Popular Map Temporarily Removed from Modern Warfare 2 Over Reference to Allah Offending Muslims

In what seems to have sparked a great deal of religious debate in the Call of Duty community is the sudden, unexpected removal of the Favela map from the rotation for Modern Warfare 2 by Infinity Ward and Activision. The explanation of the temporary removal of the map is to change some of the art assets that have attached a quote attributed to Muhammad.

The map in question is known as “Favella,” and depicts a run-down shantytown in Rio de Janiro—the controversy stems over some artwork hanging in one of the bathrooms that apparently contains an image of a tree but beneath it is displayed a quote from the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The quote, written in Arabic, reads: “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.”

The objection is not over the quote itself; but instead as to it being displayed in a bathroom, a place considered dirty by proponents of orthodox Islam.

Many religions contain customs and language that mark certain places and things (or people) as unclean and this is often used as a form of social control that denies these people/objects participation in religious rituals or honors. It is not unexpected that a bathroom would be considered an “unclean” place. As a result of it uncleanliness the presence of any reference to or quote from the Prophet Muhammad is considered disrespectful.

Gaming blog Kotaku contacted Activision for an explanation and received a message back:

We apologize to anyone who found this image offensive. Please be assured we were unaware of this issue and that there was no intent to offend. We are working as quickly as possible to remove this image and any other similar ones we may find from our various game libraries.

We are urgently working to release a Title Update to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 3. We are also working to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 2 through a separate Title Update. Until the TU is ready, we have removed the Favella multiplayer map from online rotation.

Activision and our development studios are respectful of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, and sensitive to concerns raised by its loyal game players. We thank our fans for bringing this to our attention.

As mentioned, they intend to keep the map offline until all the assets can be fixed; after that is completed the map will return with the offending content removed.

An overtly loud way to fix what could be a relatively minor issue

No doubt, this act by Activision is to show their sensitivity towards the expectations of a demographic of gamers who play their games. It seems highly likely that a notable population of their gamers happen to live in Middle Eastern countries (where Islam is dominant) and that no small number of Muslims in the UK and US also play Call of Duty games.

However, it’s also not impossible for them to contact those who complained to them and explain that it might take some time (a few weeks) to get the assets changed and then quietly publish new textures as part of a patch. The presence of this accidentally offensive picture and quote in a bathroom would have been quietly brushed away and mentioned in passing in a patch notes.

People not offended by the presence of this image (because they didn’t know) would continue to not care.

We’ve have seen this sort of thing highlighted before when City of Heroes was expanding into Germany and they had a group of villains who looked a lot like the Nazis and held the name “The 5th Column.” They were overtaken by a different villain group called “The Council” with a slightly different aesthetic (but similar powers and position in the narrative) and were eventually replaced in order to smooth over potential German sensibilities. Especially because in Germany, Nazi paraphernalia and imagery is strictly illegal.

Instead, Activision had made the very loud point of removing an extremely popular map, creating a great deal of attention to the fact that they’re fixing it, that Muslims complained, and that they’re doing something about it. By doing this the publisher is shining a bright light not just on their own loyalty to “multiculturalism” but they’re also spotlighting the complaints that have abbreviated the game experience for players.

As a result, it has generated a flare up of animosity from non-Muslims toward Muslims due in part to increasing news of violence and bad behavior by Muslim groups in reaction to perceived insults to their religion. Fortunately, none of this happened in relation to this image in the bathroom of a map in a video game.

The vanishing map itself has drawn great deal of criticism—no small amount of it directed at the Muslim complaints—and although it is temporary, this has become a sticking point in conversations arising from its removal.

Why the Video Game SMITE Avoids the World’s Most Popular Religions

SMITE-LOGORecently, a Hindu group (in the United States) became agitated at Hi-Rez Studios’ DOTA-like online game SMITE for providing several Hindu gods as characters—the game also allows players to play gods from other mythologies such as Greek, Egyptian, and Norse. The irritation directed at SMITE for the inclusion of the Hindu gods brought people to notice that SMITE seems to have avoided other widely known mythologies—especially those from the Abrahamic religions.

Gamepolitics picked up the story, asked the question, and Hi-Rez responded; however I think it’s obvious why games don’t go with characters from popular religions.

