6 February 2013, 15:17

‘Profound discontentment with Lego’s racist toy might serve as a pretext for the next terrorist act in Europe’ – interview

‘Profound discontentment with Lego’s racist toy might serve as a pretext for the next terrorist act in Europe’ – interview

Two weeks ago the Turkish Cultural Community in Austria accused Lego of racism, claiming that a new model of Jabba’s Palace, from the Lego Star Wars series, closely resembles the most revered mosque in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia. The Turkish representatives have no doubt that the new toy's design was intentional, and now calls on Lego to apologise for the slight on the cultural and religious feelings of Muslims. Amid these claims, Jeffrey Hansen, cultural specialist and historian from the Univeristy of Keele, UK, contends that case has been fabricated by radical Islamist elements to provoke unrest in the region and set the scene for yet another terrorist act in Europe.

Lego’s troubles with the Austrian Turkish Cultural Community began when a member complained about the contents of one of Lego’s new box sets that he bought for his nephew for Christmas. The set in question was 'Jabba the Hut’s' Palace, part Lego’s Star Wars product range. After studying the product more closely, a statement was released claiming that Jabba’s domed home, with accompanying watchtower, clearly bears “an unwanted resemblance” to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and its minarets and that; “the ugly figure of Jabba and the whole scene smacks of racial prejudice and vulgar insinuations against Asians and Orientals as people with deceitful and criminal personalities. The terrorist Jabba the Hutt likes to smoke a hookah and have his victims killed.”

While the model does vaguely resemble the Hagia Sophia, Jeffrey Hansen contends that any claims that the similarity could be offensive are ludicrous. According to the expert, “while there is a certain roundness to the roof of Jabba’s palace that might look similar to Hagia Sophia’s dome, the resemblance is greatly overdrawn. The same can be said about the ‘minarets’. Jabba’s Palace watchtower is elongated indeed, but not enough to draw parallels between the toy construction and Hagia Sophia’s minarets”.

It could, perhaps, be argued that Lego’s model does indeed resemble the famed landmark of Istanbul but only to the extent that both are rounded at the top and accompanied by an elongated structure at the side. On the basis of those two characteristics, Jabba’s Palace could also be said to look like a Greek Pantheon or indeed any other domed building flanked by towers. What is more, in Mr Hansen’s opinion, the Lego structure is a direct interpretation of George Lucas’ original from “Return of the Jedi”, so; “if the TCC wants a guilty party, it would be Mr Lucas himself”.

Recapping the history of the Hagia Sophia, the expert points out that, what is now known as Istanbul’s most famous mosque, was initially designed and used as a Christian Basilica. From the day of its dedication in 360 AD until 1453 AD, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, Hagia Sophia (then known as Sancta Sophia) served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Constructed on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the building contained a large collection of holy relicts and featured a 49-foot silver iconostasis. Even now, long after the Basilica was converted into a mosque and many Islamic features were added such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets, the Orthodox icons can are still on the walls. As for Hagia Sophia’s massive dome, it is now considered to be the epitomise Byzantine architecture.

Mr Hansen contends that “if anyone should complain about a rather subtle resemblance of the Lego toy to the Hagia Sophia, it is the Christians. But even then, racist accusations would be overdrawn since Hagia Sophia was secularised in 1931 and opened as a museum in 1935. It is no longer a shrine; neither for Muslims nor Christians. The fact that the Austrian Turkish Community is offended by Lego’s toy only suggests that the people don't know the history of their home-country”.

However, for Mr Hansen there is more to these accusations than a failure to learn history. The expert assumes that such “profound discontent with Lego’s ‘racist’ toy might serve as a pretext for the next terrorist act in Europe”. Mr Hansen draws a disturbing analogy between the resentment of Muslim communities after caricatures of Prophet Mohammed were published in 2005, and the current anger at Lego’s ‘anti-Muslim’ toy.

The Danish cartoons were condemned for blasphemy and severe offence to Islam and were subsequently exploited by opportunistic Islamist radicals in Europe as a motive for acts of terror and unrest in the region. Religious leaders such as Imam Ahmad Abu Laban in Denmark and Mullah Krekar in Norway dubbed the cartoon publication, “a declaration of war against our religion, our faith and our civilisation”. In essence, the controversy allowed Islamists to conveniently assume the role of victims, providing for a posture of moral superiority, freeing them from any responsibility for what followed, including violent protests, vandalism, assassination attempts, and terrorism. Soon after the caricatures were published, a bomb outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan killed eight people; Al Qaeda claimed it was revenge for the “insulting drawings”. In Mr Hansen’s opinion, it would be naïve to assume that the current “Lego controversy” could not follow the same scenario.

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