Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

July 21, 2008 -

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.

 


Comments

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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.

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

All the more reason why that little trophy should be considered a Booby Prize.

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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.

 

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

 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!

Best,

Susan

 

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

Thank you.

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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.

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

Actually on a site reporting this, she made a comment agreeing that Jack is a nutcase

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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.

 

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

lately, ive somehow started thinking of Sid from Ice Age ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sid_(Ice_Age) ) whenever i read about JT's antics...  admittedly, there really isnt a good comparison between the two. -.-

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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!

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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.

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

To your number 3...When did anyone every take him seriously?

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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.

Re: Renewed Controversy over Iraqi Artist's Virtual Jihadi Game

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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