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Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press from 1989 to 1997 before joining the Greek press and has reported from many countries in the region. Close.

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. more »

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Filmmakers' Moral Obligation

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?

Athens, Greece - Both sides are to blame – but the responsibility of the film producers is greater. Because they believe that they represent a tradition of liberal democracy and tolerance, they should have taken care to protect the boy actors from the anger and bigotry that threatened them in Afghanistan. Those who threatened the boys were acting in character, while those who exposed them to danger were denying the values that they claim to represent through their careless folly.

The producers of “The Kite Runner” ought to have known that the Afghan boys who were used in the film’s homosexual rape scene would be exposed to the violent fury of compatriots who would be outraged by the depiction, as Afghanistan has unfortunately become the world’s model of intolerance and social violence. The simplest solution would have been to use actors who did not live in Afghanistan, even at the risk of losing some of the power that these particular boys brought to the film. Then the anger of those who have threatened the boys would be directed solely at the author of the book and the film’s producers, not at these defenseless boys.

That’s the simple part of the question. But the issue is far more complex, and it involves the terrible problems in Afghan society and the way these are seen and portrayed by Western observers. In the last decade, in our wired era, anything written or said about a society can immediately be learned by the members of that society. That wasn’t true in the past, when the depictions and opinions of authors would reach very few people – usually just members of their own society. So anyone writing or commenting on troubled societies must be extremely sensitive to the dangers faced by those who speak to them or who help them in any other way. The foreign journalist, author, soldier or member of an NGO will go back to a carefree society, whereas the locals who assisted him or her will stay behind, will be known and will be held accountable by those who oppose the foreign presence.

There is no question that Afghanistan has shown the world just how far intolerance can go and how absurd and wretched it can be, ranging from the destruction of priceless monuments of global importance, such as the Bamiyan Buddhas, to the equally monumental crime of depriving women of an education and of respect as equal members of society. It is the duty of local and foreign artists and reporters to depict the problems in this society - as a duty to their home audience but also to provide a record that will one day be part of Afghanistan’s heritage. This may often appear as a condescending imposition of a Western, liberal judgment on societies that have other values or are plagued by fundamental disputes. So be it: even angry denial of criticism can be a starting point for self-examination and encouragement of forces of change (if the foreign intervention does not lead only to a backlash).

No one can accept being ridiculed by another culture, and it is only the self-confident democracies with a tradition of debate and tolerance that can weather the criticism of other cultures - even reinforcing their sense of moral superiority through their (greater) tolerance of those who are different or who criticize them. So it is no surprise when troubled societies (which may be well aware of their own problems or indifferent to them) explode in anger when foreigners depict them in an unflattering light. And even if The Kite Runner author is an Afghan-American, many in Afghanistan will undoubtedly see the book and the film as an American project.

Afghanistan is a society in transition and turmoil. It has suffered enormous losses in terms of time, money and human endeavor. But its future is in the hands of Afghans. They are the ones who will be able to turn back the tide of Talibanism or will surrender. Foreign observers have every right to jump into the fray with their reports and comments, just as the Afghans have the right to tell them to get lost. This is the ferment in which the world moves on.

But when the clash of cultures leads to specific human beings being exposed to the violence of moralistic absolutism, then those who have it in their power to protect those people have the moral obligation to keep them out of the firing line.

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