The Oriental Trading Company, a fast-growing U.S. marketing company with 18 million customers on file and annual catalogue malings of 300 million, expanded its "Soldier of God" product line designed for young children in 2007 Q1, Corey Habbas reported Wednesday in Op-Ed News.[1]  --  Some thirty-one items, including "a crusader shield, military-style dog tag necklaces, combat stretch bands for the wrists, canteens, baseball hats, and temporary face tattoos," are "stamped with crosses or crusader crests, as well as the slogan 'Soldier of God' amidst stars and stripes."  --  Weapons and ammunition are not included, except for "a sword brandished by a crusader-knight in the 'Foam Soldier of God Photo Frame Magnet Craft Kit.'  The kit also comes with a red crucifix."  --  "Although the company has been selling the 'Soldier of God' items for close to a year, it has met with no official complaint, according to several call-center representatives in the company’s Omaha, Nebraska office."  --  The products, which include silicone camouflage army bracelets, camouflage army sunglasses, child's camouflage helmets, camouflage rubber duckies, mini glow-in-the-dark patriotic rubber duckies, armed forces rubber duckies, camouflage binoculars, camouflage army tatoos, camouflage army filled tote bags, camouflage army belt clip compass key chains, "God Bless America" decorations, "What would Jesus do?" dog tag necklaces, camouflage dog tag necklaces, religious dog tag necklaces, chevron pins, action paratroopers, foam and wood toy soldier ornament craft kits, camouflage bears, camouflage bandannas, bright camouflage bandannas, "Support our troops" sayings bracelets, camouflage army wrist bands, camouflage paddleball games, camouflage bucket hats, stretchable flying army men, camouflage backpack key chains, and paratrooop shooters, can be viewed by searching for "soldier" on the company's web site.  --  Habbas only touches briefly on what she calls the "extremist Christian ideology" behind these toys.  --  Chris Hedges recently wrote that the theological movement chiefly inspiring it is known as "dominionism," which he calls a radical fascist movement seeking political power that "seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of the Christian faith and American patriotism" (American Fascists: The Christian Right's War on America [Free Press, 2007], p. 10).  --  He calls it "a huge and disastrous" mutation of fundamentalism (ibid., pp. 13-14).  --  According to Hedges, it is necessary to look beyond the rhetoric of the movement, because words like "liberty" and "love" are being redefined through a process he calls "logocide" (ibid., pp. 14-18).  --  Although Dominionists are a minority of some 70 million U.S. evangelicals, Hedges has concluded that this minority is "taking over the machinery of U.S. state and religious institutions" (p. 19).  --  It already exists as a "core group" within the evangelical movement.  --  Ideologically, it sanctifies a ruthless form of capitalism, and has not only made common cause with the Republican Party but has "seized control" of it (pp. 22-23).  --  Its institutions have the effect of encasing believers in a non-reality-based hermetic world, Hedges writes, and it has compiled an enemy list that goes beyond "secular humanists" to include gays, liberals, immigrants, and Muslims (ibid., pp. 27-28).  --  Dominionism is infatuated with militarism and apocalyptic violence (pp. 28-30) — hence its inclination to militarize children's toys....


1.

News

SOLDIERS OF GOD INVADE UNITED STATES MARKETS
By Corey Habbas

Op-Ed News
May 30, 2007

http://www.opednews.com/articles/genera_corey_ha_070522_holy_warrior_toys_se.htm
OR
http://www.turkishweekly.net/news.php?id=45369

WASHINGTON -- In an era enveloped in large-scale violence and militarism, one of the fastest growing American companies is marketing a controversial product line designed for young children that combines military paraphernalia with the Christian faith.

According to several call center representatives who relied on dates in the Oriental Trading Company system, the product line entitled "Soldier of God" made its debut in the "Fun and Faith" catalogue, published and distributed in 2006.

In its new catalogue, released to customers during the first quarter of 2007, the Oriental Trading Company has expanded that line.

The majority of the 31 items in the "Soldier of God" product line are decorated with military camouflage colors.

The products are stamped with crosses or crusader crests, as well as the slogan "Soldier of God" amidst stars and stripes.

Items include a crusader shield, military-style dog tag necklaces, combat stretch bands for the wrists, canteens, baseball hats and temporary face tattoos.

The company has painted the "Soldier of God" product line with a brush of militarism regardless of the fact that this line has little physical weaponry or ammunition.

The exception is a sword brandished by a crusader-knight in the "Foam Soldier of God Photo Frame Magnet Craft Kit". The kit also comes with a red crucifix.

