Children's book depicts Middle East as unsafe, people 'unfriendly'
A children's book triggered a wave of criticism on Twitter for implying that the Middle East is an unsafe place and the Middle Easterns are "unfriendly."
The widely-read Biff, Chip, and Kipper collection of children’s stories has triggered criticism on social platforms for its depiction of the Middle East as an unsafe place and the people in it as "unfriendly.".
Two characters appear in a short story, The Blue Eye, having a collection of old marbles that magically takes them on an adventure.
Wilf and Biff are transported into a foreign land that seems to be somewhere in the Middle East, according to the illustration.
The two characters are shown in a marketplace, and one of the characters, Biff, asks the other one to "stay together" because “the people don’t seem very friendly”. The page was shared online and triggered criticizing comments such as being “inappropriate" and "so wrong."
Just seen this being shared on Facebook. Wow, am I right to think this is inappropriate?! pic.twitter.com/CcQm4hpBde— sherish_o (@sherish_o) April 19, 2022
While some commenters called people not to take the page out of context, many pointed out that the remark was not an isolated one, explaining that later in the story, another character mentions, “I don't like this place. It's scary.”
Twitter users described the language used in the story as "racist" and "Islamophobic."
Let’s think about the many ppl involved in creating this page. The writer, the artist, the publisher. No one stopped to think that maybe it’s not a good idea to teach children islamophobia. Btw Ramadan markets are wonderful and everyone is always lovely. https://t.co/DYYhG6usWp— Moniza Hossain (@moniza_hossain) April 20, 2022
The collection of stories, The Biff, Chip and Kipper, is widely used in the primary schools of the UK for the purpose of helping children learn to read -- the reason why many were disturbed since children would be exposed to such language.
“What makes this so bad is that this book is used in school to teach kids to read. So they also get to learn how to be islamophobic,” one Twitter user wrote.
Others commented that such an interpretation was unlikely, saying that the characters' reaction is expected from a kid experiencing a new place: “No your interpretation of it is making it seem worse. They are kids in an unfamiliar place. Markets are loud to kids and potentially frightening,” one comment said to the original tweet.
Racism is taught and this is a clear example of how not only do parents have a responsibility to prevent their children from being racist, but educators too. Disgusting how this was even allowed to be published or even put into children’s bookshelf https://t.co/USruZ1747B— Anti-Bias Curriculum and Education (@antibiasproject) April 20, 2022
Another user wrote: “You're 'reading' into something which isn't appropriate to you. These are little kids making an observation about their strange surroundings and just being careful.”
Middle East Eye tried to seek comment from the book's publisher, Oxford University Press, but had not received a response.
The Biff, Chip and Kipper series involve more than 800 titles that have become a mainstay of the UK's National Curriculum.
Not the first time!
This is not the first time a children’s book has used problematic language, causing controversy around the world.
Last year, Dr. Seuss Enterprises stated it would stop the publication of six books by the widely famous Dr. Seuss for their "hurtful" portrayal of people. Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo had triggered criticism for including drawings that stereotype Arabs and African men.
The book also describes Asian characters as having “eyes all a slant."
Another book has triggered criticism, a classic children’s book entitled The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book included racist lines against black people, implying they are not respectable and are “not people."