Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist’s Virtual Jihadi Game

Controversy seems to follow Virtual Jihadi, artist Wafaa Bilal’s computer game commentary on America’s Iraq war policy.

As GamePolitics reported earlier this year, Bilal and his exhibit were uninvited from Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute following complaints about the game from the school’s College Republican club. After moving the exhibit to an art gallery in nearby Troy, New York, Republican city officials intervened, closing the gallery over alleged building code violations. Art gallery officials charged that the closure was politically motivated. The New York Civil Liberties Union eventually filed a lawsuit against the city over the issue. 

Fast forward to this month. Bilal, an American citizen as well as a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, is currently exhibiting Virtual Jihadi at the Windy City’s FLATFILE galleries, accompanied by a renewed round of controversy.

So, what’s the uproar about? By way of background, GamePolitics reader Zachary Miner described the game as the RPI/Troy flap was raging earlier this year. Bilal’s exhibit is, essentially, a mod of an al Qaeda mod of a forgettable PC game called Quest for Saddam:

During his speech, Bilal said that the idea for the game started with Quest for Saddam… in which the object is to find and kill Saddam Hussein. Apparently someone in Al Qaeda obtained a copy of the game, changed the skins of the soldiers and Saddam so that now the player is an Iraqi killing Americans and hunting George Bush [the so-called Night of Bush Capturing game].

[Bilal changed] the game from the Al Qaeda version so that instead of the player himself killing Bush, he now has to recruit someone else – in this case, a character skinned to look like Bilal himself… to become a suicide bomber and attack Bush. Bilial said that the point of this is to show the vulnerabilty of Iraqi citizens to recruitment for such purposes.

Negative reaction to the Chicago exhibit has come from a variety of critics:

  • Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin: If you’re a left-wing artist looking for attention, you can never go wrong with assassination chic. The latest entrant is one Wafaa Bilal. He’s got issues, as they say… And Obama and his grievance-mongering supporters have the nerve to whine about that New Yorker cartoon…
  • Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit: If somebody did this about Obama it would be a national scandal and evidence of America’s incurable bigotry. But since it’s an artist named Wafaa Bilal and it’s about Bush it’s just "confrontational art"… In an earlier age, this kind of thing would have been considered unacceptable enemy propaganda. On the other hand, this is just more proof that all the lefty bleating about George Bush’s fascism is just self-indulgent — and utterly dishonest — twaddle.
  • Jihad Watch: There is freedom of speech and there is incitement to murder. A cartoon of Muhammad harms no one, although there are those who chose to consider themselves harmed by it, and think that it gives them a license to commit murder. This video game, on the other hand, encourages the murder of a living human being. Yet no one will be particularly concerned about this, while attempts to limit free speech because of the cartoons continue… It isn’t as if anyone drew a cartoon of Muhammad in this exhibit. That would be crossing the line, now, wouldn’t it?
  • Israeli game blogger Avi Green : This is really obscene and disgusting, and that it should be shown at an exhibition where I’m guessing they wouldn’t even think of displaying the Mohammed cartoons from Denmark, should tell something about the true nature of the institute. Whoever Flatfile are, anyone with common sense should stay away from them.

Meanwhile, embattled anti-game lawyer Jack Thompson has inserted himself into the situation. As reported by Time Out Chicago, Thompson issued one of his typical legal threats to FLATFILE director Susan  Aurinko:

Either you immediately remove [Virtual Jihadi] from your ‘art gallery,’ or I shall take the necessary legal action to have it removed. I have already contacted the Secret Service.  Your public display of this game is a criminal act. 

It’s unclear on what basis Thompson assumes the exhibit constitutes a crime. The FBI reportedly reviewed Bilal’s game when it was first exhibited at RPI in March and took no action. Thompson subsequently claimed in an e-mail that Bilal "threatened" him in a phone call last Friday, although the nature of the "threat" is not specified. 

UPDATE: Executive Protection News has weighed in on Bilal’s project:

Executive protection specialists should not dismiss these games no matter how distasteful they might be. Suicide bombers have been very effective in targeting VIPs and have successfully assassinated national leaders, military officials and other key figures. The threat of suicide bombers to key persons is real…


While it is doubtful that this game will result in a direct threat to President Bush or even an immediate suicide bomber attempt, these games give legitimacy to the tactic and hence encourage those who are already predisposed to use suicide bomber tactics.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    I LOLed @ Jack’s new **AOL** address, I guess either it is to get around spam blocks, or Comcast yanked his over spam complaints, or both…..

