Children’s illustrator ‘profoundly upset’ over Islamophobia claims

Children’s illustrator ‘profoundly upset’ over Islamophobia claims

  • Book illustrated by Alex Brychta criticized online for depictions of Middle East
  • He is ‘married to Muslim woman of Iraqi origin, whose family now live in Jordan’

Updated 29 April 2022

Arab News

LONDON: A children’s illustrator has been left “profoundly upset” over the pulping of his book over claims of Islamophobia, pointing out that his wife is Muslim.

Oxford University Press announced this week that it would be axing “The Blue Eye” book in the popular “Biff, Chip and Kipper” series after it became subject to online criticism over its depictions of the Middle East.

A close friend of Alex Brychta, who illustrated and co-produced the book with author Roderick Hunt in 2001, told the Daily Telegraph that the decision was “incredibly silly,” adding: “(Brychta) is married to a Muslim woman of Iraqi origin, whose family now live in Jordan. He has visited that country and the Middle East on several occasions and his work is sensitive and empathetic to the region.

“Only a few years ago, he gave readings of his books to hundreds of children at schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and they loved it.”

The book tells the story of children magically traveling to a foreign land, which appears to be based on Middle Eastern stereotypes. A souq is described as “scary,” and local Muslim characters are deemed “unfriendly.”

Users on social media criticized the content, with one teacher saying: “Just seen this being shared on Facebook. Wow, am I right to think this is inappropriate?!”

Brychta’s friends pointed out that the book ends with the children making it safely to the “friendly and welcoming” princess’s kingdom.

One friend told the paper: “When he draws baddies, children want them to look like baddies. They want the tension of the adventure, of Biff and Chip trying to escape their predicament.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest just because one set of baddies are Middle Eastern appearance the book is Islamophobic. If you’re drawing bad guys, you draw guys who look bad — whether they are in England, Switzerland. If they are Middle Eastern you draw them accordingly.

“The Blue Eye is not racist. It’s an exciting adventure that sees the children all right in the end, helped by other people from the same imaginary Middle Eastern country.”

The friend said the majority of readers “love the books,” which were “read and appreciated by children of all religions and races,” and OUP’s response was endemic of the social media age in which a complaint is amplified to a point they “feel they have to act.”

An OUP spokesperson said it “regularly reviews” its backlist to make decisions on whether to put stories out of print deemed to fall short of its high standards of diversity and inclusivity.

The spokesperson added: “These regular reviews are undertaken internally by the Oxford publishing team as well as with independent expert reviewers and we look at specific themes and issues, either as a result of user feedback or developments in current affairs.”

Ash Ahmad, a diversity, equity, inclusion and wellbeing consultant, said on LinkedIn: “I’m sure, like myself, many of you have read the books when you were younger and most people loved them, but because we were so young we couldn’t see what was wrong with them.

“So inappropriate. People were brainwashed from a young age to stay away from Muslims labelled as scary people.”