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TEDxDubai - Naif Al Mutawa - 10/10/09

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How do you really make change? And maybe, just maybe you make change If you can speak to people in a language they understand To talk to us about that, our next TEDx speaker: Dr. Naif Al Mutawa Bism'Allah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim Thank you very much for the invitation Going to talk to you about The 99, but before that, A little story that happened this summer about speaking people's languages I have 5 boys, my 4th is a Scooby Doo addict. Last year, he got angry at me over dinner and called me a "meddling kid". But this summer I was writing in my office in New York - in my house in New York And I'm - you know, I'm one of those people I didn't choose to be a writer, writing chose me And if I have to write, and I'm not writing you don't want to be around me - I'm not a lot of fun. And my son came to me in my office and said: "Baba" - he had left his Scooby Doo toy in his playhouse, in the yard "Can you come with me to get the Scooby Doo toy?" I said - I gave him this look, I said: "Rayan, later." So, he looked at the ground, looked back up to me and said: "Baba? I want you to come with me - - to my office, in my house. I have work to do." He's 3 and a half and he brought himself down to my level. The 99. I graduated from university in 1994, came back to Kuwait and within a few months, somebody got fired from their job because of their religion. I was wondering what planet I had just landed on. Because, to add insult to injury, the person that fired this man Gave out leaflets to the community apologizing, that had he known this guy's religion, he wouldn't have hired him to begin with. So, I was confused. I wrote about it in the press, you know. And it didn't really work for me - so I wrote and illustrated What I thought was a book for adults But UNESCO thought otherwise They gave me an award for children's literature. And so as to not argue with them it became a 3 book series. The first one did really well, The second one did really well, The third one got banned, The fourth one got banned. ...I quit writing. At the age of 27. I said, "Enough. I'm not doing this anymore." Went to graduate school to become a clinical psychologist Because my parents told me I told them when I was 9 or 10 I said "I'm going to be a writer when I grow up!" And they said "Naif, that's a great hobby." "...don't ever think about doing that as a profession." And so, I kind of, you know - I was a closet writer. Did my training. I trained at Belview Hospital in the Survivors of Political Torture Program Because I spoke Arabic, my patients came out of this part of the world But there were people there from all over the world We do not have a monopoly on how not to treat others.... ...ok? And, in my thinking during that process, for I did it for a couple of years, I needed a break and so I went to business school Which was, kind of, torture Have you guys ever taken Finance classes? People call Finance 101 "Baby Finance" And I said "This thing grows up?!" You know? Went to business school And then I was 32, I had 3 masters degrees, a doctorate Didn't know what I was going to be when I grew up And I was making the annual pilgrimage of all Kuwaitis From Edgeware Road to Harrods I was with my mother and my sister And my sister turns to me, she says: "Naif, you remember you said you'd go back to writing after school?" And I just wanted to shut her up - I wasn't going to - all these degrees I'm going to go back to writing for kids? What is she thinking? Yeah? So I said, "Salma, for me to go back, it has to have the potential of Pokemon." "Otherwise, it just makes zero sense." Right? I say that, she shuts up... ....and I start thinking. I said "Pokemon". My next thought was, There had been a fatwa issued against Pokemon in this region. My next thought was, my God, what has happened to Islam? And who is making these random decisions for me? My next thought was of Allah and how disappointed He must be My next thought was that Allah has 99 attributes And ironically, it brought me full circle back to Pokemon. I get out of the cab at Harrods, I turn to my sister, I say "What do you think of this?" She loved it. And the rest is history. So I ran. I ran with it, I raised Within a few months, I had written the business plan, wrote the concept, You know, the character bible or the character guide as we call it And raised 7 million dollars from 54 investors in 8 countries A million dollars came to me from my classmates in business school I have investors from Saudi and Lebanon and Kuwait and China and Mexico, The reason for the diversity is the business school But of all my accomplishments, the one I think was the most challenging I think I'm the only Gulf citizen that went to Beirut and actually came out with money One of the questions I kept getting asked: "Did you talk to any