by Masuma Khan
My name is Masuma Khan. I was born in raised in Kjipuktuk Mi’kma’ki (Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada) and I’m a local community organizer and artist. I am a Pashtun, and a descendant of the Barakzai Dynasty. My experience as someone who’s family has been in exile for over a hundred years due to British colonialism is a unique intersection I bring. I mention my ancestors because I feel I have a duty and love for my people and land. In my hearts of heart I have no want for power. I only want our mutual liberation.
I am concerned about the colonial tropes that are being propagated in the show “United States of Al”. British and American imperialism has had generational impacts on us as a people and also on our lands.
I am worried about the ways in which the character of Al is written in a very Orientalist lens, while also invalidating this histories of others. When the White soldier tells his sister, and thus the audience, that Pakhto is the only language spoken in Afghanistan is just one of the examples of insensitivity present in this show.
I think being a proud Pashtun can be conveyed without throwing shade or propagating Pashtun nationalism. This sort of lateral violence is detrimental to our community. I think we as Pashtuns have a role in making sure that we do not continue in discourses and ideology that harm other tribes.
From my point of view, this character and story line actively infantilise Afghans. This takes away the agency of Afghans and also dehumanises them at the same time. I think the lack of complexities as a means to package the Afghan experience for mainstream pop culture is a huge mistake especially when the nuances that are part of the Afghan experience aren’t met.
Oversimplification of Afghans is tied to Orientalist discourses written by the British and the West in general. For example, the ways in which Pashtuns were said to have similar structure to Scottish folks when that is so far from the truth. Comparing us to the Scottish was a means to over-simplify our context, culture and histories. It was a means for the British to use their own epistemology to justifying their ideas of us instead of recognizing the fact the we have our own history, language, structure of tribes and code of ethics specific to only Pashtuns.
The ongoing oversimplification of our people has lead to the need to “save Afghan women”, and more specifically perpetuates the white saviour complex. I feel that this show caters to white fragility and white audiences in attempts to say “I’m a good Afghan, we all aren’t blood thirsty villains.” This in essence proves the ways in which it further propagates colonial tropes of Afghans, rooted in Islamophobia, Orientalism, colonialism and most concerning; white supremacy.
I’m writing this in hopes of a discourse and in hopes of addressing the issues with this show. I firmly believe as Afghans we need to be building a community rooted in deep love and care.
I love our land, and our people and because of this I have a great fear that this show will further inspire a generation of Americans, who are occupying stolen lands, to further their need to “save us” Afghans, or at least the ones like Al.
I feel it is incredibly irresponsible to believe that four Afghans can speak for a whole Nation and diaspora. Afghans are not a homogenous people, nor have we ever been. For example, imagine, if a person from the Lakota Nation spoke for all neighbouring tribes / nations in so called North America? That would never happen, as a Lakota person could not speak on the issues faced by another Indigenous person. Instead, they would use the opportunity to speak on their own specific experience. So to this I say, if this show was written to showcase four Afghans experiences, who was it really written for? Who is represented on your team? Which tribes are at the table? Which skin tones? Which social classes are part of this conversation?
I believe our community deserves better than a neoliberal idea for what progress looks like. It is time we as Afghans seek to decolonize our community and root ourselves in deep love and liberation. For there is no liberation for any Afghan, until we are all liberated.