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Plugged In

Lego Star Wars toy resembles mosque, critics say

Plugged In

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Images: LEGO; Arild Vagen/Wikimedia Commons

What do a science-fiction slug-overlord, Lego, and one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces have in common?  Read on to find out.

The Danish toy maker is being called culturally insensitive after releasing a model of "Star Wars" gangster Jabba the Hutt's palace that closely resembles a Turkish mosque. Lego says it will stop selling the toy – but denies the decision was tied to the protests.

The Palace, say critics, looks very much like Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, a historic mosque that became a model for other centers of Islam. It's a museum these days, but the chairman of the Turkish Cultural Association of Australia still takes issue with the likeness being tied to George Lucas' famous villain.

“This does not belong in children’s bedrooms,” said Birol Kilic, chairman of the group. “And the minaret-like tower features machine guns. Children will become insensitive to violence and other cultures.”

The Cultural Association and Lego met last week to discuss the toy – but that's where stories begin to differ. Kilic says at the meeting, Lego promised to stop selling the sets.

Lego, though, announced via Twitter that it had always planned to stop selling the Palace at the end of the year – and that it had nothing to do with the meeting.

“The decision to terminate this particular product is not based on any dialogue with the mentioned community," said Lego spokesperson Roar Trangbæk. "We regret the misinterpretation but we fully stand behind the product.”

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As seen in the movie. (Lucasfilm)

Trangbæk added it's the company's policy to not design models that resemble religious artifacts.

To back up its point, the company posted a picture from "Return of the Jedi" that showed off Jabba's palace, letting people see that any similarities were purely coincidental.

"The LEGO Star Wars product Jabba's palace does not reflect any non-fictional buildings, people, or the mentioned mosque," the company said. "The LEGO Group regrets that the product has caused the members of the Turkish cultural community to interprete [sic] it wrongly, but point out that the design of the product only refers to the fictional content of the Star Wars saga."

Perhaps ironically, the central structure of Hagia Sophia -- where the resemblance to Jabba's palace is strongest -- was originally constructed not as a mosque but as a Christian church during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

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