Why? There’s two reasons. The first is that the characters from Abrahamic mythology cower under the umbra of an amount of privilege to an audience who want them sanctified and would rather have their hagiography laid out in a video game rather than see them rolling down the lane in a DOTA game. The second is that much of Abrahamic mythology is excruciatingly boring and steeped in a political culture that lacked a sense of transhuman imagination and instead turned to mysticism rather than the inspiration of animism.

Privileged mythology has a serrated edge in a given culture; the audience might perceive it as too sacrosanct to approach. See the prohibitions against drawing the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, that have been the center of a certain amount of strive involving Comedy Central and South Park—giving rise to Draw Muhammad Day in protest to some particularly stupid radical Muslim groups and drew many Muslims in counter-protest not because they felt a pressing need to do anything but ignore a total outsider drawing Muhammad, but because they felt obligated to speak up for their own cultural norms.

However, what really prevents characters like Jesus being portrayed in a video game like SMITE is because of the trivial condition of sheer dullness.

Jesus, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Muhammad, etc. they’re all just humans who were the center of the narrative mythology plots where they drove either a political or cultural revolution. Adam isn’t even a character so much as a vehicle for telling the story—he didn’t cause anything so much as things happened to him. Jesus exists as a sort of protagonist to a political story of a moral teacher who seems to be framed in a spiritual homage to the Greek poem the Odyssey (and Odysseus is still a more compelling character.) None of them exhibited special powers beyond their connection to the divinity du jour and their only claim to cultural significance is from the context of their own mythology. Worse, that mythology belongs to the popular religious culture meaning that it cannot even claim to be exotic.

Okay, so Moses murdered an Egyptian in his narrative, he’s violent; but that doesn’t make him an impressive warrior. Sure, Elisha could summon bears to tear people to shreds—people do love to flog that one. Ezekiel seems to have had an undead army of skeletons at one point in his story. The problem is that these imaginative turns are blanketed heavily by extremely boring prose regarding customs, costume, laws, and the odd genocide.

The only elements of the mythology that anyone has managed to make remotely interesting have all come from Revelations where angels are described as fantastic monsters, the four horsemen, and the various incarnations of the angel Lucifer. These, however, belong to contemporary Christian mythology arising from an era of poetry and arts and thus are actually imaginative and escape from mysticism to involve symbolism and the flourish of presentation.

No doubt the only character worth rolling up into a game is also the oldest portrayal, the war-deity YHVH. There could be fire and smoke, booming voices, the skies parting for a chariot with a rider tossing fire bolts like spears. The grand drama of the gods that was quickly lost after the influence of the Babylonians and other cultures bled out as the stories were crammed like garments into overstuffed luggage into early Christian mythology.

We are more likely to see Renaissance-era contemporary additions to Christian mythology—Revelation’s angels, four horsemen, etc.—arrive in SMITE as part of Christian cultural characters because they fall a little bit outside the mainstream symbolism. They’re also far more interesting than any of the other contenders.

One Year Ago Today, The End Didn’t Happen

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This is a spectacular mainstay of  paranoid religious thinking and it crops up time and time again.

Now we’re looking at the 2012 Mayan end of the world, another manifestation of this sort of behavior. Of course, we should know better because the calendar everyone thinks that will end the world isn’t the only Mayan calendar we know about.

There’s a reason why one of the end of the world predictions was called the Great Disappointment; and when these come out there’s numerous humorous betting pools about “how many days until backpedaling.”

The best defense against this sort of cult thinking is an actual background in critical thinking and following the evidence. People devastated their livelihoods and lives for last year’s May 21st prediction—all on the premise that the world wouldn’t be here for them to worry about.

They let themselves be suckered in the worst possible way and Harold Camping’s organization swelled as a result. Sincere or not—the injury so some was profound and terrible.

The next time someone doomsays without evidence: chances are very good the world again won’t end.

via Friendly Atheist.

Bristol Palin (and Many “Save Marriage” Advocates) Need a Lesson in Cultural History

Not long after President Obama made a somewhat tepid acknowledgement that gay citizens should be able to get married, Bristol Palin decided to throw her own two cents into the arena.

She did so with a patronizing lecture on parenting,

“While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas, there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads. In this case, it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage. Or that – as great as her friends may be – we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids’ worldview.”

