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?
It’s easy to say, “A plague on both your houses,” to The Kite Runner’s producers for exposing the Afghan child actors to danger and to the Afghans who are threatening those boys.
Naive doesn’t even begin to describe The Kite Runner’s filmmakers. Yes, it was commendable for the novel’s author Khaled Hosseini to smash a taboo like male rape in his novel. But by recruiting Afghan child actors who actually live in the country to carry out that taboo-smashing, the filmmakers left it to children to absorb the anger of those who hate self-criticism of any kind.
We are talking about a country where the Taliban are resurgent in some areas, but more importantly where their brand of ultra-orthodox zealotry is shared by many and cuts across sects and ethnic groups.
The Taliban did not invent the tribal nature of Afghan society, nor did they invent its honor-based foundations. And while I find the Taliban’s super-zealotry abhorrent, I am just as appalled by the hypocrisy too readily apparent in such honor-based systems. The price it exacts to maintain its façade of honor is most often paid by the weakest – usually women and children. In the case of the film adaptation of , the filmmakers basically offered those child actors on a platter.
But those who are threatening the child actors are cowards. Rape is not exclusive to Afghan culture and blaming children for acting out scenes in a film is hypocrisy that is too easy to dismantle.
While the sorry drama surrounding The Kite Runner was playing out, Reuters News Agency ran a story that demolished any accusations that The Kite Runner’s homosexual rape scenes had “invented” anything about Afghan culture. The Reuters story was about "bacha bereesh", or boys without beards - teenage boys who dress up as girls and dance for male patrons at parties in northern Afghanistan.
The ancient practice has led to some of the boy dancers being turned into sex slaves by wealthy and powerful patrons, often former warlords, who dress the boys up as girls, shower them with gifts and keep them as "mistresses", Reuters reported. Those warlords and wealthy patrons are the worthy targets for the misguided anger over The Kite Runner.
As a Muslim, I know that many of my co-religionists would rather pretend homosexuality didn’t exist or that it’s some kind of “western” disease. I am reminded of the film adaptation of the Egyptian novel The Yacoubian Building, which also featured scenes of homosexual rape as well as consensual male sex.
Again, that book and film smashed the taboos that surround homosexuality in Egypt – but unlike in The Kite Runner, the males involved were all adults. Watching the scenes that made it past the censors’ scissors brought Egyptians face-to-uncomfortable-face with an issue many would rather ignore.
And finally, the homosexual rape in The Kite Runner was a kind of “punishment” meant to hurt and humiliate that is obviously not exclusive to Afghan culture, but will remain a weapon unless courageous victims speak out.
Last year in Egypt, a young activist and blogger was badly beaten in Egyptian police custody and sodomized with a piece of card. He smuggled a letter out of jail about his ordeal. Although Egyptian authorities denied his claims, the courage of Mohammed El Sharkawy opened the door for other men to speak about their trauma of being sodomized in Egyptian police custody.
In November, an Egyptian judge sentenced two police officers to three years in jail for sodomizing a bus driver with a stick. The rape was to “punish” the driver for interfering in an argument the police were having with his cousin. Ultimately, the main piece of evidence against those officers was a film clip they made using a mobile phone during the assault. But it was the courage of the bus driver, Imad El Kabir, to face down the shame and humiliation of that assault and to testify against his attackers that turned the case around.
The only good thing that could come out of The Kite Runner fiasco is if it helps to bring a similar reckoning to Afghanistan. Otherwise, the exile in the United Arab Emirates of those child actors would be just another drop in the ocean of tragedy that has flooded Afghanistan of late.
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