Inventing Outrage

The Salient’s Fulla parody gestures toward timely questions about radical Islam

Let’s suppose that Barbie, in her role as avatar of American pre-teen consumerism, has her mirror image in Fulla, the Syrian-created doll with “Muslim values” today being marketed throughout the Middle East.

Barbie, for her part, has become the most grotesque form of our materialistic culture. She is a doll whose disproportionate features, skimpy clothing, and overemphasized fondness for acquiring accessories make her an exponent of a decadent Western culture that holds regrettable sway over young girls.

Suppose Fulla was hijacked by radical elements of the Islamic world. Suppose they, on top of the materialism inherent in the doll, had her espouse all sorts of the craziest ideas one witnesses in the Middle East, only in the lingo of Barbie.

So just as Talking Barbie might exclaim, “I hate math!” and appear trussed up in the most immodest garb imaginable, a talking Fulla doll might exclaim, as the Oct. 13 Salient’s parody advertisement imagined it, “I like shopping!” Yet, before going to the bazaar, perhaps Fulla, unlike Barbie, would have to seek out her misplaced abaya, the full-length garment that her culture and her religion require her to wear while outdoors.

The Salient parody imagines a great deal. And so, when our imagined Fulla speaks, the greater subservience shown by Muslim wives to their husbands manifests itself in the acquiescent statement, “Yes, Husband.” Or the distaste that numerous Muslim-dominated regimes have expressed for human rights finds its way into a dismissal reminiscent of Barbie’s disdain for math; in this case, The Salient’s imagined Fulla egregiously declares, “Human Rights? That’s silly.” Or perhaps Fulla would appropriate that expression one still frequently hears from Arab pundits and politicians: “Let’s push Israel into the sea!”

Such a doll is, I hope, implausible, but then again, The Salient’s back page is a parody premised on the seemingly absurd yet real attempt to turn licentious, Western Barbie into an equivalent befitting the Arab world, where a number of states are dominated by radical Islamic values.

Some make the claim that the Fulla parody contributes to pervasive stereotypes about Muslims, presumably taking issue with The Salient’s implication that human rights and the treatment of women are taken more lightly in Muslim-dominated cultures.

Yet, can anyone tenably claim that human rights do not enjoy less respect in the Middle East, the traditional home of Islam?

There, nine nations, all of them invoking Islam’s Sharia law, punish homosexuality with death; in many of the same states, apostates are still beheaded and women accused of adultery are still stoned to death, even if they have been victims of rape. In that same code of laws, a man may divorce a woman simply—by declaring “I divorce thee” three times—but the same does not hold true for a woman who tries to divorce from her husband. Elsewhere, women are not permitted outdoors without an escort. And in the peripheries of the Muslim world, women are often held responsible, sometimes through gang rape, for crimes alleged to have been committed by their kinsmen.

This is all to say that those pervasive stereotypes are premised in reality, and their largest promoters are not campus publications like The Salient, but Muslim leaders committing and condoning barbarous acts in the name of Islam.

Critics in print and on e-mail lists have claimed that The Salient represents a broad trend to demonize Islam in American society. I beg to differ. As the reaction to our parody amply demonstrates, any assertion that women in the Islamic world do enjoy fewer rights than their Western counterparts is met with instantaneous, shrill outrage.

There is no debate, no consideration of reality.

Instead of taking out their ill-reasoned rage on The Salient, campus Muslims would be wise to focus their attentions on those places from whence their faith came, those places where what is called “moderate Islam” is today besieged.

Travis R. Kavulla ’06, a Crimson editorial editor and editor of The Salient, is a history concentrator affiliated with Mather House.