Saturday, January 12, 2008

Afghanistan in Lights

Depiction of Afghan people in popular media troubling.

This December, two movies were released that are prime examples of the use of popular films to push the agenda of the powerful.
‘The Kite Runner,’ based on the celebrated book by Afghan-American novelist, Khaled Husseini, is the story of the friendship between two boys, one from the upper class, the other his servant. What could have been a touching story unfortunately turns into a series of stereotypical images of crazy Afghans with horrific scenes of murder and sexual abuse while life in the US meanwhile is highly idealized. This overly simplistic comparison of the two societies fails to reveal the diversity and complex history of either one.
‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is based on the covert American financing of the Afghani Mujahideen in the early 80s. Wilson, a Democrat congressman, and Joanne Herring, an ultra-right wing wealthy socialite, make it their mission to make the war in Afghanistan the first major defeat of the USSR. The final message of the film - that if only Americans continued to finance ‘reconstruction’ efforts in Afghanistan after the Soviets lost the war, everything would have been okay - is a thinly veiled attempt to muster support for the continuation of the current occupation of Afghanistan.
Despite their glitz and glamour, the real message of both films is support for occupation through perpetuation of stereotypical images of savagery in the Middle East when Muslims are left to their own devices - obscuring what went on in Afghanistan and what is going on today.
It is important to note that these films were released around the same time that George W. Bush praised Canada for ‘pulling its weight’ in Afghanistan and encouraged other NATO countries to show similar commitment to the American-led effort.
It is not only Hollywood that is pushing this message. CBC radio aired ‘Afghanada,’ a radio drama about the life of Canadian troops in Afghanistan that is aimed at generating sympathy for the plight of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and encouraging Canadians to support them - and therefore the occupation. These propaganda pieces obscure who the real victims of the conflict are: Afghan people just trying to live their lives amidst an American and Canadian-led war and occupation.