religious scholars?" And I would always avoid that question like the plague If I got pushed I'd say "Well I spoke to Emo Phillips" "Sheikh Phillips? We haven't heard of him." "Well that's a good thing, because he's a comedian!" "What do you mean?" I said "Emo Phillips said that up until the age of 10 he used to pray to God everyday for a bicycle and at 10 he realised that God didn't work that way so he stole the bicycle and started praying for forgiveness" I knew in my heart that if I went to somebody and said "This is what I want to do with the 99 attributes of Allah" They would have told me the 100 reasons why I shouldn't do it And I knew myself enough to know that I'd do it anyway So why deal with that? So we created the concept, I got an outpouring of support from various scholars from all over the world But not in the most conservative countries We were not allowed into a couple of countries for a couple of years And the way I dealt with that: I didn't quit writing like I did when I was 27 Because I had millions of dollars from other people Though it was tempting! When I did my second round of finance I raised 16 million dollars from an Islamic Investment Bank They had a 7 member Shari'ah board who approved what I'm doing for Islamic audiences And we were allowed into the more conservative places on Earth And a cute story from back then, My son Faisal came up to me, I was on the phone and my kids love what I do, I mean - superheroes, and they're boys, what do you think? I'm on the phone, "Unicorn said this, Unicorn said that" You know, "I'm going to have dinner with Unicorn" I hang up, Faisal comes to me, big brown eyes, he says: "Baba?" I say "What?" he says "You talk to unicorns too?" I had to go to New York 3 years after 9/11 Not only convince people who could do the math and knew 9 times 11 was 99, right? But I had to convince people that I wanted to create superheroes based on an Islamic architect Took a while, but I got some of the best names of the industry People who had written for X-Men and Power Rangers and Spiderman To be a part of this project And basically, I told my investors I tell them now, you know, "The only person crazier than me was you!" You know? But I was able to bring in these people To work together on this common goal And the sell was this to the investors: This would not, and could not, and will not be another "made in 5th world country" production This was going to be Superman, or wasn't worth my time or their money Ok? So, the concept, very simply The 99 is based on the 99 attributes of Allah To boil down the concept - there's going to be a premier tonight After I speak, of a trailer. The actual animated series Is being sold as we speak in Cannes I'm going to show you what the animation is going to look like But basically, the 99 characters from the very beginning - I knew, because I had been banned That was not going to happen to me again, and if it did Pokemon did plenty well without being allowed to this region Right? So from the beginning the intellectual property was registered under a company The Kuwaiti company's other company in New York From day one Nobody could come after me Number two: the characters were from 99 different countries Wasn't just Arabs heroes, right? Because once you get to Spain, or Iran, no-one cares, right? So the characters are from US, Mexico... they're from all over the world Ok? And basically, they're based on those - Somebody mentioned Dar Al Hikma earlier in the talk and actually The whole, this whole...there's a story that In 1258 the Mongols invaded Baghdad And the books from Dar Al Hikma were thrown in the Tigris river And the Tigris changes color with it - it's a story kids grew up here with I used that as a pivot and I re-wrote it In my version, that knowledge was saved onto 99 stones And was scattered all over the world But those books were not just Muslim books Because the caliph at the time had told his scholars "Translate any book you can get your hands into, and I'll give you it's weight in gold." After a while, the adviser complains: "Your highness, the sholars are cheating!" "They're writing in big handwriting to take more gold!" And he said "Let them be." "Because what they're giving our culture is worth a lot more than what we're giving them." So those books that powered the 99 It's collective civilization Ok? But of course, we had - I'll take you through some of the characters real quickly, so you get the animation This is Jami from Hungary, he's our technology character Hadya from the UK, she's originally from Pakistan She's able to find things Jabbar from Saudi ....listen I'm from Kuwait, we're a small country, so... Noora from the Emirates And anybody who will tell you that Ajaaj was the first Emarati superhero? No. ....but I didn't say that. ...Ok. Mumita from Portugal is one of the things I had to decide, because Early on, the 99 attributes of Allah have a yin and yang, right? There's Jabbar, Hakeem, Mohaymen, right? There's