Perhaps it’s just me, a student of contemporary and ancient cultural anthropology, but the ritual and social recognition of human marriage are a complex trend and not at all as static or simple as “thousands of years of thinking about marriage” might implicate.

In fact, across those thousands of years of thinking about marriage monogamy is only one solvent for tribal and clan affiliation; it sits side-by-side with polygamy, polygyny, polyandry, and numerous other rites and contracts for matrimonial relationships. Perhaps Palin should be aware that arranged marriages still persist today in some cultures where children can be assigned to a potential mate even before the day they’re born. Maybe she’s thinking of the ancient Israelites and other cultures where a male could be married to multiple female slaves—or that marriages in other cultures also included not just a male and a female, but sometimes both partners also maintained harems of concubines, none of this was considered extramarital.

That’s only the scrim of the history of the subject.

Perhaps in those thousands of years of thinking about marriage we can look to the way that North Carolina used to think about marriage in racist terms, in 1875 they altered their state charter to include a law that prohibited blacks from marrying whites. North Carolina is in the news because of an ideologically driven amendment to their constitution that leaves strange wreckage of domestic partnership laws in order to deprive gays of any chance of being married in the state—an amendment that rings very similar to the miscegenation amendment of 1875.

After all, Palin, you know that you’re speaking to a dad—a dad of color—he might as well let his daughters know that states like North Carolina have a long, ghastly history of bigotry and prejudice against people of color. Just like they’ve voted to make certain gays are constitutionally deprived of their 14th amendment rights, NC previously deprived blacks of those same rights—that to marry whom they wished.

To the “thousands of years of thinking about marriage” there’s a lot of history for this sort of behavior, after all bringing an outsider into the intimate bounds of the tribe or clan is unacceptable. If we looked at this obviously racist view of marriage in North Carolina in the same way that Palin does the world of today we would still have to live with that black mark.

Advice from Palin on this matter has been ignorant, patronizing, and overprivileged—and it resounds with the enduring reek of insensitive chauvinism.

Those thousands of years of thinking about marriage are still ongoing and hopefully with a greater modicum of wisdom than the 61% of North Carolina who voted on Amendment One and people like Bristol Palin. People who cannot bring themselves to be compassionate about why people marry and why depriving them of that right makes them second class citizens.

Religion As Portrayed in Video Games

So, Danny O’Dwyer decided to do a video about a favorite subject of mine: video games. In it he expounds about the way that video games have focused on the niche of religions—after all, they’re a fundamental part of our society and their portrayal fits into how games access audiences. Although he sees it as that video games don’t tend to reflect on them much at all.

Not entirely the case, but for the most part, to communicate well with mainstream culture most media meant for a broad audience does try to keep religion as a cultural backdrop and not a main theme.

In the video game Mass Effect, Commander Shepherd must mediate a dispute over religious freedom on the Presidium Commons of a space station known as the Citadel when a hanar (basically a floating man’o’war jellyfish alien) wanted to preach about the Enkindlers. In Mass Effect, the Enkindlers are essentially a dead race known as the protheans who the hanar believe seeded their homeworld and lead to their eventual evolution into the sentient race they are today. The Enkindler religious belief is important to them amid other cultural artifacts. The hanar on the Citadel is “preaching without a license,” an act a little confusing to someone in the United States where preaching wouldn’t require a license.

Later, in Mass Effect 2, a batarian can be found on the asteroid space station Omega preaching on a box about how humans (like Shepherd) are a pox on the universe. “A blight. You, sir, are a blight.” And how their gods may yet return and raise them into glory over the other lower races. (Sadly, by Mass Effect 3, the batarian race will become all-but extinct with the annihilation of their homeworld.)

That’s science fiction.

The game Eternal Darkness views religion as a sort of poorly lit scrim against the real gods, a sort of gauzy backdrop of shadowplay as they move in the dark. Charlemagne is mentioned in passing but really it’s the old gods that hold sway along with their magic and other dead and gone civilizations. Of course, that’s because the game takes some very strong influence from Lovecraft’s Mythos writings and does an excellent job of it.

Then there’s the Diablo series—and the upcoming Diablo III—that borrows liberally from ancient Jewish and modern Christian mythology. With the major boss of the series, the eponymous Diablo, is a name for the Christian character of “the Devil,” there’s also reference to ancient gods like Baal—the name of any number of ancient local deities in the Middle East—and others taken from contemporary Western, especially German sources. In the game, there are several religious orders of vague cultures such as the Horadrim, there are chapels, there’s demons, and even angels. All central vestments of modern Christian mythology repainted into the Diablo universe.

