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Tom and Jerry... and Violent Extremism?

Violence is on the rise in the Middle East, and before you blame violent extremist groups, the Ambassador of Egypt's State Information announced that the true culprits are in fact our favourite cat and mouse duo: Tom and Jerry.

There’s Tom and there’s Jerry, and then there is Salah Abdel Sadek, who is the Ambassador for the Head of Egypt’s State information, who believes – in 2016 – that these two are the cause of the rise of violence and extremism across the Arab World. As one of the oldest cartoons, both Tom and Jerry have been blamed for desensitising children to violence since the time our grandparents were kids, which is why it seems completely unreasonable, in the age Grand Theft Auto and Marvel movies, to blame a cat or a mouse instead of an Incredible Hulk or a Deadpool.

During a speech at a conference entitled The Media and the Culture of Violence held at Cairo University, Abdel Sadek explained “[Tom and Jerry] portrays violence in a funny manner and sends the message that, yes, I can hit him…and I can blow him up with explosives. It becomes set in [the viewer’s] mind that this is natural,” said Ambassador Abdel Sadek.

Accusing these lovable characters is not new, as many leaders around the world have blamed these two fictional characters historically for normalising violence among children since their debut in 1940. In fact, “Tom and Jerry" was a commonplace phrase for youngsters indulging in riotous behaviour in 19th Century London. The term comes from Life in London, or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (1823) by Pierce Egan. Since its inception, Tom and Jerry has spurred a variety of controversial issues, from being racist for their recurring depiction of black face, to making smoking and drinking seem cool.

Blaming Tom and Jerry for inspiring violence among children is so 1950s, but leaving a comedic bad taste in our mouth is blaming this cat and mouse for the rise of extremism. Long before officials decide to blame a cat and mouse for something like ISIS, why not blame the actual reasons, like bad parenting, American fat cats dropping bombs all over the Middle East, the failure of Al-Ahzar to present a moderate version of Islam – or even the source of Islamic extremism, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism?

We would love to meet the child who felt inspired to join extremism for sex slaves and money after watching this classic episode.

Or the child who saw this episode and decided to join to learn how to handle explosives.

The belief that Tom and Jerry have anything to do with a rise in extremism is absolutely ludicrous, and even if that wasn’t his intended assertion, when politicians look to blame violence on entertainment they tend to use more recent examples from Marvel movies to the explosion of gory video games. To be fair, Abdel Sadek did express that “Video games are spreading…[those] that came out recently with technological advancements. It has become very normal for a young man to spend long hours playing video games, killing and spilling blood and he’s happy and content." Maybe if he started blaming video games before Tom and Jerry there would be less ridicule spreading virally on social media. 



Tom and Jerry obviously appeals to the young, but if the concern is to safeguard children, then perhaps banning the sell of a replica AK-47 for three-year-olds in Egyptian toy stores is another good start. Seriously, check the box where the makers of this ridiculous excuse of a 'toy' explicitly state it is for three-year-olds. If you are a parent who feels this a great toy for a three-year-old, then there really shouldn't be any surprises when they engage in violence.
The debate of violent entertainment breeding violence will continue as long as we have entertainment. A similar debate that takes place in Egypt is the need to censor nudity and sex out of movies, as if that will put an end to harassment or keep us morally sound. In the age of Internet, banning anything is futile, and the state that believes it knows best is yet to set an example worth following. So does Tom and Jerry desensitise children to violence? Possibly, but more so responsible are governments that decide to engage in war, leaving many casualties, while radicalising those who survive to seek revenge. So before banning Tom and Jerry, let’s try banning wars and state violence and see if that helps, first.


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