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Inaccurate Reports of ‘ISIS Taking Over Star Wars Set’ Anger Tunisians

No trace for ISIS at the second edition of Les Dunes Électroniques music festival held in February this year at the Star Wars filming site in Nefta, Tunisia. Photo by the festival's facebook page

No trace for ISIS at the second edition of Les Dunes Électroniques music festival held in February this year at the Star Wars filming site in Nefta, Tunisia. Photograph by the festival's Facebook page

Tunisians are mocking inaccurate media reports alleging that the Star Wars set in Southern Tunisia has come under the siege of the violent extremist group ISIS.

On March 24, CNN published a story on the southern town of Tataouine, which gave its name to the fictional planet Tatooine in the movie, serving as a ‘way-station for jihadists’. Major media outlets including the Huffington Post, the Washington Post and the Guardian have since picked up the story.

A few headlines on ISIS taking over Tatooine as they appear on Google News

A few headlines on ISIS taking over Tatooine as they appear on Google News

So what did these international and supposedly professional media outlets get wrong?

CNN used reports on the arrest of three young men from Tataouine who were attempting to cross to Libya to join a militant group, and the discovery of arms caches and ammunition in ‘the region’ (without specifying where exactly) as evidence for their story.

However, the arms caches CNN was referring to were discovered earlier in March in Ben Guerdane, a town on the border with Libya located in the governorate of Mednine, nearly a two-hour drive from Tataouine.

Al Jazeera English's Nazanine Moshiri explains it to Ben Beaumont-Thomas, the assistant commissioning editor at the Guardian:

In addition, just because there are young men traveling to Libya and Syria to join militant groups doesn't mean that the cities and towns they come from are bases for ISIS or any other militant group. But, because this is taking place in Tatooine (I mean Tataouine), the story (if there is even one) was too sensationalist to be missed by the media and journalists looking for thousands of page views.

Finally, Star Wars filming sites are not located in the town of Tataouine, though the fictional planet Tatooine was named after it. The set is located in the town of Nefta, in the governorate of Tozeur, a five hour-drive from Tataouine.

Google Maps shows the actual distance between Tataouine and the spaceport of Mos Espa on the fictional planet of Tatooine

Google Maps shows the actual distance between Tataouine and the spaceport of Mos Espa on the fictional planet of Tatooine

On Medium.com, AJ+ debunked the CNN story:

For journalists, it’s an enticing story: A desert planet in a galaxy far, far away is now home to fighters who have crossed over to the dark side of the Force. Unfortunately (at least for that narrative), the Star Wars movies weren’t actually filmed in Tataouine, though the fictional planet Tatooine was named after the town. The closest actual filming location for the movies is Ksar Ouled Soltane, which was one of the locations used for the slave quarters row where Anakin Skywalker and his mother lived in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

On Twitter, users responded with mockery.

Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisia Association in Support of Minorities, tweeted:

[wearing] the Niqab is already mandatory

Hedi tweeted:

Here is the Emir of Tataouine, a bearded man as you can see

Tunis-based journalist Frédéric Geldhof tweeted how reality looks like at the Star Wars set in Nefta:

This annual jihadist gathering in Tunisia gives shivers. Brrrr.

In fact, last month the Star Wars set in Nefta was transformed into a dancing floor for tourists and young Tunisians attending the electronic music festival Les Dunes Electroniques (electronic dunes).

Youth partying at the Star Wars set in Southern Tunisia. Photo by the Facebook Pages of the Electronic Dunes Festival

Youth partying at the Star Wars set in Southern Tunisia. Photo by the Facebook Pages of the Electronic Dunes Festival

The Star Wars filming locations are a popular tourist attraction. As tourism, a vital sector to Tunisian economy, is going through difficult times, one week after the deadly attack on the Bardo Museum, the Star Wars story outraged Tunisian Wafa Ben Hassine, who tweeted at Ishaan Tharoor from the Washington Post:

Following the angry reactions on social media, the Guardian and the Huffington Post have posted corrections. But, it's too late. An English language search of ‘ISIS Star Wars set’ on Google News reveals the extent of damage already inflicted.

  • ChargerGrant

    If you don’t like the reports then it sounds like you need to pick a side and clean up your region.

  • Wonderful story and great timing on the comedy! Like most western nerds it was a magical moment when I learned that Tataouine was a real place and you could visit the deserts from Star Wars. It’s amazing mostly because we just assume all films are shot in California by taking advantage of whatever tiny desert/forest/plains/mountains are available in that state :P

    It’s awful that such reputable brands would run this story without validating the data first though, it screams “I’M A STORY DRIVEN BY WHAT PEOPLE WOULD THINK IS COOL NOT REALITY!”

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