'The Voice Of Afghanistan,' A Reality TV Show That Kabul Conservatives Hate

 @mathildehamel
on July 31 2013 6:08 AM
The Voice of Afghanistan
The Voice Of Afghanistan is a controversial program in the country. It has been particularly critiqued, because of its proximity to the Western world. www.facebook.com/TheVoiceAfghanistan

Her name is Aryana Sayeed and she has earned the wrath of religious conservatives in her native Afghanistan. For Sayeed, a singer by profession, is also a judge on the panel of "The Voice of Afghanistan," one of several popular talent programs on Afghan television. Eschewing the traditional Muslim wardrobe, she wears clothes in a Western style with a lot of makeup. One could say that she even resembles American reality TV vixen Kim Kardashian. And this is specifically why she rubs some people in Afghanistan, an extremely conservative society, the wrong way. Some have even threatened to murder her on social media networks, claiming she is trying to destroy local culture with Western mores.

“They told me that they would kill me, some of them said even if you are not in Afghanistan, wherever in the world you are, trust me I will kill you,” said Sayeed, as reported by the British Television channel ITV. Since the fall of the Taliban regime 12 years ago in Kabul, the Afghan media has enjoyed an unprecedented expansion. Under the Taliban's harsh edicts, many western movies and television programs were banned-- but now there are around 75 television channels and about 175 radio stations in the country, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph.

This enormous cultural revolution is viewed by some as a manifestation of the country's slow path towards democracy and freedom. But for others – especially for conservative politicians and religious residents – some of the programming goes too far by spreading what they perceive as alien values that threaten to destroy Afghan culture and identity.

An Afghan parliamentarian, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, is determined to preserve that culture and leads a campaign to review the programs that are broadcast on television. “I have already made it clear in the lower house [of parliament] that I am going to start a jihad against these kinds of shows and programs on our television channels,” he said, according to The Telegraph.

Although the Afghan media are much more open to the outside world than before, on the streets of Kabul, a vastly different mindset exists. Women are rarely seen in public, and when they are, they almost always wear the burqa reflecting the Islamic laws that govern the nation.

Still, the conservatives may be fighting a losing battle, as Western-style entertainment, including reality shows, grows in popularity along with the proliferation of radio and TV stations. There was even a "Koran Idol" type program, in which contestants competed over who was the most familiar with Islamic sacred texts.

In fact, reality shows are so popular in the country that Simon Cowell – the creator of "The X-Factor" and the "Idol" franchise – is considering launching the local version of "America’s Got Talent."

However, the one show that sparks the most controversy and commentary is Aryana Sayeed's "The Voice of Afghanistan." Modeled on American talent shows with blind auditions and rounds of competition, the program is both loved and hated by the public. The comments on the show usually concentrate on the four judges, who are regarded as purveyors of Western culture, given that they frequently speak in English and wear Western-style clothes.

Sayeed is particularly targetted for not wearing a headscarf. Aminullah Qaderi, a 24-year-old student at Kabul University, told The Telegraph that he has watched the program. “I did not like it because the way the judges are dressed and especially that female one,” he said. “It is totally a Western thing.”

Although Sayeed is under pressure because of the headscarf issue, the program is dominated by males, as there is only one woman – wearing a headscarf – among the 47 contestants for stardom.

MP Khawasi himself said that while on paper "The Voice of Afghanistan" seemed like a good idea with a “sweet name,” the actual content amounts to a total misrepresentation of the “culture and customs of our country.”

Sayeed, who was born in Kabul but grew up in Pakistan, now lives in London. In an interview with the BBC, she said how difficult it was for her to perform in concerts in her own country, as she does not wear the headscarf and people view this as a provocation. 

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