As the nation’s largest direct marketer of party supplies, novelties, toys, children’s arts and crafts, school supplies, home décor and giftware, the Oriental Trading Company is no small contender.

It has 18 million customers on file and mails 300 million catalogs annually.

The Oriental Trading Company, named one of the fastest growing companies three consecutive years in a row by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, was also ranked one of the top 50 internet sites by Internet Retailer.

It was ranked one of the top 50 largest direct marketers by Catalog Age.

This means that exposure to its products, including the new "Soldier of God" line, is very widespread.

MILITARIZING FAITH

While the Oriental Trading Company would not comment on the motivation for offering the "Soldier of God" product line, some suggest the line breaks a taboo by militarizing faith.

"I am quite bothered by how this line of products diminishes the beauty and purity of faith in God," says Valerie Shriley, communications director for a civil liberties organization in Minnesota.

"To me it looks like the company is using Christianity to aid the war movement. I don’t like it."

She would like to see the company remove any links between God and the military in their products.

"Being a soldier of God is being one who struggles toward righteousness, stands for justice, and strives to be a better contributor to what is good in this world," she explained.

"The job of a soldier in the military is a sometimes filthy, immoral, murderous, and unjust position. Many soldiers commit crimes and do not follow God's laws. Linking God to the military is morally degrading."

The concept that many Christians have of being a soldier of God is not usually a violent one.

There is a strong metaphorical connection between being a Christian and being a spiritual warrior in the same way that jihad (literally meaning "struggle") for Muslims is more often a non-violent spiritual fight within oneself to be a better person and to affect the world positively.

In the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of orthodox Judaism, a program for kids exists called Tzivos Hashem, or "God's Army," and is used to encourage children to develop the discipline of doing good deeds.

These terms are concepts that should not, under most circumstances, inspire fear.

Yet there are some Christians who feel that the Oriental Trading company has implied otherwise by directly linking the religious slogan to the innately violent military culture.

According to some consumers, the fact that weaponry and ammunition are largely absent from the product line does little to diminish the underlying message.

LEGALIZING WAR

Critics insist such toys aim to make war seem acceptable, and that God agrees with it.

Timothy Harris, executive director for the homeless advocacy newspaper *Real Change*, was one of the first on the Internet to comment on the disturbing nature of the "Soldier of God" product line.

"Has the recruit shortage come to this?" he asks in his blog.

"There's something about stamping God and crucifixes all over little kiddy war toys that just doesn't sit right. God's Army is getting younger all the time."

Several Christians who were interviewed for this article suggest that the "Soldier of God" product line lacks context and that without an appropriate setting in which to envision product use, the Oriental Trading Company is indirectly supporting extremist Christian ideology, which is a segment of the population usually not acknowledged by mainstream media.

"These products try to make war seem acceptable, and that God agrees with it," said Janet, a child development specialist in the San Francisco Bay area who asked to be identified by first name only.

"Christian children who are religious will be more likely to believe it."

A previous customer of the Oriental Trading Company, Janet thinks these products are ill-conceived.

"It never benefits children to indoctrinate them for war.

"It encourages them to form adversarial relationships with people who are perceived as being different."

Cheryl, a 38-year-old Christian in California who also requested to be identified by her first name only, was also offended by the product line.

She wouldn’t buy any of the items for the children in her family.

"To me it looks like the company is using Christianity to aid the war movement. I don’t like it."

EXTREMIST CHRISTIAN IDEOLOGY

Some interviewees believe that the Oriental Trading Company had succeeded in bringing extremist paraphernalia to the Christian mainstream.

One call center representative at the company said the "Soldier of God" product line is very popular in the Southern States.

"It never benefits children to indoctrinate them for war."

"I have in the past and continue to have great difficulty with such products that image God and followers of God with such militaristic understandings," said Pastor Gene Ostendorf, who leads one United Church of Christ congregation in the southern state of Missouri.

He points out that, even with regard to the *New Century Hymnal* used by his church great care was taken to remove all militaristic, triumphal language from the hymns.

The pastor continues that even the long-time favorite "Onward Christian Soldiers" was eliminated from the hymnal altogether.

"In our expression of the Christian faith, we do not seek to promote a sense of soldiers being triumphant against the enemy but rather as ambassadors, representatives of a God who seeks justice, peace, and genuine respect among all of God’s people."

CRUSADE

Bart Charlow, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Conference for Community and Justice (SVCCJ), an organization working to eliminate racism and discrimination by promoting interfaith education, conflict prevention, crime-victim advocacy, and youth leadership, says that although he thinks that American Muslims are in danger of being victimized by a national environment that lends itself to an escalation towards genocide, the “Soldier of God” product line is not likely to be a causing factor.

