A Little Joy for Afghanistan
I remember when my children were small and Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood ruled our TV. I didn’t mind because the characters taught my children manners, empathy, and truth. In the early days of integration, the Muppets taught enlightenment and Mr. Rogers taught acceptance and respect.
When I recently read that the Muppets were teaching respect for women on the Afghanistan TOLO TV and radio, I was happy for them. As they so often do, the children will lead us! Scripture foretold that, and it bears truth throughout history.
The Afghanistan version of Sesame Street, “Baghch-e-SimSim,” has Muppets dressed in traditional Afghan clothing. The character Zari, in a headscarf, is a six-year-old girl. Her four-year-old brother Zeerak will show the importance of respecting women. The program uses both official languages, Dari and Pashtun. In a deeply conservative male-dominant, Muslim nation, where girls don’t go to school and the literacy rate for women is among the lowest in the world, this concept will be a hard sell. The head of TOLO TV says his lessons aim to teach Afghan men that you have to respect your sister the same way as you do your brother, and emphasize the importance of gender equality and education. He says there is an overwhelmingly positive response from both parents and children to his programming. (I wonder if he has an armed bodyguard when he leaves the studio? He is surely considered radical!)
Kabul is more citified than the rest of Afghanistan, which is ages behind and deeply entrenched in myth, and sorry tradition, illiteracy, and suspicion, where farm animals are treated better than wives and there is practically no governance beyond family. The Underground Girls of Kabul gives me nightmares!
After being at war for 40 years, since the 1979 Soviet invasion, followed by the mujahedeen that lasted a decade, then a civil war that killed thousands of people in Kabul and other places, the Taliban took control in 1996 with brutal extremism. Girls and women have been banned from work and school, hidden and imprisoned in their homes, subject to brutality and violence ever since.
Perhaps it will take the Muppets another 40 years to undo this terror, but it’s wonderful that someone is trying. Is it possible that years from now, the grown children of Kabul will take their enlightened messages and a progressive life style into the countryside and live to teach others? The Muppets Take Kabul! One can hope.
Meantime we must pray for those like Massood Sanjer, the head of TOLO TV and others like him who recognize the importance of such changes for Afghanistan and are trying, at the risk of their lives.