Sunday, March 23,
KABUL -- In
the end, the 2,000 protesters denouncing Denmark and chanting "death to America"
proved no match for the euphoric, youthful enthusiasm bursting from the
sweltering hotel ballroom high atop the scenic hillside above
demonstrators were expressing their anger at Danish newspaper drawings depicting
the Prophet Mohammed, and a Dutch film that criticizes Islam. They burned
effigies of the filmmakers, and they burned the flags of the Netherlands and
Denmark. They created some tense moments for the security details of the foreign
VIPs and diplomats that also packed the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel
on this past holiday Friday.
But in the
end, the angry crowd burned itself out. No one was hurt, but more important,
very few in Afghanistan really seemed to care. No one, it seems - not even in a
country that has endured a generation of heartache - was going to be allowed to
spoil the grand finale of "Afghan Star."
television audience of 11 million viewers in a country of 30 million, this is
Afghanistan's version of Canadian or American Idol.
Afghan Star and I tried a lot to come here," said economics student Veda Khalid,
19, from the top balcony of the glitzy ballroom outfitted with two large video
screens, booming music and flashing lights. Young people wearing coloured
glowsticks mingled with foreign diplomats, who were invited to take in the
boyish-looking, Canadian-born Chris Alexander, now the United Nations' number
two in Kabul and Canada's former ambassador here, surveyed the scene with a wide
biggest event since Alexander came the first time," he grinned, referring to the
legendary conqueror's tear through the region 2,300 years ago.
300,000 Afghans voted for the winner via text messages on their cellphones.
A dapper Tajik Rafi Nabzada, 19, clad in a shimmering suit with a slick
black mane of hair, became Afghanistan's version of Carrie Underwood or Kelly
"He is a
young boy, very beautiful, a great voice," observed Karim Haidary, 20, decked
out in a beige, three-piece, pinstripe suit that paid a definite fashion homage
to the most popular young man in Afghanistan.
opinion, it shows the development of our country," said Haidary, who waited in a
line 100 deep to see the big show, while pick-up trucks filled with police
reinforcements circled the hotel parking lot before the
of competing cultural forces that played out Friday was obvious: The young new
Afghanistan - 60 per cent of the population is under 20 - contrasted with
protesters objecting to the portrayal of Islam in European film and print
But in its
three-year incarnation, Afghan Star has also become an unlikely political and
cultural battleground in its own right.
Islamic clerics have denounced the show, particularly because, in a country that
was once governed by the Taliban - which banned music and barred women from just
about everything - women have been featured as star
an 18-year-old Pashtun woman from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and
the front line of the current insurgency facing Canadian soldiers, placed third.
She was eliminated before Friday's final, but not before she was denounced for
shedding her burka and performing in nothing but a blue scarf around her head.
young woman from the western city of Herat came in eighth and received death
Mohseni, the slick Afghan-Australian whose TOLO TV debuted Afghan Star three
years ago, remains defiant against his critics.
"Our job is
to reflect people's views and sometimes this differs with the government and
certain people in power," Mohseni said in a weekend
his brothers - the children of an Afghan diplomat forced into exile after the
1979 Soviet Union invasion - have clashed with factions in the Afghan government
since their independently owned television station started doing hard-hitting
reports on corrupt warlords and social taboos such as pedophilia, forced
marriage and female self-immolation.
most conservative parts of the country, we dominate," said Mohseni, whose family
business has opened radio stations and magazines since returning here six years
station drew criticism at home and gained international praise abroad a few
years ago for putting the first female broadcasters on the air in
his brothers know full well that they have the means to flee Afghanistan if
things get too hot for them, but they say they aren't going anywhere, despite
believe they are waging an important battle for freedom of speech and cultural
diversity that will prove transformative for Afghanistan.
almost too deep now. It's a very exciting period. It's a struggle. Things are
not meant to be easy."