Television and the Afghan Culture Wars

Media and Culture

By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar | April 2021


“One of my fondest memories as a child growing up in Kabul in the 1970s was gathering with my extended family to watch television at my grandparents’ house” This is the opening line of the Introduction from Television and the Afghan Culture Wars.

Wazhmah Osman presents a clear picture of what it was like to live in Afghanistan while being enveloped by its government’s laws and the strictness of the country’s cultural norms. Wazhmah Osman is a filmmaker and assistant professor at the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia, United States. She is the co-director of the critically acclaimed documentary Postcards from Tora Bora and the co-author of Afghanistan: A Very Short Introduction.

In Television and the Afghan Culture Wars, Wazhmah presents an insider look into Afghanistan’s social norms and cultural narratives. The book’s six chapters cover a lot of insights into the social, ethnic, traditional, and political aspects of Afghanistan. The concept of the true Afghan culture is discussed in the light of how the Western media have been portraying it.

In the first chapter, “Legitimizing Modernity: Indigenous Modernities, Foreign Incursions, and Their Backlashes” Wazhmah shares a brief historical account of the reforms and sheds light on how the intervention of external forces (British, Soviet/Russian, American) changed the political and social fabric of Afghanistan. The era discussed ranges from the colonial times to the end of the Cold War.

In the second chapter, “Imperialism, Globalization, and Development: Overlaps and Disjunctures”, Wazhmah looks into how the involvement of other countries in Afghanistan’s state of affairs has affected its present day situation and stance in the region. She ponders over the impact of the ‘post-9/11 international development interventions’. In the section, “Imperial Ambitions: Foreign Projects, Occupations, and Invasions”, Wazhmah writes, “Known as the ‘Gateway to Asia’, Afghanistan has historically been at the crossroads of imperial ambitions. In what was called the Great Game, the colonial powers of England and Russia would often instigate trouble, pitting the various ethnic groups against one another.”

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