"These products by themselves, don’t fuel a genocidal end. What I would be concerned with is how these products will be used," he said.

Charlow believes that offering the product line is an unintelligent business move.

"Products like these are very polarizing. Some people may like them and buy them and others may stop buying from the company altogether," he noted.

"These kinds of products are certainly not going to be comforting to Jews, Muslims, or any group that was forcibly colonized within the last couple of hundred years."

"These kinds of products are certainly not going to be comforting to Jews, Muslims, or any group that was forcibly colonized within the last couple of hundred years."

The military and crusade themes in the "Soldier of God" product line carry historical baggage that is very offensive to many non-Christians, especially Jews and Muslims.

Some see the Iraq war as the new Crusade.

These products may also ignite sensitivities in Jews who were heavily persecuted during the crusades and who have endured a history of anti-Semitism and genocide.

The Oriental Trading Company offers holiday items for Christmas and Hanukkah, but nothing specifically for `Eid and Ramadan, even though there are an estimated 5 to 7 million Muslims in the U.S.

According to the U.S. State Department, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the country and may surpass the Jewish population by 2010.

MILITARIZED SOCIETY

"If Christians are God's soldiers, then who are non-Christians," said Rabbi Moline

Rabbi Jack Moline of the Agudas Achim congregation in Virginia frequently does business with the Oriental Trading Company.

He notes that it is a fine company with an excellent reputation for producing low-cost bulk items for pre-existing markets.

In regard to the demand that exists for the "Soldier of God|" product line, Rabbi Moline said the company did not create this market but is rather responding to it.

"Therefore, I am less concerned about Oriental Trading than I am about the market they seek to tap."

Nonetheless, Rabbi Moline is very concerned with the product line.

"I think that if I were a Christian, I would be horrified," he said.

"The symbol of the cross has sacred meaning and generally represents the antithesis of war. Marketing it as a child's plaything is troubling."

Although Rabbi Moline does not believe that companies should be expected to be more righteous than the traditions that they seek to exploit, he wishes the "Soldier of God" products were not part of their catalog and would encourage them to discontinue it.

"At this time of conflict, the encouragement of kids to wage God's battle against the unconverted plays not so much into militarization as it does into intolerance and bigotry. If Christians are God's soldiers, then who are non-Christians?"

Rabbi Moline feels that a child taught that camouflage means "God's soldiers" may come to associate military service personnel with a particular religion.

"That image would be hard to scour from the learning slate."

PROMOTE PEACE

There are no Jewish or Muslim retailers in the nation who combine militarism with faith and then target those products to children.

"I find it incongruous that any religious retailer promotes war-like objects or anything that does not promote peace and mercy among all people," said Noor Saadeh, who co-owns NoorArt, one of the largest and most well-know Muslim retailers of toys, educational products, and books.

"Can you imagine what the response would have been if a Muslim toy company in America offered a Jihad military product line?"

Saadeh hopes that Muslims, Jews, and Christians reach out to one another and work together on shared issues to bring peace to the world, while respecting each other's differences.

"Leave the war-based toys to Mattel and others," she said.

"We have special duties toward our children," says Gulten Ilhan, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louise Community College.

"If we teach our children war, they will grow up to fight, but if we give them peace they will learn to share it."

Ilhan believes that with freedom comes responsibility.

The Oriental Trading Company is free to produce and sell these products, she contends, but the product line is irresponsible.

The overwhelming response from Muslims who were surveyed is that they would consider making purchases from this company as long as the company would demilitarize the "Soldier of God" product line, and offer items specifically for the Muslim holidays along with Christian and Jewish holidays.

Ramadan and `Eid products, crafts and decorations would be especially welcome, Muslim respondents said.

Although the company has been selling the "Soldier of God" items for close to a year, it has met with no official complaint, according to several call-center representatives in the company’s Omaha, Nebraska office.

"Can you imagine what the response would have been if a Muslim toy company in America offered a Jihad military product line?" asked one Muslim interviewee.

"The whole nation would be up in arms about it."

--Corey Habbas writes non-fiction, fiction and poetry for both adults and children. Her writing has been featured in Skipping Stones, Newtopia Magazine, Azizah Magazine, Learning Through History Magazine, Kid Magazine Writers, Poetry Super Highway, TimbookTu, WriteLit.com, The Poetry Victims and various anthologies.  In 2004, Corey won Second Prize out of 750 contestants in the national Children's Writer Sports and Recreation Contest.  Corey holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Systems from California State University of Redlands.  She lives with her husband and three children in Minnesota.