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Derogatory ‘Call of Duty’ Scene Highlights Need for Definition of Islamophobia

Derogatory ‘Call of Duty’ Scene Highlights Need for Definition of Islamophobia

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday November 30 2021

A scene from the newly-released video game, ‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’, depicts pages of the Holy Qur’an scattered on the ground, some of which are smeared in blood. Amidst outcry from Muslim players and game developers, Activision, the Call of Duty franchise publisher, issued an apology on its Middle East Twitter account and removed the scene from the game. However, the desecration of sacred religious symbols such as the Qur’an inevitably underscores not just an indifference to Islamophobic material in video games but the stereotype that Muslims are the enemy when it comes to war. The absence of a formal definition of Islamophobia has undoubtedly fuelled such content, highlighting that a greater understanding of this phenomenon is needed to tackle anti-Muslim sentiment in all its forms. Indeed, Islamophobia extends beyond overt expressions of hate crime and abuse; rather, it encompasses biases and stereotypes that can manifest themselves more subtly but are equally damaging. As such, a definition is essential.

This particular scene from the latest ‘Call of Duty’ game illustrates that Islamophobia is a problem in the video game industry. The Qur’an is the holiest text in Islam and intentionally placing it on the ground is a sign of disrespect that Muslims generally consider forbidden. The scene insinuates that a copy of the Qur’an was destroyed, leaving its remaining pages strewn across the floor, representing the debasement of a book revered by nearly two billion Muslims across the globe. What is more troubling is that the pages of the Qur’an are stained with blood, which perpetuates the narrative that Muslims are intrinsically violent, especially given that the game itself is set in World War II. Moreover, Elon Musk’s latest Artificial Intelligence (AI), GPT-3, has been found to produce results associating Muslims with violence two-thirds (66%) of the time. Similarly, a discourse analysis on over 200,000 newspaper articles from 11 newspapers mentioning “Islam” or “Muslims” concluded that “Islam” and “terror” were simultaneously used in more than one-third (37.9%) of the texts analysed, which illustrates the shocking frequency with which the British press connects Muslims to conflict. Without a clear and established definition of Islamophobia, which would facilitate action in combatting this pervasive issue, Islamophobic content in video games and other spheres will continue to abound.

Indeed, Islamophobia has become normalised in not just video games but in the entertainment industry at large. The “Riz Test”, named after Oscar-nominated British Muslim actor, Riz Ahmed, assesses the representation of Muslim characters in film and TV. In reality, countless films and TV programmes continue to fail the test by reinforcing Islamophobic tropes such as portraying Muslim characters as terrorists – the CIA thriller series, ‘Homeland’, is a primary example. Although there are indications that this is starting to change, this dangerous narrative has persisted since 11th September 2001 (9/11). The onset of the War on Terror in the aftermath of 9/11 has contributed to the securitisation of Muslim communities in the UK and globally. Consequently, Muslims have come to be perceived as a “suspect community” that poses a grave threat to national security in Western nations. Therefore, it is inevitable that video games and TV series such as ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Homeland’ tend to present Muslims as maniacal individuals that must be fought, which demonstrates that Islamophobia imperatively needs tackling – the first step in this is to adopt a formal definition of the term.

Islamophobia in the entertainment industry can bring fictional narratives into reality, leading to real-life implications for innocent Muslims. ‘Call of Duty’ is one of the world’s best-selling video game franchises, so promoting Islamophobic material is likely to instil anti-Muslim views among some of its players, in turn contributing to hate crime against Muslims. According to the Home Office’s latest report into hate crime in England and Wales, Muslims were targeted in 45% of all religiously-aggravated hate crime offences recorded in 2020-2021, meaning Muslims experience far more hate crime than any other religious group. Therefore, an official definition of Islamophobia is necessary to identify anti-Muslim content in video games, films, and TV, such that narratives that inspire Islamophobic hate crimes are eliminated.

For too long now, the absence of a formal definition of Islamophobia has facilitated a growing indifference to Islamophobia or anti-Muslim attitudes to the point that it has become customary for religious symbols such as the Qur’an to be desecrated in video games. A formal definition would help bring about a recognition of the genuine scale and functioning of Islamophobia which extends beyond the often-visible hate crime on the street level. Therefore, MEND urges the UK government to adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia, in conjunction with the guidelines put forward by the Coalition Against Islamophobia, to ensure that this phenomenon is tackled in a targeted and effective manner.

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