From the crack reporting of WPRI news we get this story of apparently insidious toys and video games that spread the message of Islam to our children. According to the report both a baby doll and a video game for the Nintendo DS repeat the phrase “Islam is the light.” In the video game, which the news report focuses on, the message happens when the player bathes a baby (apparently the game is a video game version of a baby doll with all the feeding, bathing, and teaching sorts of interaction that one would expect.) As the video on the page I linked shows, the messages are pretty much identical in the doll and the game.
My first question is how the exact same message gets into two toys made by separate companies – and indeed two very different types of toys – end up in the hands of the same little girl? Also, how is it that no one else has noticed the same phrase and this is stuck on a Rhode Island local newscast and isn’t national news? The incongruity of the message in both contexts is of course worth noting even as apparent as it is. Having a DS myself I do know that it accepts voice commands and the skeptic in me wonders if there’s an option in the game and the doll for a record and playback function that no one knows about. Maybe the little girl (or someone else – babysitter?) is having a grand time. It would explain why the phrase sounds exactly the same in both toys. (And why hasn’t any news reporters asked this same question?) Another part of me wonders if this could be the most amazing viral marketing ploy ever.
But aside from the odd phrase, what really stands out to me is the heavy handed reaction of both the mother and the news station that reported the story. Now I preface this by saying that the mother has every right to raise her kids the way she sees fit. My observations rest on wider view of the situation and our tendency as a nation to freak out about anything we consider to be alien to us (in this case Islam) or that we see as threatening children. The mother’s first reaction to take the toy away from her kid. That’s her prerogative, though her reasons for taking it away aren’t made clear in the news story. What is stated is her concern about the message being hidden in other toys:
Jones said she’s angry this is the second toy she’s had to take from her children.
“Not just my daughters’ toys, but we have a son too,” said Jones. “Now I feel like I need to listen to all of his little toys to make sure they’re not saying it.”
Personally I’m not certain that a phrase like “Islam is the light” constitutes something of outstanding danger to our children. The reference to her son makes me think of the toys I had as a kid. How many “hidden” messages were in the likes of G.I. Joe or Transformers? For that matter, aren’t there “hidden” messages in every toy aisle? What about dolls in the first place and the sorts gender attitudes that are reinforced in the ones wielding guns in the boy’s aisle and the ones wielding diapers and bottles in the girl’s aisle? Not to mention the fact that the mother’s statement betrays the fact that she hasn’t listened to the her son’s toys to see what they’re saying. I don’t mean this to be a big dig against the mother though. The fact is that most toys these days (and particularly video games) have so much content it’s pretty difficult to examine everything a kid is going to come into contact with.
But that inability to control a child’s intake of life is what is disturbing about the wider reaction of the mother and the news report. This phrase in two toys is portrayed as something that needs to be censored. The companies who made or distributed the toys need to be called forth to answer for their sins. The intrepid reporters will, of course, go forth and bring them to justice. Why? Because Islam happens to be a religion practiced by some of this nation’s self proclaimed enemies? That’s dangerously reductive and it shows the soft touch of prejudice. I’m certain that the news reporters and the mother would not declare themselves prejudiced against those who practice Islam, but as it stands that’s the impression that’s given here.
The phrase “Islam is the light” doesn’t strike me as particularly insidious or evil. Let’s take into account the millions of people who practice Islam peacefully for just a second. I’m not suggesting that the kid needs a lesson in comparative religion, but “Islam is the light” is pretty benign compared to some of the stuff I heard as a kid from believers of mainstream Christian religions. There were three main churches in my home town, none of which were places I frequented. I have been told to my face that I was to burn in hell because I didn’t go to such and such church. By the time I was in high school I was fairly certain that my hometown was a sort of great schism in miniature and that the only hope for any of us was that the paper work of the numerous excommunications would leave us all in a pseudo-purgatory. My point here is that any kid is going to run across religious sentiment that doesn’t fit into what the parent might like. In my case it was “I can’t play with you anymore because you’re going to hell.” For this little girl it’s “Islam is the light.” I think the latter case might be an easier one to deal with.
What’s really reprehensible in this report though is the paranoia and incipit prejudice that this news report presents as normal and responsible. The WPRI video report ends with this little jem:
“You can decide for yourself whether to buy this toy ‘Islam is the light’ for your child.”
Cue dramatic music. The doll/game has spoken. Fear. Fear for your children. They (whoever They are) are insidious! Our dolls!? Our video games?! Our sandwiches!? Will they turn our own children against us through the very toys that we distract them with? WPRI is on the job and this crime will not stand. Rest assured that the local news station is on the case. You too can take action. Or inaction as the case may be. As always the recourse for action is with the wallet. Just don’t buy these “dangerous” toys and everything will be alright.
Thank God. I was almost worried there for a minute.