American comedy finally gets the Afghan war right


Trevor Noah’s joke about President Biden’s mangled withdrawal from Afghanistan at the 2022 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is one of many sharp jabs that suggest how political comedy is finally moving beyond the “crypto-racist cringe,” writes Ali M. Latifi. Courtesy of AP pictures.

This piece is published alongside the Zócalo/ASU Gammage event “What can we laugh at? this Thursday, September 15 at 7 p.m. PDT. Register to attend in person or online here.

A joke can be the best way to introduce real issues. Comedians can poke fun at the absurdity of the human condition, even tackle taboo subjects, like America’s brutal war in my home country of Afghanistan.

It took until I was in college, when Fahim Anwar “So, you were invited to a Afghan weddingreleased in 2007, to finally see an Afghan who managed to do what the other actors were doing. Anwar, who was still working his day job as aerospace engineer, racked up 500,000 views on YouTube for the “how-to” video, which quickly became cult among Afghan Americans. Finally, one of our own spoke of how ridiculous but endearing our family practices and expectations could be. It wasn’t brutal, but rather a touch of humor in the conversations we had with our cousins ​​in our bedrooms, a safe distance from our parents.

But comedians like Anwar were outliers in a post-9/11 America. Most of the time, we had to suffer from partisan and racist flattery against Afghans, Arabs and Muslims in general. Think of the Islamophobic jokes Joan Rivers felt perfectly comfortable making about Palestiniansof which she sadly said “deserved“die. Or his not funny joke about there being”a takeacross energy-poor Afghanistan. Plus Kathy Griffin’s dumb “the whole country of Kuwait smells like fart” stand-up or she story to find her “cheerful, even in Kandahar, in Afghanistan”.

And then there’s Bill Maher saying, “It’s that time of year again, April 15, taxes. I know it’s depressing, but remember you’re paying for roads, bridges, hospitals and an army to keep the nation free. Unfortunately, that nation is Afghanistan. He may have had a political point about the military-industrial complex (a point he made in other post-9/11 comments that cost him his show). But the joke proved smug and indifferent, given his years of Islamophobic rhetoric. Not to mention the numerous reports of abuse, killings and intimidation of Afghan civilians by US-led forces.

As much as these comedians may have hated George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and even Donald Trump, their comedy wasn’t all that far removed from what these men and their followers have been spouting since the early 2000s. Democrat, but their jokes were reminiscent of the “shitty country” remark.

In recent years, some political comedies have evolved beyond the crypto-racist grimace to address the hypocrisy of America’s “war on terror,” signaling people’s fatigue and anger towards it.

However, in recent years, some political comedies have evolved beyond the crypto-racist grimace to address the hypocrisy of America’s “war on terror,” signaling people’s fatigue and anger towards it. A month before the first anniversary of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, for example, comedian Andrew Schulz opened his special Infamous with a joke about the politics surrounding the war: “Be honest, is there anyone here who likes Joe Biden? We have Taliban here? Schulz managed to shatter the outcome of 20 years of US-led occupation in Afghanistan with a single punchline.

At this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner Trevor Noah told a similar joke“No president in my memory has given opportunities to more marginalized groups. I’m talking about women, the LGBTQ community, the Taliban, the list goes on and on.

These jokes provide sharp humor where there are usually surges of anger and resentment over botched occupation and withdrawal. Humor works because it manages to be both subtle and direct. It’s political, not flattering. And it deals with political realities, not tired punchlines about chadaris, “burqas” or beards.

Those of us who have lived through the 20 years of US occupation of Afghanistan know that it was President Biden who followed through on former President Donald Trump’s 2020 peace accord. with the Taliban. We also know that Biden’s ill-conceived withdrawal from Afghanistan cost the lives of many Afghans, some trying to flee by clinging to the wheels of departing US military planes days after the Taliban returned to power. Immediately after the Taliban took over the country, Biden instituted sanctions, withheld Afghan assets and cut aid, which was quickly followed by other Western countries and international organizations. This left the Afghan people unemployed, penniless and hungry, just as a government accused of massive human rights abuses took control of the country.

This is the kind of hypocrisy that hurts.

I appeared on a podcast produced by former Obama White House staff shortly after the Taliban took over, where I said, “Biden, in many ways, turned out to be a thousand times worse than Trump .” I stand by these words. For Afghans, Trump’s honesty about hating us lacked the hypocrisy of Biden claiming he never cared. Especially since he called one of Afghanistan’s most beautiful provinces “hell on earth” and reportedly told former President Hamid Karzai that Pakistan, which Afghans have long accused of helping and encouraged the Taliban, is “50 times more important than Afghanistan for the United States”. states.”

My comment prompted an online backlash from Democratic Party loyalists, who declined to criticize the 79-year-old politician’s sanctions policy. My argument was instantly lost to entrenched partisanship. Clever comedy, which is becoming increasingly mainstream, goes the way of making fun of rigid partisanship in America and getting to the root of important issues.

In Kabul, where I have lived since 2013, we have spent years watching comedy sketches like Shabak-e Khanda, a popular show that has been very vocal in its criticism of corrupt and selfish Western-backed politicians, hypocrisies and double standards. of Afghan culture. Now many of these comedians have left the country for fear of the Taliban. With their off-air programs, we had to rely on our own family, friends, and social media for comedy. When Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Hasan Akhund asked “Chi shai ghwari? (“What do you want?”) in an Eid-day speech at the Kabul Palace, we mockingly quoted in a multitude of crude punchlines all that is wrong with the Islamic emirate of Taliban, presenting pressing real-life issues, some literal – we want jobs, we want our teenage daughters back to school – and some more crass and mocking – “You want to know what we want? We will show you what we want! (among other things that cannot be printed in case the Islamic emirate reads this). As always, every print and response is a reminder that Afghans haven’t lost their sense of humor, and that jokes get through the toughest and most twisted times – and are the strongest hand to the truth. .

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