Then there’s games where players get to play as gods, such as Black & White and From Dust—all extensions of the ever popular progenitor of the style Populous.

Of course, lest we forget, there’s things like Left Behind: Eternal Forces; but I’m not about to go into how badly that one went over when Kazz already did.

The Strange Case of Suppressing Atheism: Texan Theaters Reject Ads Again

Religious roots run deep in the culture of places and this is exemplified by communities who generate controversies out of religious preference and majority. It’s reflected in the culture of privilege and demonstrated by common uses of shrill behavior by vocal minorities who are backed up by quietly agreeing moderate majorities.

The current case that’s unfolding itself in Texas between a movie theater in Arlington, the Green Oaks Movie Tavern, and another one in Plano, the Angelika Film Center. In this case, the Dallas-Forth Worth Coalition of Reason sought to run family-oriented ads before movies (the advertisements are quite adorable, actually) but two times now they’ve been rejected by movie theaters on the basis of apparent policy or complaints after a deal had been struck to run them.

Advertisements connected to atheist interests commonly give rise to fake, astroturfed controversy. Although some of the campaigns have been loaded with deliberately caustic messages such as, “You know it’s a myth,” others have relegated themselves to simple messages such as “If you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone.” Both generate an equal level of surprise and appeal in local communities and with media organizations.

The DFWCOR advertisements display images of happy families, elderly, and smiling faces along with the message: “What makes our families beyond belief?” and “Our families are great without religion.”

Nothing stands out as controversial about this campaign. In fact, it’s possibly even more tame than any others that have received even more attention.

The first theater in Arlington rejected the advertisements after the deal was struck cited that they refused to run any religion-related ads before movies. FOX News, a news outlet well known for political and asocial distortion in their reporting, ran the story as if the advertisements were “directed at children,” rather than intended to be run in front of all movies at the theater.

The second theater in Plano recently agreed to take the advertisements, but then suddenly turned around and rejected them citing complaints from the community. Updates to the story have suggested that the decision to reject the ads came not from the theater itself, but further up the corporate chain. They had received complaints from people who had seen an article suggesting that the ads would be coming.

The story is still building, but this one is coming across like a very anti-social community intent on pushing these advertisements out of their sphere of influence.

For one, there’s literally nothing blatantly offensive about these ads to the reasonable ordinary person. Why certain community members felt the need to complain about it and the theater corporation decided to cave to their complaints feels somewhat strange.

We’ve seen this behavior several times before. With bus companies attempting to suppress or reject ads of an irreligious nature, with the florists surrounding Jessica Alquist who refused to deliver to her (although at least one was legitimately closed for the day), and even with billboard companies who refuse to put up advertisements for atheist groups. That’s not to say that advertisements haven’t been going up–sometimes not without a fight–but that there should be a fight at all, especially when billboards and bus ads in these networks run sectarian religious ads already.

I guess this wouldn’t be so apparent or demonstrable in the theater situation if the theater had done their homework initially (in the case of the “no religious ads” policy) and if the second one hadn’t accepted the ads just to have their corporate home office overrule them after that acceptance.

The problem is possibly all about exposure. If a few complaints from a small number of people can get an advertisement pulled; I wonder how many counter-complaints it will take for them to put it back up again or at least understand that they’re not dealing with a tiny minority of people they can just step on without consequence. It shouldn’t be necessary, but social pressure is already being used by one set of petty individuals.

The theaters in Plano do run advertisements for local religious organizations on a regular basis, so an atheist organization like DFWCOR wouldn’t be out of place amidst them.

Beyond Religion: Free Through December 20th

Through December 20th, 2011 Audible.com is offering the Dalai Lama’s new book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World for free!

I haven’t read it yet, but after reading a description I’m excited to see what’s in it.

In his new book "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World" His Holiness the Dalai Lama argues that religion is not a necessity for pursuing a spiritual life. Rather he proposes a system of secular ethics that transcends religion as a way to recognize our common humanity and so contributes to a global human community based on understanding and mutual respect.

