DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – Bert, Ernie and Bird Bird have a new friend from Afghanistan.
Sesame Street has welcomed a purple-toned female Muppet with multi-colored yarn hair — and sometimes a hijab — into its cast of colorful characters.
Zari, whose name means “shimmering,” is an eager 6-year-old who will focus on girls’ empowerment, health and emotional well-being, the production company said.
The character will be appearing regularly on Baghch-e-Simsim (“Sesame Garden”) — a Sesame Workshop children’s series that’s been on the air in Afghanistan since December of 2011.
Zari was introduced to the English-speaking world on social media last week, but it remains unclear if there are future plans to feature her on American Sesame Street.
Dawud Walid, Executive Director for the Council of Arab Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Michigan, wouldn’t mind seeing that.
“The younger ages are actually the most important, more so than the adults. This is when the world view develops,” Walid told CBS Detroit. “If younger people are exposed to other cultures at an early age, it is more likely to inoculate them, or vaccinate them, against Islamophobia.”
Zari is the latest a lineup of international characters, which has also included Mexican, German and Egyptian Muppets, to name a few. Although a Muppet’s religion is not typically discussed, it’s been stated that Zari is Afghani, and Afghanistan has a Muslim population close to 100 percent.
Philip Toscano, director of communications for Sesame Workshop, told the New York Times that Zari’s character was based on research in Afghanistan aiming to develop a character that would resonate with viewers there.
Some concerns remain, though, about Oscar the Grouch and other detractors.
“From what I have seen, unfortunately, there have been some Islamophobic comments like: ‘Is she going to wear a suicide bombing vest,'” Walid said, after taking a look at Twitter on Tuesday.
Reaction to the character on social media has been decidedly mixed.