'Afghan Onion' Introduces Daring Satire In A Bleak Land
Satire in Afghanistan
NEW DELHI: “Taliban Suspend Negotiations With Government After News Of President Ghani Death Leaked In A Secret Memo” reads the headline for today’s main story in the Afghan Onion, an English language satirical news site based in Afghanistan. Daring, you think? The publication has previously referred to First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum as the “Vodka General” -- a play on the former militia commander’s reputation for enjoying his alcohol (frowned upon in Islam, as you should know).
A look at some recent headlines reveal the intent of the publication:
“Hamid Karzai Blasts NATO, ISAF And Every Other Foreigner, And Calls For Al Qaeda Reform.”
“Marshall Vodka Vows “I'd Rather Go Banana Than Take Bribes For Pictorial Campaign””
“Foreign Office Summons Afghan Ambassador, Demands To Love Pakistan Despite Support For Terrorism”
“Hameed Gul Death Sparks Mutiny In Pakistan, Taliban and Mujahideen Pups Revolt”
“Karzai Babies Declare Victory After Ghani Puts On Karakul”
“Obama Ups The Ante In War On Terror, Hails Trophy Hunting of Cecil The Afghans”
The pictures accompanying the articles are worth mentioning separately. Take the picture for the article titled: “Mohaqiq and Dashte Barchi Erupt With Joy After Majeed Qarar Embraced Marazi.”
Check out the picture for the article titled, “Pakistan Envoy Arrives In Kabul, Forgets His Talking Points And Ruins The Dinner.”
So who are the Afghan Onion; these brave crusaders who don’t think twice about zinging the region’s most powerful (across political affiliations)? The website’s “About Us” page doesn’t offer too many answers. It reads:
“Afghan Onion is now Afghanistan’s leading news publication, offering exclusive stories not available to many journalists. We aspire to achieve the highest standards set forth for homegrown reporters by foreign mentors, and strictly follow journalistic code of conduct to encroach on peoples’ privacy and sensationalize their trivial stories.
In addition to Afghan hospitality, Afghan Onion boosts unparalleled record of politically correct posts. Afghan Onion is the graveyard of journalism! Our staff are Dyslexic.”
Great. There’s a FAQ section if you want more information. Excerpts read:
What if I want to sue Afghan Onion?
Answer: Knock yourself out.
Can we condemn Afghan Onion?
Answer: Criticism in particularly is welcomed so we can fire our dismal staff and to encourage our authors to work harder or go home. Things we have to do to keep y'all entertained, whew!
More information is available elsewhere. The site seems to have come up around the time of the presidential elections in Afghanistan last year. The election was plagued by huge allegations of fraud, with general perception being that Abdullah Abdullah deserved to win. Voters, especially first-time voters, seemed disheartened with what came to be known as a US-brokered compromise, where Ashraf Ghani was elected President.
"The election turned out to be a funny joke. It became a theater for foreign meddling," one of the site's two founders, who maintain anonymity because of the fear of retaliation, said in an interview in Kabul to the LA Times. "Deep down, Afghans were seething due to the mess, which left a void for satire, and thus we began to be comical for a much-needed respite amid the usual political tension."
The other founder lives outside of Afghanistan. Neither of the two founders had any experience with satire, but used various reference points -- most notably the Onion, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and the Comedy Central show "Tosh.0."
According to the LA Times, the writers say they have already received an "indirect threat" from Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, the former Kabul police chief after they Tweeted a photo of Salangi in a hospital bed with the caption: "Thanks for all the warm wishes. It was a C-section. Both mother and baby are doing great. With love."
Safe or not, the people behind Afghan Onion are not alone. Satire seems to be growing in Afghanistan, with the Facebook page Kabul Taxi drawing perplexed reactions from those in the establishment (and the political figures outside of it).
The page itself is in Dari, and has clearly angered the establishment as evinced by the fact that Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security hauled in two local reporters as it suspected them to be linked to the Facebook page.
The summons came after Haneef Atmar, the powerful National Security Council adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, was the target of a post on Kabul Taxi that mocked him over his number of advisers and their acitivities.
The NSC issued a statement accusing Kabul Taxi of leaking government secrets and naming some NSC staff, thereby presenting a “serious security risk” to their lives. "The NSC office with respect to freedom of expression and people's access to information, has asked concerned authorities to act against the offenders of this case to prevent further leaks of secrets in the security sector," the statement added.
The Afghan journalists union defended Kabul Taxi, pointing out that the staff names were already published on the NSC's own Facebook page along with their photos.
Satire initiatives like the Afghan Onion and Kabul Taxi are all the more important in Afghanistan, where freedom of the media is under routine threat. A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this year notes the violence and intimidation faced by journalists in Afghanistan from all sides. The 48-page report, “‘Stop Reporting or We’ll Kill Your Family’: Threats to Media Freedom in Afghanistan,” documents harassment, intimidation, and attacks on journalists and the Afghan government’s failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible. The failure to protect journalistic freedom has emboldened those determined to suppress criticism of the government, the security forces, and other powerful entities in Afghan society, the report said.