Tuesday, May 31, 2005

American culture in Islamic Afghanistan

Thomas Coghlan:

As the co-host of Afghanistan's answer to MTV, 24-year-old Shaima Rezayee was one of the best-known women in her homeland. Now, her killing has made her even more famous.

Only three years after the fall of the Taliban, which banned both music and television, Afghan viewers were gripped by her show, called "Hop," an hourlong program that broadcast foreign music videos and featured vivacious young presenters in Western dress.

In a society as deeply conservative as Afghanistan, the show divided viewers into two camps -- those who found such liberalism exhilarating and those who considered it profoundly dangerous.

Just weeks after the program premiered last fall on the country's first independent television station, Tolo TV, the presenters began to receive death threats. In March, shortly after complaints from the country's conservative religious Supreme Court that "Hop" was "un-Islamic,'' Rezayee was sacked. She said in a media interview shortly afterward that she believed her life was in danger.

On May 18, her fears were realized. She was shot dead at her home.

Suspicion fell initially on her fundamentalist foes, but last week Kabul police said they suspect that "family members may be involved in the murder," leading to speculation that Rezayee's death may have been an "honor killing." They said they will question Rezayee's relatives when the mourning period ends.

Here is how the country's Supreme Court sees Tolo TV:

Tolo TV is wildly popular in Kabul, with an 81 percent share of the audience, and "Hop," its No. 1 program, quickly drew the ire of the religious establishment and fundamentalists.

"We oppose this 'Hop' because it is against the culture of Afghanistan, the society of Afghanistan and the religion of Afghanistan," Supreme Court Judge Maulvi Mohammed Seddiq said last week. "This program is changing young people and moving them toward criminal activities. Programs like this are taking them toward sexual desires. Sex is creating a lot of problems in society. That is why Islam has banned the sorts of activities that lead to this destabilization."

Last October, the Supreme Court tried to ban Tolo TV and several satellite channels. The court's list of complaints included a decision by Tolo TV to show the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic "The Ten Commandments."

"It showed the prophet Moses with short trousers among the girls," a Supreme Court spokesman told reporters. "He's a very holy person and Islam respects him. This is wrong." The station was taken off the air for three weeks.

In March, Rezayee and her co-presenter, 22-year-old Shakeb Isaar, were accused of engaging in onscreen flirtation and double entendre. A Supreme Court spokesman claimed that on one occasion Isaar told Rezayee that her shoes were very nice and urged her to "hold up your legs" so that the audience could admire them. Isaar was subsequently attacked with a knife on a Kabul street and needed 12 stitches to close wounds to his hands.

In Afghanistan, a woman's own family can be her worst enemy:

It was also widely rumored that Rezayee was having relationships with young men, they said. Whether true or not, even the suspicion of extramarital sex can lead to the killing of a woman by her own family in Afghanistan to protect the family's honor in the eyes of their peers.

Personal and familial honor is a central plank of Afghan society, and honor killings are not uncommon. Last month, a young woman in a remote northeastern region of Afghanistan was reportedly stoned to death for having an affair outside marriage.

Such retribution is both culturally accepted and unlikely to result in legal repercussions.

"If you see your wife sleeping with someone and you kill them before complaining to the courts, if the couple were caught in the act then there is no charge that is investigable against you," said Seddiq, explaining the Supreme Court's position on such killings.

If Rezayee died at the hands of her family, it would be particularly tragic because she had described them in several interviews as her staunchest supporters.

Thanks to Eric for the link.

2 Comments:

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"her worst enemy"

Last I read, her brothers are suspects and were to be questioned about her killing.

 
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