  2. Erik ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Yeah.  You have a very strange definition of disagree.  You see there really wouldn’t be any problem if Jack and the young republicans were merely disagreeing with the game.  But you see trying to inhibit the rights of the creator of this game, such as Jack is attempting with litigation, is something that is NOT within the rights of Jack or the young republicans.

  3. Paul T. Farinelli says:


    It’s an internet forum. Sorry to inform you, but you’re bound to run into people who hold opinions different from yours. It’s just how it goes.

  4. HarmlessBunny says:

    Susan, I am sorry you have to endure that madman raving at you. Though I do not "fully" support the display, I definately acknowledge your right to show it and not to silence it. You continue the show right to the end and don’t take crap from anyone. Good luck to you, and hopefully he doesn’t cause anymore annoyance or pain.


  5. Anon says:

    As a Bush supporter you should know that you are basically part of an ever decreasing fringe group as well…

  6. Renoir says:

    As a Republican and a supporter of George W. Bush, I must say I am rather less than pleased (although not surprised) at the tone of the comments to be found on this posting. While Bilal may be perfectly within his rights to create this work, it is certainly within the rights of other Americans from the Young Republicans to Michelle Malkin to even Jack Thompson to disagree with it.

    This group seems ready to defend any message, as long as that is a message with which you agree. Fortunately for the majority of us and unfortunately for you, that confines you to a very small fringe group.




  7.  I finally got through all the blog entries – thanks to those of you who really DO believe in the right of people to speak/create freely. And, for those few of you who object, I just want you to know that the gallery has absolutely no intention of closing the show before its August 22 close date, will continue to support Wafaa and his work, and will also continue to ignore Jack Thompson’s numerous threats and silly letters to people in power, (as I am certain they are doing themselves.) sent from his e-mail, which is, ironically,


  8. Camilo says:

    Whats funny/ironic is that Osama Bin Laden is not really trying to kill bush, and the same will probably go for the nxt president. Al Qaida after 9/11 demanded that the ‘armies of the infidels’ be removed from the Holy Land. (Saudi Arabia) which the US did. (last unit -363rd Air Expeditionary Wing -aug 26th 2003). Since then there have been no plots or attempts on the President or the US mainland,  but he is very keen to kill Osama bin Laden. In politics, in the home or work or on the street – what ever the media says- its gonna be Americans killing Americans, not foreign or brainwashed game players. However, with a lifetime of playing violent and depraved video games, the Secret Service might just want to hang on to Thompson’s phone number. Its allways the obessives you gotta watch….

  9. Saladin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Oh no, it’s fine. I’m just glad someone clarified that for me. I was scrambling around wondering how I offended anybody with what I posted. ^.^

    So someone posted something offensive after me huh?

  10. Steve ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Sorry, mate – someone wrote something else just after your bit which I replied to … Looks like it got erased.

    So please don’t take offense πŸ™‚

  11. Christophe Janson ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Yea, the ignorant majority in the USA would most likely implode if they had to see themselves through the eyes of anyone living befond the world of free refills and the fox mind control network. The funny thing is that most Americans are more fanatic about their country than the muslims are about their religion. I bet that if the tables were turned there would be alot more of those suicide bombings going on…

  12. Chalts says:

    Said it before, I’ll say it again: Bilal has the right to make his game….

    However, it’s in such poor taste that I can’t help but take the side of the critics; nor will I feel sorry if the gallery pulls the display. The only way I’d take Bilal’s side on this is if the government tried to shut him down.

    And Jack Thompson is still an idiot.

  13. Chalts says:

    They don’t have to say it’s awesome to be an apologist. Too many leftists go out of their way to avoid flat condemnations of Islamic terrorism, or otherwise try and mitigate it by blaming it on things other than fundamentalist ideology.

  14. Shrike says:

    That view of liberals as Terrorist Sympathizers and apologists is something spread by the conservatives; we’re against religiously motivated murder by any fundamentalist group.

    Otherwise, we’d be cheering at the sectarian violence that has killed untold (by the white house) numbers of Iraqi civilians. After all, that’s Islamic fundamentalism at it’s finest; a disagreement over essentially the second prophet that’s evidently important enough to kill for in the absence of a fully functional government. However, liberals are ‘whining’ the most about civilian casualties due to sectarian violence, which directly contradicts the assertion that Liberals hold Islamic Fundamentalism as being more Moral than Christian Fundamentalism.

    Our tirades against Christian Fundamentalism are due to the tendency for those fundamentalists to attack any ideas that don’t mesh, such as evolution. As liberals, we prefer openness and putting contentions up for discussion and resolution, and since that means defending against incorrect information from conservatives, the liberal side’s desire for an open debate gets spun into the aforementioned apologizing/appeasement/support of the position under attack.