I’ll post a review here once I’m done with it, but I have no doubt that it has some good advice to offer, so don’t hesitate to download it from Audible or get ahold of a physical or e-book version.

Christopher Hitchens dead at 62

After a lengthy, involved battle against esophageal cancer, cultural critic, opinionated journalist, and ardent advocate of atheism, Christopher Hitchens has died.

Vanity Fair has published a report confirming and mourning his death.

His passing will be felt by many and he shall be missed by even more.

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

- Christopher Hitchens: 1949-2011.

Rick Perry: Not ashamed of being a homophobic bigot and a liar

Oh no wait, he actually says he’s not ashamed to be a Christian. However, after listening to what he said, perhaps he should be—either that or Christians would be ashamed to be grouped with him.

In his newest video, Rick Perry makes up confused lies about Obama’s administration and American jurisprudence while pandering to what can only be described as homophobic bigots as the Christian contingent of his audience.

Right now, this video has 257,247 down votes and only 5,493 up votes.

Not only does Rick Perry make himself a liar; but he also panders to Christians as if they’re ignorant, bigoted cretins. If this is the demographic that he wants to reach—homophobic idiots who don’t care about freedom of religion—I hope he loses his Presidential bid based only on that.

Gays openly serving in the military?

According to Rick Perry: non-ashamed Christians are homophobic, unpatriotic troglodytes.

Children not able to openly pray or celebrate Christmas in school?

Perry, Perry pants on fire.

The same laws that protect religious freedom of students to openly pray in school and celebrate Christmas prohibit public school officials from endorsing religion or leading prayer in schools.

Many who dislike the restriction placed on public school officials (acting as agents of the state) against endorsing religion or leading prayer often dishonestly misrepresent the trials of religious students who get in trouble in school as being it for their religion. For example, a student who disrupts class for opening her Bible and reading out loud during Geography gets sent to the principal for the disruption—not the Bible reading.

A student who gets disciplined for praying non-disruptively during lunch would have a case the ACLU would take against the school for suppressing her right to religious expression. Just like when they faced off against Colorado Springs School District 11 over a student’s right to wear religious symbols.

Rick Perry is complaining about the very underpinnings of what guarantees his right to freedom of religion.

Obama’s War on Religion?

I don’t know what people think has been going on under President Obama’s administration but he’s not really been that big of a friend of the separation of Chruch and State. Obama is also openly Christian and faced criticism for the fundamentalist views of the pastor at his church.

Religion—read: Christianity—has not suffered under Obama’s administration.

A vote for Perry is a vote for shameful bigotry and stupidity

If we want strong leaders in America, perhaps we should look for candidates who don’t insult not only the target of their bigotry but essentially portray their audience as unpleasant, shameful people.

America is already stronger than that.


Notable responses

 

Brother Jed Week at ASU: Monday thru Friday, Feb 21st – 25th

February 21, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 22, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 23, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 24, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 25, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm

It’s that time again! Time for Brother Jed, aka George Smock, to appear at Arizona State University. This annual event provides enough hostility for the student body immunity to run on for the next year. It’s much like Black Friday for ASU’s immune system when it comes to “old fashioned values” like misogyny, bigotry, and xenophobia. Although he seems to be wearing rather thin, he continues to grace our campus with his presence and he’s brought one his daughters with him this time.

He stated out today by gathering something of a crowd.

As for the big events today, Brother Jed decided to give a long screed about how Muslims don’t fit in with Christian principles—harmless enough, except for when he started wearing his misogyny on his sleeve and pointed out how, “Muslims obviously have much better ideas about how to control their women…” and cherry-topped it with one of his old-dinosaur routines about his wife. He likes to introduce these sorts of narratives and sometimes pointed phrases designed specifically to raise the hackles in the audience. He will sometimes pepper otherwise non-offensive speeches with elements such as, “Well, the women best remain quiet anyway,” in order to get a rise out of the crowd rather than to make any sort of actual point.

Earlier in the day, not entirely related to Brother Jed, a member of the Resistance who posts on this blog, Gadfly, was approached by a female ASU police officer and told to remove her sign. The sign in question, which read “BUTT SEX 4 JESUS” in black block letters on a neon green background, according to the officer was “too aggravating.”

Gadfly felt disinclined to acquiesce to her request and declined the invitation to remove her sign.

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