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September 22, 2005

Fulla it

If you think that Arab culture has invented nothing since the Dark Ages, when Arabs invented zero (the numeral) -- some say it actually was the Hindus -- then this will probably confirm you in your views: There is now a Muslim equivalent of Barbie, a doll named Fulla, which apparently is all the rage in the Mideast, at least all the rage that isn't being directed at the United States and Israel.

Here's one troubling feature of the doll: "Fulla roughly shares Barbie's size and proportions, but steps out of her shiny pink box wearing a black abaya and matching head scarf." If she shares Barbie's proportions, better keep her out of the hands of the Islamists, or she might be beheaded.

This is more than an immature joke. The article reports:

Not everyone sees Fulla as such a positive influence. Maan Abdul Salam, a Syrian women's rights advocate, said Fulla was emblematic of a trend toward Islamic conservatism sweeping the Middle East. Though statistics are hard to come by, he said, the percentage of young Arab women who wear the hijab is far higher now than it was a decade ago, and though many girls are wearing it by choice, others are being pressured to do so.

"If this doll had come out 10 years ago, I don't think it would have been very popular," he said. "Fulla is part of this great cultural shift."

"Syria used to be a very secular country," he added, "but when people don't have anything to believe in anymore, they turn toward religion."
But don't worry. Maybe Fulla can't really replace Barbie after all.
But Jyza Sybai, a lanky, tomboyish Saudi 10-year-old, visiting Syria with her family for a short vacation, disagreed. "All my friends have Fulla now, but I still like Barbie the best," Jyza said. "She has blond hair and cool clothes. Every single girl in Saudi looks like Fulla, with the dark hair and the black scarf.

"What's so special about that?"
Call me when Fulla makes peace with the Jewish dolls next door.