    But I will say this much:  Islam recognizes Jesus. Yes. That Jesus. But like the Jewish, the Muslims just don’t think he was the messiah, but one of the prophets. They also hold all holy books in high regard, which is why putting a Koran next to a toilet or intentionally damaging one was used at "Gitmo" to anger the prisoners. Muslims recognize both the Bible (old testament, at least) and the Torah as the word of god.

    Historically, that can’t be said of Christianity.

    Please feel free to edit or remove anything, GP. I’m well aware this is way off topic and flamebait.

  15. Saladin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Uh, I think you’ve made a mistake. I wasn’t implying I’d trade Jack for a terrorist or whatever. In fact, I think you ‘ve pretty much taken what I said in either a new direction or completely out of context. ^.^;

  16. Shadow Darkman Anti-Thesis of Jack Thompson says:

    *freaked out face* Shite man, if I knew it was gonna be a problem, I wouldn’t have posted it.



  17. Saladin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Are you guys posting towards me or each other? I didn’t think I posted something offensive…..

  18. Steve ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Yeah, I’m sure that one crazy pseudo-lawyer will make up for all the crap dished up by the good ole US of A πŸ™‚

    Also, get some freakin’ perspective, man – I know you were joking, but what were you thinking: posting that you’d happily trade a human being to a terrorist?! This is exactly the kind of BS that Thompson uses to his advantage.

    Honestly – just don’t even talk about him at all.

  19. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Would be intresting to see soemone make a terroirst based game set in the US but give it some wit and good charatcers like acouple normal people who are doing it becuse thier family is held hostage,acouple of nutcases and acouple zelots, the sub plots can be the reasons why, and poke at all the secuirty holes still in the US.

    I is fuzzy brained mew =^^=
    (in need of a bad overhaul)


  20. Anonymous says:

     And Obama and his grievance-mongering supporters have the nerve to whine about that New Yorker cartoon…

    Because this was totally made by the DNC. Or was meant as a endorsement of Obama.  And a attack on Bush’s policies.


  21. Anonymous says:

     find me a single (non-lunatic fringe) liberal who’s said ”islamic fundamentalism is awesome!”.

  22. Brokenscope says:

    I can’t find Luxenbourg on the map. The UN doesn’t appear to list them as a member state either.


    Still probably scarier.

  23. Saladin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’ll give Bilal credit. It makes conservatives whine and that makes me glow a bit inside. That Jack Thompson decided to stick his soon-to-be-disbarred nose into this also deserves a chuckle.

    Being a palestinian Muslim gives me mixed feelings on this. I mean sure, it goes to show the vulnerability of the average citizen. The part about killing Bush makes me cringe. I know the point of it all is to show the extremes and the ugliness of the situation, but I still feel awkward about the whole thing. I dunno, I support Bilal, but I hope this doesn’t cause Wafaa any serious problems.

    I take it as a different look at a problem in the Middle-East. However, it doesn’t seem like that sits too well with a lot of others…….

  24. Anonymous says:

    Great, now the media is going to paint this as a commercial game that’s available to 8 year olds.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know any liberal who thinks Islam is somehow "better" morally than Christianity. Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, and they’re all dangerous.

  26. Brokenscope says:

    “While it is doubtful that this game will result in a direct threat to President Bush or even an immediate suicide bomber attempt, these games give legitimacy to the tactic and hence encourage those who are already predisposed to use suicide bomber tactics.”

    You mean people in war torn countries that have seen everything fall apart around them? People who are increasingly desperate and hopeless? People who can’t really see a light at the end of the tunnel? People looking for some way to get back at anyone they feel is causing their problems? Yeah, guess what happens when the frontlines of a war sit in one spot for a while.

    Then we have people who are nuts anyways and otherwise rational folks who believe killing themselves and an enemy at the same time is the best possible way to go out.

    So…. It’s not really an issue to mister bush.

  27. Zerodash. ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I just realized this debate reminds me of why both liberals and conservatives piss me off.  Conservatives, to me, only believe in the good principals of America ONLY when it is in line with their narrow (often religious) beliefs.  And liberals just rub me as terrorist apologists who are first to condemn Christian fundamentalism but hold Islamic fundamentalism up as some kind of virtuous ideal.

    Each side is just as crazy as the other.

    Regardless, this game/art/whatever needs to be protected- regardless of opinion.

  28. kurisu7885 (can't log in) says:

    Well, now we know, when creatign art is cannot be thought provoking at all, the meaning has to be right out in the open so people don’t have to think, it cannoto ffend anyone, at all, and it cannot be contorversial by any stretch of the imagiantion.

