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A new group of fundamentalists tries to force its morality on cultural life in Herat.
HERAT, Afghanistan — Ah, Herat, the pearl of Afghanistan, a city so steeped in culture that it was once said “you cannot stick out your leg without kicking a poet.”
And now the site of a group of censors determined to impose restrictions on cultural life that would make the Taliban smile.
The “Morality and Knowledge Association” recently established in Herat wants to ban women’s voices from the airwaves, remove the “corruption” of foreign movies and soap operas from Afghans’ nightly viewing, and generally bring the media back into line with what they consider “Islamic principles and Afghan culture.”
“Our enemies are driving our young men to visit prostitutes, and they make our sisters crave immodesty. They promote gambling, wine drinking and ruinous luxury. They destroy our economy and they mock our religion. They do this through the media,” proclaim brightly colored posters now appearing all over Herat, in shops, on city walls and in other public places.
The association has about 60 staffers, says its director, Aminullah Mohtasem, all of whom work voluntarily.
“There has been such an increase in corruption since the foreigners came to Afghanistan that we finally had to inform the public about these conspiracies” said Mohtasem. “We are conducting public awareness programs to try somehow and solve these problems.”
According to Mohtasem, the association is privately owned and supported “by good people,” but he declined to give any further details.
Over the past few weeks the association has intensified its campaign against the media by sending members to various outlets to lobby for a stricter interpretation of Islamic culture when making programming choices.
In particular, they are against music by women singers, which they insist is prohibited by Islam. They also want to yank the wildly popular foreign soap operas that keep people from Kandahar to Badakhshan glued to their television sets every evening.
“We fight against corruption,” said Zia Ahmad Fazeli, a volunteer at the association. “We send groups to mosques, schools and other public places to preach about the harm done by these anti-Islamic and anti-Afghan programs.”
Herat’s religious institutions are wholeheartedly behind the movement.
“This program is necessary for the reform of society,” said Mir Farooq Husseini, who introduced himself as the spokesman for religious councils in western Afghanistan. “The danger from these media outlets is greater than the danger posed by foreign forces in Afghanistan.”
According to Husseini, the association will issue three warnings to an offending media outlet, then, if no changes are made, they will decide what action to take.