Last year, Lego released a new Star Wars play set called “Jabba’s Palace.” For those of you unfamiliar with Star Wars, Jabba is a slug-like alien mob boss the size of a Prius, who plays the role of the series’ b-story bad guy. Since he and his palace debuted in the early 80s, you wouldn’t think that this new Lego set would be particularly controversial. But you would be wrong. In fact, according the “Turkish Cultural Community of Austria,” the toy effervesces racist, anti-Muslim bigotry.
Says the TCCA, in a statement released this week, “What are Lego recommending parents buy as a Christmas gift? The answer is pure racism.”Jabba’s Palace is domed and has an accompanying tower. If you squint at it, it looks very slightly like the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, which has a very big, famous dome, and four tower-minarets. According to the Daily Mail, The TCCA claims that depicting the “terrorist” Jabba living in a mosque-like building plays into traditional, offensive, anti-oriental stereotypes. For what it’s worth, Lego denies the palace is based on the Sophia Mosque. The claims of religious intolerance have gone viral anyway.
Here’s the thing: the Hagia Sophia Mosque is a very famous mosque, but it didn’t used to be. Before the Ottoman Muslims captured Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was the most famous Church is the Byzantine Empire. Its giant dome was heralded as the epitome of Byzantine Christian Architecture. Its giant dome is still heralded the epitome of Byzantine Christian Architecture. How can Turkish Muslims complain of religious intolerance in the depiction of a building they stole from another religion?
Seizing and rededicating other religions’ holy places is a pretty standard operating procedure. The Greeks did it, the Romans did it, the Byzantines themselves did it, and the Muslim have done it, quite a lot. They built the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, which they took from the Persians, who took it from the Christians, who took it from the Pagans, who took it from the Jews. They turned the Parthenon into a mosque, after it had been a church, after it had been a Temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The Muslims stored munitions inside the Parthenon-mosque, which were detonated by a stray Venetian shell. The explosion gutted the building and left it as the quintessential Greek ruin we all know and love.
It bears mentioning that the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria is also upset that Jabba’s Mosque features munition storage.
Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with defending your religion’s reputation, but prudence requires a little background research. And if you cry wolf every time something inoffensive offends you, no one’s going to care when you’ve got genuine cause. The TCCA is threatening legal action if Lego does’t apologize.
Really, Lego shouldn’t be totally surprised by disproportionate ire from certain parts of the Muslim community. They’re a Danish company, and the Danes have had a fair amount of experience with faith-based Muslim anger at things. It’s been about seven years since the Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 10 cartoon depicting Islam’s prophet Mohammed, which — in Islam — is strictly forbidden. Reports of the cartoons provoked Muslim protests and riots all over the world, attacks on Danish embassies in Muslim countries, along with other embassies caught in the crossfire, along with Churches, and Christians. More than 200 people were killed.
It isn’t likely that the Jabbagate will lead to that sort of maelstrom; for one thing, Lego isn’t bound by notions of journalist integrity not to retract the inflammatory article. For another, by any standards, a Lego mafia Mosque is less offensive than a drawing of Mohammed wearing a bomb-turban. But we should still try to nip this silliness in the bud (first they came for the Legos, but I did not speak out, for I preferred erector sets).
And anyway — to me, Jabba’s Palace looks more like the Pantheon. We’ll have to wait and see what the Roman Pagan Universalists have to say about it.