Austria’s Turkish community claimed a victory in its fight against Danish toy giant Lego yesterday after the firm agreed to withdraw a Star Wars toy set featuring a mosque-like building inhabited by an obese, hookah–smoking alien, following complaints that it was anti-Muslim. However, Lego said the criticism of the product had had no impact on the withdrawal of the product (see footnote below).
Lego added the “Jabba’s Palace” playset to its Star Wars collection in 2012. But in January this year the set started to provoke outrage in Austria’s Islamic community after a Muslim father found that his sister had given one to his son as a present.
The game, which is aimed at children aged from nine to 14, features Jabba the Hutt in his intergalactic lair. Jabba, the slug-like villain who first appeared in the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, lives in a domed, oriental-looking building equipped with rockets and machine guns. He also smokes a water pipe and keeps Princess Leia in chains for use as his personal slave.
Furious Muslim critics complained that the Lego set’s Asian and oriental figures were “deceitful and criminal” characters such as gun-runners, slave masters and terrorists.
“This sort of thing does not belong in a child’s bedroom,” said Melissa Gunes, a spokeswoman for Austria’s Turkish Cultural Association. Critics also claimed that the palace had an uncanny resemblance to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia mosque. “The game is pedagogical dynamite. It depicts Muslims as terrorists,” the TCA complained, adding that Jabba was shown to be a “terrorist who likes to smoke hookah and have his victims killed”. It appealed to Lego to withdraw the product immediately.
Lego initially dug in its heels and refused the request. The company insisted the product was merely a faithful reproduction. “We see no reason to take it off the market, we have simply followed the film,” the company said.
But yesterday it emerged it had backed down and agreed to end its production from 2014 onwards. The decision followed a meeting in Munich between Turkish community leaders and Lego executives. Birol Killic, the president of the TCA, said in a statement: “We are very grateful and congratulate Lego on the decision to take Jabba’s Palace out of production.”
Lego was not available for comment yesterday. There was no explanation why the game was not scheduled for immediate withdrawal.
Following publication of this item Lego released a statement in which it disputed that the views of the TCA had had any impact on the product’s withdrawal: "All Lego Star Wars products are based on the movies of the Star Wars saga,” said the firm. “The ‘Jabba’s Palace’ product does not reflect any non-fictional buildings, people, or the mentioned mosque. The Lego Group regrets that the product has caused the members of the Turkish cultural community to interpret it wrongly but the product only refers to the fictional content of the Star Wars saga. It is not correct that the discontinuation of the product is related in any way to the TCA’s criticism. The Lego Star Wars assortment usually have a life-cycle of one to three years after which they leave the assortment, possibly to be renewed after some years. ‘Jabba’s Palace’ was planned from the beginning to be in the assortment only until the end of 2013 as new exciting models from the Star Wars universe will follow.”