Afghan pop idol a boost for democracy: UK filmmaker

Mon May 11, 2009 8:35am EDT
 
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By Natasha Elkington

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - As Afghanistan prepares to go to the polls in August, a new type of democracy is sweeping the country -- a controversial Afghan "Pop Idol" show where even women have strutted their stuff on stage.

British filmmaker Havana Marking captured it in "Afghan Star" a documentary that follows four young contestants as they compete in a talent show similar to Britain's X-Factor or American Idol and where viewers vote for their favorite singers via mobile phone text messaging. Marking talked to Reuters.

Q: How is the show changing the country?

A: It is creating a new identity in Afghanistan, in that all tribes are equal, men and women are equal, rich and poor are equal, these things are incredibly radical ideas in a tribal elder society. To have people from the same ethnic group being judged in the same way, obviously men and women, but to have a rich guy singing next to a poor guy - that is an incredible and radical vision of what the future could be like in Afghanistan.

Q: In what sense has the show taught democracy?

A: I think what's important in terms of democratic training - is that it has taught people how to lose because when you are from a warrior society, losing is an insult, it's an insult to your clan, an insult to your family, so you have to take revenge, that is the whole nature of a warring tribal culture. If you can lose with grace and lose with dignity and you can still be respected, you can get second place and the fact that someone from a different tribe came first and you came second, it doesn't mean you are not going to be a successful singer, it just means you can come back and try again next year. And that is really a key part of democracy actually, is that you lose and you realize that the best man won. I didn't realize what a sort of cultural attitude that was.

Q: Could you elaborate on the voting part of the show?

A: Voting, that is a big thing, the actual taking part in democratic votes. Again where you have one vote for one person, where everyone is equal and you personally have an influence on an outcome, is again incredibly empowering and very important. There is an element of people voting for their own but at the end of the day, there is no one tribe in the majority there, so if you want to win, you do have to appeal beyond your cultural identity.   Continued...