are all the sum of our experiences. Most of those experiences create things like a fear of spiders or an affinity for rollerblading, but often those experiences can also create prejudices, if you let them. Grace, and other tenants like Mr. Fields and Haley, lived through a bombing of their building. Are they prejudiced because of it? If they are, do they know they are? Are other characters like Ethan, Reynolds, and Medina allowing their past experiences to influence whether or not they think Grace and Haley are prejudiced? You know, I feel as though I’m writing this like a high school literary textbook, but these are real questions you’re forced to ask yourself when you read this series. Pornsak Pichetshote is writing a story here that cuts right to the heart of perspective and why we see things the way we do.
This is indicative of why representation matters and why a story like Infidel is important and culturally valuable. We have people like Donald Trump out here using dehumanizing language like “animals” to describe immigrants. We have people like Jazmina Saavedra in a California Denny’s harassing and filming a transwoman in the bathroom and calling her a “man”. We allowed the conversation about future President Barack Obama’s religion during the 2008 campaign to be about him not being a Muslim, instead of about how being Muslim is not a bad thing. We allow the conversation about Mexican immigrants in the United States to be about legality and building a wall to keep them out instead of about humanity and building bridges to welcome them in. We are constantly bombarded by negative stereotypes and language, and that’s how prejudice is allowed to manifest itself, so it’s important to combat that with stories and images representative of reality. Sometimes that just purely means embracing diversity, and other times it also means pointing a mirror at ourselves and letting the reflection show exactly what demons we allow to surround us.