On "The United States of Al"
For diaspora Afghans in America, jingoistic American exceptionalism is the water we're swimming in, not the shark to avoid. Since the so-called Cold War, Afghanistan has been seen by the opportunistic American devil as nothing but bodies to bleed for their own ideological pissing contest. Where we see the mountains, rivers, and fields of our parents' lore, they see strategic outposts, targets, and the dwellings of "enemy combatants." Much like the Marvel franchise, I'm sure the Pentagon has final say on how the US war machine is presented in the show. This is the first clue that this show is not for us.
Why this premise? Why now?
The timing of this show reveals its motivation. I suspect CBS is reacting to the wild popularity of Ramy and the focus group machine spit out Afghanistan as the Muslim community du jour. I do not know Mr. Reza Aslan, but I do sincerely wish he kept Afghanistan the fuck out of his mouth. This Iranian "scholar" should surely know better than to construct such a premise for a show.
Teaming with Aslan is Chuck Lorre. Chuck Lorre is responsible for the Big Bang Theory's Raj. Raj, the character so emasculated by the writers that he could not speak to women for several seasons due to his debilitating anxiety around them. The upper-caste and white adjacent 2D portrayal of Raj as a representative of India gives me very little confidence in Lorre. This is not a man who even approaches subtlety or nuance.
The showrunners keep pointing to Afghans on the writing staff to absolve any criticism. Whether against Soviets or against critical leftists online, Americans continue to use Afghans to fight for them.
I don't begrudge any of the writing staff for using this show to further their career or even for thinking it could produce some forward momentum for Afghans. Capitalism is a constant series of contradictions and we all make unsavory choices. This isn't about any individual choice. The Afghans involved in the show should never have had to choose between having a seat at the table and submitting to a white vision of their homeland.
However, the notion of compromise for incremental progress, in the case of this show, is misguided at best and dishonest at worst.
This show is literally a vehicle for jokes about the relationship between an oppressor and his begrudging subject. I already dread the whiplash between "the war" and the laugh track. Will our ancestors' deaths be the setup or the punchline? Will the serious episodes swell with music at the end as we realize "we're all human, after all"?
The oldest rule in writing is "show, don't tell." The premise of the show handcuffs the writers from showing any humanity of the Afghan people. If they can be human, then the target audience (not us) will have to cope with uneasy feelings of destroying people and lands with history and personality. Those uneasy feelings are surely bad for ratings. This show is not for us, it is not for Afghans, this show is for those who want to feel good about their American government and their voting histories.
We are starved for recognition, representation, and immersion of our culture and Watan. We are so starved that the first reaction to even hearing "Afghanistan" is to swell with hopeful joy. But for those who recognize the American culture for what it is, this joy gives way to poisonous bitterness.
Fuck me for thinking I could ever be the target audience. Fuck them for lulling me into trusting them again. This show is not for Afghans. This show is for white Americans who want to feel "woke" for hearing a word or two of Pakhto. As a proud Pakhtun I will not sit idly by while my language and ethnicity are used by the colonizer to erase the cherished diversity of Afghanistan. I want the whole world to know of and appreciate Pashtunwali, but not at the expense of fellow Afghans. Not like this, and not in my name will my beautiful non-Pashtun Afghans be stricken from the record. It is the obligation of every Afghan scattered to the winds to keep Afghanistan alive in our hearts and minds. It is our obligation to generate knowledge and maintain it. Our existence and our visibility is our resistance.
More to follow. Stay strong, stay loud.
Until next time, Khudai P'aman