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When Satire Fails

In order for satire to work, it must exaggerate the faults and foibles of its subject. Which is why this satirical piece appearing today at the British comedy site the Spoof is a failure:

The Iranian Foreign Trade Commission has banned the import and sale of Barbie Dolls within the country. Stating that this doll, one of the most popular and best selling toys in the world, was an evil influence on the Iranian people, the government stopped a Mattel delivery shipment at a port.

Official state that the doll has many un-Moslem qualities, such as visible hair, a figure, drives an automobile, owns possessions, and “flaunts her large, big American breasts to the illicit excitement of men and boys.”

Mattel has offered to make an Iranian version of the doll, where the clothing cannot be removed by anyone, only the eyes are visible, no form or figure can be revealed under the robes, and the doll is “unbending.”

That could be funny (sort of). If, that is, Muslim countries had not already shelved and redesigned dolls on these very grounds–and if Mattel hadn’t gone along with them. From a 2005 article in the New York Times:

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 21 – In the last year or so, Barbie dolls have all but disappeared from the shelves of many toy stores in the Middle East. In their place, there is Fulla, a dark-eyed doll with, as her creator puts it, “Muslim values.”

Fulla roughly shares Barbie’s size and proportions, but steps out of her shiny pink box wearing a black abaya and matching head scarf. She is named after a type of jasmine that grows in the Levant, and although she has an extensive and beautiful wardrobe (sold separately, of course), Fulla is usually displayed wearing her modest “outdoor fashion.”

[...]

Fulla is not the first doll to wear the hijab, a traditional Islamic head covering worn outside the house so a woman’s hair cannot be seen by men outside her family. Mattel markets a group of collectors’ dolls that include a Moroccan Barbie and a doll called Leila, intended to represent a Muslim slave girl in an Ottoman court. In Iran, toy shops sell a veiled doll called Sara. A Michigan-based company markets a veiled doll called Razanne, selling primarily to Muslims in the United States and Britain.

And in 2003, Saudi religious police declared “Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful posture” a threat to Muslim morals. Moreover, depending on the particular  doctrine in question, playing with any dolls–Jewish Barbies, Muslim Fullas, or Evangelical G.I. Joes–may be forbidden altogether, as they all violate the prohibition on images of humans.

That the clever writers at the Spoof set out to satirize and ended up reporting years-old news tells you two things. First, Islamic extremism defies exaggeration. And second, sometimes even the most educated Westerners don’t know what they’re dealing with.



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