TEHRAN: Iran's Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi has issued a dire warning about the culturally "destructive" consequences of importing Barbies, Harry Potter toys and more from the West.
"The displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spider-Man and Harry Potter ... as well as ... unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to the officials in the cultural arena," his letter added.
Najafabadi's warning comes almost six years after Tehran launched an unsuccessful campaign to confiscate Barbies.
There is of course the obvious reason, she's female. Barbie may only be a doll but she is female and the female is an Islamic taboo. In Islam the female form is an abomination, a neurosis and a source of powerful energy wrapped all in one.
Two years ago the police raided toy shops and put black stickers on the packaging of Barbie dolls to hide their bodies. Barbie contravenes Iran's rule that women must cover all bodily contours. Iran's rivals to Barbie and her partner, Ken, are Sara and Dara, who respect Islamic rules but do not enjoy Barbie's popularity.
But there are others too. Barbie is not simply a doll, any more than Harry Potter is just a boy wizard, Batman a man in a funny costume or Spider-Man is just a fellow in a red and black outfit who can climb walls. These toys and books that Iran is so outraged by are not simply objects, they are also subjects, they are characters in a narrative and the narrative is one that Islam's Mullahs, Ayatollahs and assorted riffraff in robes and turbans are not at all happy with.
Let's take another look at Barbie again. For all the beating that Barbie takes from Western critics, she is the creation of an independent woman and in her context is independent herself. She exists in a toy world where women can go out without being beaten and live their own lives without being killed. And she carries the assumptions inherent in that toy world with her wherever she goes.
It's an assumption that Americans may take for granted but that sense of personal destiny and individual freedom comes packaged with American cultural products. And while much of what we export may be junk, even our junk is accompanied by the basic premises of our culture, that individuals including women have rights. And that has a power constantly underestimated by Western cultural critics.
Inherent in the Barbie doll is the assumption that women can control how they look and where they go, an idea hateful to the rulers of Iran. When little Iranian girls play with Barbie, they take part in roleplaying with a female character devoid of their limitations.
And that is why Islam is afraid of Barbie, just as they are afraid of the rest of our culture. Not simply because some of it is sexualized, but because it is free of the Islamic code of behaviors, enforced by social consensus and terror.
Barbie, Batman, Harry Potter, Spider-Man and all the rest of the characters Iran is so worried about are individuals. They represent individual choices, whether it is hedonism or heroism. In Islamic societies where the young are expected to follow the old and women are expected to obey men, their very context defies those expectations.
In societies ruled by social conformity, Batman, Harry Potter, Spider-Man and most comic book characters carry the implicit liberalism of the American respect for what is different, for the right of the individual to be himself, to differ from his society and nevertheless to serve it.
And then there's the Jewish factor. Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, was Jewish. So was Bob Kane (Robert Kahn) the creator of Batman. As is Spider-Man creator Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber). To a regime obsessed with hating Jews, there is of course an inevitable need to "purge" Jewish culture, much as Ahmadinejad's role model in 1930's Germany did.
Finally these characters are non-Muslim role models in Islamic societies that reject and demonize non-Muslims. Batman, Spider-Man, etc are heroic, noble and brave. Virtues that the regime of Iran likes to reserve for its own "martyrs" -- but more than they represent an explicitly Western heroic tradition, one that believes in fair play, victory rather than death and the value of the individual.
At the heart of it that is why Islam fears Barbie, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Batman and all the rest. Because they are individuals. They think for themselves, yet they act for the greater good, defying the totalitarian model of the individual as a natural hedonist who must be controlled by the rulers.
The Islamic tyrannies know that it takes conformity and obedience to send hundreds of thousands to their deaths. An individual is prepared to die, but he needs something worth dying for-- and Islam has nothing to offer in that regard but 72 Barbies in paradise.