the powerful, the strong, the hegemonous There's the kind, the merciful Were we going to have the girls mending the bones while the boys were breaking them? I said no So Mumita is a girl, but she's a fighter. ....I've met a few of those! Fattah is from Indonesia and he opens up portals that they travel through Sami from France, Sami is mute We have a character in a wheelchair; we're working on a blind one and a deaf one as well Mujiba was our first Hijab-wearing character We're going to have 4 or 5 that do that But again, a lot of them don't show their hair Because the idea here is that there are as many interpretations As there are people And this idea that there's one way and the rest You know, are against us Is what has us in the hole we're in today Batina. I came up to my wife one day and said: "I created a character after you!" She said show me, I showed her. She said "That's not me!" I said..... I said "Look at the eyes!" We got very, very lucky. There's a lot of hard work involved in this project But nothing can substitute for luck or fate So I was here in Dubai at the media conference I gave my first talk ever about The 99 At the American University of Sharjah, back in '05 Went to the media conference, waited by the coffee, waiting for the right reporter Met a guy, who is actually a good friend of mine now Runs The National in Abu Dhabi Didn't know him at the time. Hassan Fattah, New York Times. Interviewed me, said next week the article would come out Week passes, 2, 3, 4, no article. You know, a paragraph in the New York Times back then was huge So I call him up, I say, "Happy New Year" He said "Thank you, just had a baby" I said, "Congratulations" "....when is the article coming out?" "Next week." By then, no article, I figure the guy's name is not even Hassan Probably doesn't even work for the New York Times And then, a few days afterwards The world erupts in the Danish cartoon controversy And I think "My God, I hope it doesn't come out, I hope it doesn't come out" But the New York Times isn't stupid, right? Full page in The Sunday Times about The 99. Now what? The "now what" is that we got covered in over 5000 newspapers and magazines positively over the last 3 years Everyone keeps speaking about the positive attributes in Islam That is shared by the rest of humanity. Time magazine 3 times Newsweek twice New York Times at least 5 times, it's been amazing. And that's let us do quite a few deals Which I'll only talk about a couple of them We're the only ever regional intellectual property that's gone global So we have been able to sell licenses in Hindi, Urdu, Bahasa Indonesian Chinese, which we just announced today Turkish, which launches through Panini We've also been able to do A theme park which opened in Kuwait in February We did a deal for 16 parks, the first of which is already open The animation: we were able to get Endemol, who are huge They're the ones behind Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Star Academy They're co-financing the animation First time in their history that they finance something they don't own ...even though they tried. Ok? The Spanish Company that bought rights for stuff that they're selling in Spain, Portugal, Andorra - let's not forget Andorra And some parts of the Middle East The timeline of you know, what we've been able to achieve over the past few years Which I'm happy to send to anybody by email But basically, how do you know? When you sell your investors something as lofty as: "This cannot be another made in 5th world country production" "It's got to be Superman." How do you know when you've achieved that? You know, when DC Comics announces that in 2010 There will be a series where Batman, Superman and Wondewoman Are going to be working with The 99 towards common goals So before I show you the animation clip I'm going to ask a question How many of you here have read The Catcher in the Rye? How many? Almost everybody How many of you have killed in the name of that book? Nobody?? You know you laugh, but 30 years ago Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon With a copy of that novel in his hand And he told the police he got the ideas to kill him from the book A year later, John Hinkley also tried to kill President Ronald Reagan Also during the interrogation referred to the same book So whose fault is that? Is it the book? Or the deranged lunatic who pulled out his own messages? I'll leave you with that thought, and please enjoy the animation Thank you very much Dr. Naif Al Mutawa.

Video Details

Duration: 14 minutes and 48 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: Giorgio Ungania
Director: Giorgio Ungania
Views: 118
Posted by: giorgiotedx on Jan 25, 2010

n the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x=independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations) Our event is call TEDxDubai, where x=independently organized TED event

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