    Now that my sarcasm mode is off

    I’m willing to bet i nthat "man on the street" crap, if anyone said they actually played it, then they were doen with that person.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes I think it might be a good idea to start a fund drive to get Jack Thompson the professional help he clearly needs.

  30. GryphonOsiris says:

    Personally, I think the game itself is in very poor taste, however there is no law against poor taste, (see: reality TV shows). As for the school pulling it, that was their choice, and since they were the ones hosting this event it is within their rights to decide what can or cannot be there.

  "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" gaming reviews

  31. Dog Welder says:

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, legal threats from Jack Thompson are about as potent as military threats from Luxembourg.

  32. Paul T. Farinelli says:

    Jack’s "negative reaction" is the funniest. Does he really think his impotent little threat is going to scare anyone?

  33. Arad says:

    Jack Thompson, Freedom Fighter!  Fighting freedom and the people who exercise it, whereever or whenever they decide to appear!

  34. Dante says:

    “Either you immediately remove [Virtual Jihadi] from your β€˜art gallery,’ or I shall take the necessary legal action to have it removed. I have already contacted the Secret Service. Your public display of this game is a criminal act.”

    Jack Thompson. American freedom fighter.

  35. Voligne the Archon says:

    I heard of Wafaa before, checked out his little paintball experiment.


    Ignorance abounds.

  36. E. Zachary Knight says:

    Now that John Bruce is going after this exhibiit, it will surely be a success. Nothing brings in the masses like a good controversy.

    Personally, I like the idea of the exhibit. It brings home something a lot of Americans have a hard time understanding. Why someone would become a terrorist.

    I hope this exhibit comes somewhere close to where I live. I would love to witness it first hand.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA
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  37. lumi says:

    As an alum of ’04, I cut back on my financial support of the Institute to show my displeasure.

    Regarding the new round of idiocy:

    "The latest entrant is one Wafaa Bilal. He’s got issues, as they say… And Obama and his grievance-mongering supporters have the nerve to whine about that New Yorker cartoon…"

    I just can’t think of a more constructive way to say this, so…what an ignorant fucking bitch.

  38. Anonymous says:

    As a student at RPI,  I am deeply saddenned by our Republican club and their success in blocking free speech rights.

  39. black manta says:

    I got to watch the clip earlier.  I am still amazed by the ignorance of those in the "Man-on-the-street" interviews.  They’re talking about it as if this is a game sold in stores.  IT IS NOT!  It is an art exhibit using the games medium to express a point of view.  It is not meant to be a mass-market product for public consumption.  People can be so dense sometimes.

    Besides, considering how much everybody but the staunchest conservative hates Pres. Bush anyway now, I’m kind of surprised people are protesting something about him getting killed.

  40. Zerodash. ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    How is supressing an art exhibit upholding the First Ammendment?  I thought Thompson was honored recently for protecting it?

  41. Shrike says:

    So, this could influence… who?

    Sleeper cells already planning to attack American VIPs?

    Iraqis who, last I heard, had an infrastructure problem due to US air strikes making electricity erratic? I could be wrong on that.


    Terrorists in caves?


    Face it. Anyone who would be impacted to carry out this sort of attack is already predisposed to do it, especially by the twisted "Logic" of the right wing "first amendment applies when we’re yelling about how corrupt and immoral everyone else is but not when everyone else tries to express their opinions and ideas"-ites.

    There’s no crime here, just conservative christians looking to score easy political points against a target that the majority of America knows nothing about but will play well on FOX news when all context is removed. And hey, they can even make flimsy links to Mr. Obama! That’s like a quad multiplier on points!


    And look, it’s JT.


    Sorry, Mr. Thompson. Not going to happen, and if you actually did any research, you’d see why. Take the plank from thine eye.

  42. Ryno (still awaiting my login info) ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It should be an issue to Bush. Not the assissination part, but the motivation. Our methods in the Middle East have done everything possible to stoke Islamists and breed suicide bombers. We’ve done hardly anything since the war started to improve and rebuild Iraq, and most of what has been built is already in complete disrepair thanks to the substandard compenents and techniques. If we had thrown what money we have into fighting in the first couple years, and bothered to have a plan for reconstruction after the fighting "ended" we could have rebuilt a substantial part of the country and people would be a lot happier.

    Palestine is a completely different matter, but has much of same underlying causes – poverty and no hope for a future.

