Shane Ferro
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Turkish Community Accuses Lego of Racism for Modeling Jabba’s Palace After Hagia Sophia

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Should the Lego model of Jabba’s Palace, home of the corpulent, toadish Star Wars villain, really belong in the Lego Architecture series? A Turkish community in Austria might argue that. According to a somewhat bizarre, made-for-Internet-news story from The Huffington Post, the Lego recreation of the site where the notorious space slug enslaved Princess Leia and trapped Han Solo has been seen by some as a racist gesture for appearing too similar to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia mosque. The controversy flared up around Christmas, when the Lego Star Wars sets filled toy store shelves, and Jabba’s domed palace caught the attention of the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

In a statement issued to Lego, the organization writes: “It is apparent that, for the figure of the repulsive bad guy Jabba and the whole scenery, racial prejudices and hidden suggestions against Orientals and Asians were used as deceitful and criminal personalities.” They also lambasted the toy for encouraging children in the 9-14 age set to fire missiles at a structure that resembles a mosque, particularly the Jami al-Kabir mosque in Beirut.

Lego has rejected these claims of subliminal racism, saying that the product “does not reflect any actually existing buildings, people, or the mentioned mosque … We regret that the product has caused the members of the Turkish cultural community to come to a wrong interpretation, but point out that when designing the product only the fictional content of the Star Wars saga were referred to.”

Unfortunately, racism is not always intentional, nor is plagiarism. It’s hard to deny that the design of Lego-Jabba’s roof borrows a few pointers from the engineers behind the landmark Byzantine church. It seems that Zaha Hadid is not the only one bristled by the unauthorized copying of architectural ideas.

- Kelly Chan

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  2. Hagia Sophia was not built by the Turks, but by the Byzantine Greeks in 532 A.D. Until the Turks took over Konstantinopel in 1453 it was the Orthodox patriarchal basilica, from then on it was used as a Mosque until 1931, when it became a Museum.

  3. Hi Werner,

    It seems that the Turkish community is upset because although, as you said, the Hagia Sophia was built as a church under the Byzantine emperor Justinian, the structure — particularly the central segmented dome and the massing — has come to be associated with Turkish mosques. Thus, regardless of its origins, this particular typology of religious architecture is something that many may associate with Turkish culture to some extent.

    Whether or not to that same extent this Lego Star Wars set might inspire anti-Turkish or anti-Muslim sentiments in children, however, is another question.


  4. Does anybody know if the laser turrets were part of the Byzantine structure, or were they added by in the influence of Islam? I’ve been thinking about writing a book about medieval automatic laser turret defense systems. As you can imagine, data is hard to come by.

  5. It is sort of striking that the Turkish community would take offense at “racism” in a toy which vaguely resembles a building that only became part of the Ottoman Turkish empire through imperialist conquest. It would be like White Americans claiming offense at a Lego model of the rebel base buildings of Hoth because of a vague resemblance to Igloos.

  6. Racism…. because all Muslims are of the same race, I get it…. yeah!

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