Friday, December 5, 2008

"Bandit - Mr. White" - Defending Islam, But Picking the Wrong Target

It's not a LEGO toy: LEGO has made that very clear.

But an American entrepreneur is making a line of toys that includes "Bandit — Mr. White" - a toy that's giving a British Muslim group conniptions.

"The toy mini-figures, made by American Will Chapman, includes a masked terrorist bandit with an assault rifle, grenade launcher and belt of explosives...."
(Sky News (December 4, 2008))

A British Muslim organization, Ramadhan Foundation, is shocked. The toys are "absolutely disgusting". They glorify terrorism.

Chief executive Mohammed Shafiq said the figures were "glorifying terrorism".

He also said: "I don't think there's any difference between someone that shouts hatred through a megaphone and someone that creates a doll that glorifies terrorists.

(From the BrickArms online shop via Sky News, used without permission)

That's the Ramadhan Foundation's take on this toy.

Me? I understand why LEGO hasn't made something like this. Even their pirates are cute. Which brings up a point: why hasn't a Somali group expressed outrage at LEGO's pirate toys? It wouldn't make sense, but I'll bet that someone, somewhere, thinks that LEGO's Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is a deliberate insult to Somalis, as well as Jamaicans and the Dutch.

Back to "Bandit — Mr. White".

I think Mr. Shafiq should decide whether the toys glorify terrorism, or shout hatred: presumably against Muslim terrorists. Although the two concepts aren't completely incompatible, they're not all that similar.

Shouting Hatred With a Toy Bandit? Get a Grip!

Being upset over toys isn't anything new. At least as far back as the sixties, a few very earnest people in America have been horrified at toy guns and tanks. The ones who have children won't let their kids play with such things.

That's okay. Playing with GI Joe isn't all that critical to mental and emotional development. On the other hand, hoplophobia may be a serious issue.

I'd have to see how the manufacturer markets "Bandit — Mr. White" before saying whether the Ramadhan Foundation's strident response is even close to being justified.

I'll agree that the toy is a bit over the top. I think Barbie is, too. But
"glorifying terrorism" and spreading hate? That's debatable.

Pop psychology in Sunday supplements and some of what I picked up in college says that children use toys to deal with what they're learning about the world. Playing with toys lets them put ideas into concrete form and literally move them around.

Like it or not, terrorism and terrorists are part of today's world. And the terrorists don't, generally, look like Scandinavian Lutherans.

I remember toys that represented soldiers. They weren't planting trees or cleaning up oil spills. Many represented soldiers who had fought in WWII.

(from OLIVER PLASTIC 60MM TOY SOLDIERS, used without permission)
Maybe toys made in the forties and fifties were glorifying German and Japanese imperialism: but I doubt it.

(I know: Those toy WWII Japanese soldiers are contemporary re-issues. But I remember things like this, back in the fifties.)

Following the Ramadhan Foundation's logic, those toys were glorifying the imperialistic ambitions of Germany and Japan. Or, in Berkeley's America, American imperialism.

I don't think so.

Crying Wolf, Over-Sensitivity, and Unintended Consequences

I think there's a risk, however slight, that the Ramadhan Foundation and other hypersensitive Muslim groups are teaching people that Muslims really are terrorists.

"Bandit - Mr. White" has a head cloth that's similar to some worn in the Middle East. But there's nothing particularly Islamic about the gun, grenades, or rocket launcher he's carrying. At least, not as far as I know.

If "Bandit - Mr. White" had been dressed as an imam, with a Quran in one hand and a machine gun in the other: that's something any Muslim group could legitimately complain about.

As it is, I think the Ramadhan Foundation is, unintentionally, reinforcing the stereotype that anyone carrying a weapon, and having a cloth on his head, is a Muslim and a terrorist. And, by extension, that Muslims are terrorists.

Reality Check, Please

Listening to defenders like the Ramadhan Foundation, you might not realize that:
  • Not everyone living in the Middle East are
    • Muslims
    • Terrorists
  • Not all Muslims
    • Are terrorists
    • Live in the Middle East
  • Not all terrorists are Muslims
Muslims who want to defend Islam should, I think, be careful to avoid reinforcing the (false) notion that Muslims are terrorists and terrorists are Muslims. Particularly since a few people out there really are anti-Muslim, and are happy to get their prejudices reinforced.

The catch-phrase in my culture is: choose your battles.

Related posts: In the news:


irtiza said...

yes not all muslims are terrorists. not all terrorists are muslims. infact terrorism have almost nothing to do with a certain religion.

but you gotta admit that this "doll" looks like a muslim at first site. because of the white scurf.

i have a post on terrorism...a little different though

Brian H. Gill said...


Last things first: Here's a link to the blog post you cited: "I am Not a Terrorist (September 6, 2008). (As usual, I don't necessarily agree with or endorse content that I link to - but this is interesting and worthwhile reading.)

About "you gotta admit that this "doll" looks like a muslim at first site. because of the white scurf." I know what you mean: but I still see some dude who might be from the Middle East.

Just as not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Muslims live in the Middle east.

And, Muslims who live in different parts of the world don't always dress exactly like people in the Middle East.

I've posted a photo of a Muslim cleric in another of today's posts, " 'Bandit - Mr. White' - Culture, Religion, and Headgear"

It shows Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, from a 2004 news article. He's Indonesian, and dresses in a way that's appropriate to his culture and position.

He was also being tried on charges related to terrorism - but the point here is that his headgear is very much not the sort of thing men generally wear in downtown Riyadh.

Many non-Muslims probably do think that Middle Eastern means Muslim and that Muslim means Middle Eastern.

The reaction of the Ramadhan Foundation does little, if anything, to change that perception.

Thanks for your comment - and the heads-up on that post.

Anonymous said...

It's a Lego *ninja* mask. Ninjas.

irtiza said...

thanks for linking.... :D

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian H. Gill said...

Taru / Joannah,

"I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often."

Used too often, too recently.

Thank you, but no spam.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.