[From my Metro Now column]
Watching the cartoon show Tom & Jerry as a child, I was firmly in the cat’s corner. Though supposedly the villain of the piece – because he was always trying to make an afternoon snack out of cute little Jerry Mouse – Tom had to suffer one indignity after another. Over the course of several episodes, he was (among many other things) pounded to pulp by a mallet, drilled full of holes, sliced into fine pieces by something resembling a salami shredder, and brutally electrocuted until his brain exploded inside his skull. Of course, he reconstituted himself within a few seconds each time – cartoon cats will do that – but this was still violence of a raw, primal nature, and it was difficult not to feel sympathy for its victim. “That vile rodent needs to be put away for good,” I would mutter to myself, shaking my fist angrily at the TV screen.
I was six years old at the time, but it seems the Muslim cleric Sheikh Muhammad Munajid – who is an adult – feels exactly the same way about Mickey Mouse. Here is a man so cheesed off with cartoon mice that he has launched a fatwa against Walt Disney’s iconic creation, insisting that “Mickey must die”. His case is that rodents are generally disgusting little creatures, “steered by Satan”, and that depicting them in cartoon form has the effect of making them seem cute and lovable. Watching Mickey Mouse has a corrupting influence on little children, who will soon turn to devil worship, and then God is screwed. Or something.
On this evidence, I feel sure the good cleric would not have approved of Jerry either. Also, given his squeamishness about rats contaminating people’s food, I don’t see him encouraging the continuing existence of Remy, the rodent protagonist of the animated film Ratatouille, who serves as chef in a restaurant kitchen. Or Anatole, the mouse from Eve Titus’s children’s books, who works in a cheese factory. Nor would he think highly of Stuart Little, who is adopted by a human family and eats at the dining table with them.
But I wonder how the Sheikh would feel about another comic-strip character, namely Rat in Stephan Pastis’s excellent Pearls Before Swine. Rat is the opposite of everything that Mickey Mouse stands for. Whereas Mickey – despite a short fuse – is basically good-hearted, a gallant boyfriend to Minnie and a fond master to Pluto, Rat is misanthropic and frequently cruel in thought, speech and deed. He mocks his friends. There’s nothing cute and sweet about him. Any little child reading Pearls Before Swine would immediately conclude that rodents are not nice people. This manner of negative rat-representation in popular fiction should go down well with our Sheikh.
The point is that instead of playing Pied Piper to all fictional mice indiscriminately, the cleric should examine each scuttling pest on its own merits; he might then find a few that would endorse his own views. I propose that copies of every comic strip, story and cartoon show that has ever featured a mouse be sent to him as soon as possible. Going through them should keep him occupied for a few years, which will be a good thing for all concerned parties – mice and men.