Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Kite Runner

‘Kite Runner’ Threats Reveal Afghanistan’s Hypocrisy
(this is my post to Postglobal Washington Posts online blog where I am a panelist)
and the main page is on

The Question: The producers of the movie "The Kite Runner" had to evacuate three boy actors from Afghanistan because they were involved in a scene portraying homosexual rape. Who's at fault here: the movie producers who exposed the boys to danger, or the Afghan culture that threatens them?

I am a Pathan from the tribal areas of Pakistan, so perhaps this question poses difficult issues. From a modern perspective there is no doubt that the lack of tolerance, especially on artistic expressions, has been a matter of concern for people like me. I question whether the Afghans who have threatened the actors are suggesting that homosexuality doesn't happen in Afghanistan, or whether they are suggesting that exposing its existence is a crime. The reality is that homosexuality has been prevalent in Afghan culture for centuries, and proliferated especially during the Taliban years when contact between women and men was very difficult. In The Kite Runner, the homosexual rape is the contentious issue especially because a boy who later grows up to be a Taliban official commits it. The portrayal highlights the fact that often in Afghan society during times of war, captured enemy men were sodomized. As British officers from the Afghan wars would say: ‘Better to put a bullet through your own head then be taken prisoner.’

Clearly the reaction towards the actors is not acceptable, but we have to understand that such a reaction was pretty much expected, even though the film was made outside Afghanistan. There are a number of taboo issues for these societies; homosexuality is clearly one of them, even though a famous Pashtu poet wrote elaborate poems praising boys over men. This is indeed the hypocritical side of society, and in times such as this they will take the religious view that homosexuality is a sin – just like the Catholics and conservative Christians would react to the idea of same-sex marriages. The difference, and a fundamental one, is that here it is not the homosexuals who are being threatened, but the actors who portrayed the characters. This is where the lack of tolerance shows up.

On the other hand, the filmmakers have much to answer for: from reportedly paying the key actors only $18,000 (the going rate for a small side role in a regular Paramount movie, perhaps), to not anticipating that the response from within Afghan would threaten the safety of the actors. One of the actors, Zekaria Ibrahmi, (who plays Amir as a child) had expressed his desire to study and live in the U.S. Perhaps that wish should have been built into the contract, to ensure the actors were safe.

The sad part is that as a modern thinking Pathan, I can see both sides of the equation. While I vehemently disagree with fundamentalism and intolerance, I also understand that this reaction should have been expected – and the filmmakers should have had a contingency plan.

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