Saudi Religious Police Say Barbie Is a Moral Threat

Published September 10, 2003

| Associated Press

Saudi Arabia's religious police have declared Barbie (search) dolls a threat to morality, complaining that the revealing clothes of the "Jewish" toy — already banned in the kingdom — are offensive to Islam.

The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (search), as the religious police are officially known, lists the dolls on a section of its Web site devoted to items deemed offensive to the conservative Saudi interpretation of Islam.

"Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful," said a message posted on the site.

A spokesman for the Committee said the campaign against Barbie — banned for more than 10 years — coincides with the start of the school year to remind children and their parents of the doll's negative qualities.

Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from the holy city of Medina (search), he claimed that Barbie was modeled after a real-life Jewish woman.

Although illegal, Barbies are found on the black market, where a contraband doll could cost $27 or more.

Sheik Abdulla al-Merdas, a preacher in a Riyadh mosque, said the muttawa, the committee's enforcers, take their anti-Barbie campaign to the shops, confiscating dolls from sellers and imposing a fine.

"It is no problem that little girls play with dolls. But these dolls should not have the developed body of a woman and wear revealing clothes," al-Merdas said.

"These revealing clothes will be imprinted in their minds and they will refuse to wear the clothes we are used to as Muslims."

U.S.-based Mattel Inc. (search), which has been making the doll since 1959, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Women in Saudi Arabia must cover themselves from head to toe with a black cloak in public. They are not allowed to drive and cannot go out in public unaccompanied by a male family member.

Other items listed as violations on the site included Valentine's Day gifts, perfume bottles in the shape of women's bodies, clothing with logos that include a cross, and decorative copies of religious items or text — offensive because they could be damaged and thus insult Islam.

An exhibition of all the offensive items is found in Medina, and mobile tours go around to schools and other public areas in the kingdom.

The Committee acts as a monitoring and punishing agency, propagating conservative Islamic beliefs according to the teachings of the puritan Wahhabi (search) sect, adhered to the kingdom since the 18th century, and enforcing strict moral code.

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