Iraq Launches Anti-Toy Gun Jihad. Or Not.

“In a country where guns and military gear are heartbreakingly prevalent, basic training begins early.” “Heartbrakingly?” How did that one slip by The New York Times‘ editors? I mean, seriously. Are they that anti-gun that they didn’t even think to highlight and delete writer John Leland’s figurative dab at his eyes, telling the world that he equates Iraqi access to guns with heartbreak? You know, as opposed to liberation from a fascist dictator and armed assurance of political freedom and something not entirely unlike democracy? And can someone please explain to Mr. Leland that there’s a difference between playing with guns and actual firearms training? Yes folks, this is one of the best—or is that worst?—anti-gun hatchet jobs I’ve seen in the mainstream media for a long, long time. Make the jump for some choice cuts. And remember, it’s for the children!

“We have our own horror scenes, we don’t need extra,” said a hospital ward matron, who asked not to be named because she was not authorized to talk to reporters. “It should all be banned, any fireworks. The other day I started shouting at neighborhood kids who were shooting at each other. But at least they shot at each other’s legs, so they wouldn’t hurt their eyes.”

At the markets on Karada Street, where pellet guns sold for $8 or less, merchants said toy guns were their most popular.

“The culture of violence is dominant,” said one shop owner, Hussein Mohammed, who declines to sell pellet guns.

“Children are no longer interested in educational games,” he said at his store. “All they want to play with is the games that express power and violence.”

There is a long and ignoble journalistic tradition called vox populi or “voice of the people.” When you build a story around a particular trend without any quantitative evidence that the trend actually exists, you assemble the most heartbreakingly powerful anecdotes you can find, stick them in the lede, and then go grab a bunch of supporting quotes from “the people.”

Of course, you highlight comments from those people whose words back up your main theme. And if you can’t find interviewees willing to give you the money shot quotes, you simply make them up.

Teachers said that living with so much violence in both their real and fantasy lives had made students quicker to fight and less patient with their studies.

That’s quite a condemnation. Fundamentally misleading blanket statements are the journalistic equivalent of Toto yanking at the curtain of the Great and Powerful Oz. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT LACK OF ATTRIBUTION! I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL NEW YORK TIMES!

Props to Mr. Leland for finding a teacher—that’s “a” teacher—willing to back up his point that “teachers” (plural) believe that toy guns—sorry “living with so much violence”—is preventing children from receiving a proper education. Well, almost.

Where students used to ask teachers to help resolve conflicts, now they rarely do so, said Instisar Mohammed, a primary school teacher in the Yarmouk neighborhood, where most residents are relatively well educated. “They resolve with their fists more easily,” she said. “They fight a lot more than they used to.” She added that “after 15 minutes in the classroom they do not pay attention anymore and start moving around, then fighting.”

Did anyone see the words “toy gun” anywhere in that quote? I guess we’re supposed to simply assume that toy guns cause this unhelpful aggression. Indeed, let’s not worry about proving or quantifying the idea that Iraqi boys “fight a lot more than they used to” or, if they do, consider any evidence that there are other factors causing this undocumented trend besides toy guns.

The larger danger, though, is that a childhood spent among guns, real and toy, will make children more likely to embrace any use of power, Dr. Abdulrazaq said. “In the short term, it makes them more hostile at home and in school,” he said. “They become more cruel. In the long term, it will encourage them to engage in more adventures with weapons. He will be more vulnerable to be recruited by police, criminals or terrorists.”

Real guns, he said, “will be an enjoyment, not a stress.”

That would be the same Dr. Abdulrazaq whose son’s eye injury provides the central, heartbreakingly poignant anecdote upon which this polemic is centered. While he has my sympathies (as planned), how does that make him an expert of cultural psychology, exactly? The good doctor’s metaphorical shudder at the idea that his son could be recruited by the police, equating them with criminals and terrorists, tells us more about Iraqi society than anything else in this report. I’m not sure what, but it IS interesting.

I full expected Leland to end his report with that quote. Perhaps his editors felt a pang of professionalism and forced him to add on this bit, which totally undermines the entire article. Unless you’re a condescending prick who thinks he knows what’s better for people than the people themselves. Like the Iraqi health minister campaigning to ban toy guns. Or an anti-gun rights writer. You know, in theory.

But for many parents, the question of whether to have toy guns at home rests on more immediate considerations. “They like it,” said Saddam Abdulsalam, who buys toy guns for his six children, though one shot his brother in the eye.

Even his three daughters play with the guns. “This is the new generation,” he said. “They will grow out of it.”

Or not. And are we sure that’s a bad thing?

comments

  1. avatar Martin Albright says:

    Guns were quite prevalent in Iraq during the Saddam days, IIRC, so I’m not sure this represents a “trend” in any real sense. More likely just a reporter with an axe to grind and/or a short deadline to fill.

  2. avatar Ralph says:

    It’s just like that movie, “A Ramadan Story.” You remember when Rashid’s mom told little Rashie that he could shoot somebody’s eye out with that Daisy Bin Laden BB gun he wanted? Sure, it starts with toy guns, but then they get hooked on to the hard stuff, like toy tanks, toy airplanes and toy IEDs. The next thing you know, they’re playing “Call of Jihad IV” online. It’s a slippery slope, boys. A slippery slope.

  3. avatar Dan Baum says:

    Methinks Mr. Farago needs a few days off. Or, better yet, a trip to Iraq. You laughing at the idea that guns equal heartbreak in Iraq? You really suggesting that Iraq was “liberated” and is enjoying “armed assurance of political freedom and something not entirely unlike democracy?” Dude, get on a plane. Then, let’s talk.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Dan, people have been killing each other in Iraq since it was called Persia and the weapon of choice was a scimitar. The more things change …

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