    If you look at the earthquake in Kashmir a few years ago, a bunch of American doctors took what they could carry on their back, and could occasionally get lifted in by copter, and went into the hardest hit, most primitive areas of the region. They provided medical help for thousands, and no one ever threatened them. They were welcomed with open arms and adored by those they helped, and word quickly spread about the work they were doing. Just a few people helped countless people who were suffering through their good will and dauntless drive to provide care. These few men did far more to boost the image of America abroad in several months of work than our Armed Forces and subcontractors have in 5 years in Iraq and Afganistan.

    So hopefully the message of this art that more violence isn’t going to solve the problem will rub off on some politicians and make some changes in our foreign policy.

  43. JustChris says:

    And people wonder why artists sometimes refer to wacky allegorical imagery in videos and photos when it comes to making a statement. Because when an artist actually makes a direct statement without requiring you to connect a lot of symbols in your head to realize the artist’s point of view, it can offend a whole bunch of people. Usually the bunch that are not offended by the works that use more subtle symbolism, since they’re not bright enough to interpret those works.

  44. oto kirlama says:

    I’m all for freedom of ttnet vitamin speech and allowing rent a car game makers to put whatever they want in games, but there’s one thing about this app that has me scratching my head.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but from araç kiralama the previous article araba kiralama on this I gathered that players can use Google maps in-game to find the other (real-life?) dealers in their area.  If this is the case, has travesti anyone considered what’s stopping someone from using this app to actually move drugs between hands for reals?

  45.  Yes, we would love you to see the piece – we are at 217 North Carpenter Street, right up the way from Oprah’s Harpo Studios, between Fulton and Lake St.  Be sure to introduce yourself.  You seem like a sensible person, of which there are far too few!




  46. JQuilty says:

    Anybody got an address? I’m about twenty minutes away from Chicago and it doesn’t take too much longer than that to get into the Loop. It’d be interesting to see.


  47. HarmlessBunny says:

    Sadly media manipulation yet again *sighs*. The outrage is not due…the FBI and other agencies, while not approving it, stated that no crime was committed. It is not a threat to the Country what so ever. Personally I think it would be an interesting thing to view, to see his message of how easy it is to see the propaganda and media from the Iraqi civilian point of view.

    As for Thompson? I think he is trying to be relevant again…. I hope Susan Aurinko calls him on bullsh!t and deletes his spammy email lawsuits. Too bad for you, Jack, the secret service will just ignore you…1) You’ve harassed them enough. 2) They already viewed the game and shrugged it off. 3) No one takes you seriously anymore.

  48. black manta says:

    Thompson subsequently claimed in an e-mail that Bilal "threatened" him in a phone call last Friday, although the nature of the "threat" is not specified. 

    Two guesses on that.  1) Bilal probably did indeed call JT and probably just wanted to explain and clarify the nature of the exhibit to him.  Knowing the narrow-minded bigot Thompson is, though, he probably considered Bilal to be nothing more than a common terrorist and thus construed his call as a "threat."

    2) Thompson is just making it all up.  Somehow, I’m more inclined to think the latter rather than the former.

    I think some of us should contact Ms. Aurinko with the facts on JT and inform her of just how much of a fringe lunatic he is, including of course the fact he’s going to be disbarred for ethics violations and that the FBI will not acknowledge his emails.

  49. Brokenscope says:

    While the message is good, I have my doubts about how well the game conveys it.


    Whatever, pundits over reacting is nothing new. It’s how they make a living.


  50. Paul says:

    God, i have no love for Bilals games, or what he is doing, but the very fact that Jack Thompson wants to stop him means i find myself supporting Bilal

    Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!

  51. Twin-Skies ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Oh great, it drew the attention of Malkin. The critic’s side just lost all credibility…

  52. TBoneTony ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I agree, the reactions of ordinary people who barely even know what the game was about, and remember that this is NOT a commercial game to be sold but rather a game to be displayed in a gallery to provoke thought on the Iraq War from the perspective of an Iraqi servilian.

    I bet that the news reporter just told the people they interviewed on the street just a little bit of the negative detail so they could manipulate it their own way to have people saying how “I don’t want my kids to be playing a game where they kill the president” and sensationalist things like that..

    No matter how much you try to do to express your freedom of speech, there will always be people who just hate what you do and gather all the emotional outrage and sensationalism against you.

  53. InsidiousMrMoo says:

    Its amazing how many people overreact to this sort of thing.

    I don’t think he is advocating the assissantion of President Bush but rather showing how easy the propaganda found in Iraq and the different terrorist orginzations can be spread.

    As for the threat against Thompson I think it is obivious that the guy told Thompson to leave him alone and stop copying him on emails.

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