KABUL — Move over “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” “Afghanistan’s Got Talent” may soon be hitting the airwaves.
Three similar, locally produced singing competitions already have captivated local TV audiences, but some government officials are outraged, claiming that such programs are against Islam.
Communication capabilities and the Afghan television industry, outlawed more than a decade ago under the Taliban, have undergone rapid changes and dramatic growth, largely thanks to assistance from Western governments.
Some programs, like these talent shows, are styled on their Western counterparts, and this perceived interference of Western culture in Islamic society is likely one of the factors that has prompted public criticism from members of parliament.
Parliamentarian Dr. Ramazan Bashar Dost, of Kabul, recently wrote on his official Facebook page: “Since parliament decided from the beginning that some of the different TV shows should be stopped or banned, the ones that are against Islam, there are two which I’m talking about here: One is ‘Afghan Star,’ and the other is ‘Iffat.’ ”
Both “Afghan Star” and “Iffat” resemble Western TV singing contests such as “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent.”
The contestants audition in front of judges, and if they’re chosen, they have the opportunity to sing in front of enthusiastic audiences on national TV. Viewers can then vote by cellphone for their favorites. Performers who get the most votes progress to the next week’s competition.
Earlier this summer, media reported that the producers of the “America’s Got Talent” series would launch a local version of the show, “Afghanistan’s Got Talent.”
Simon Cowell’s show, set to begin auditions in either September or March, will be the fourth such program vying for Afghan viewer allegiance.
After several episodes of the newest singing show to air in the country, “The Voice of Afghanistan,” which replicates the American program “The Voice,” Bashar Dost posted an additional comment on Facebook, saying he opposed such programs.
The first time a woman performed, Shabana Faryad, the judges on the show — who invite contestants to join their teams and then act as voice coaches as the competition progresses — appeared surprised and delighted to hear the voice of a female contestant. In that initial “blind audition” phase, they listened with their backs turned to the singers.
Afterward, the show’s official website read: “Despite the fact that Ms. Faryad had some obvious shortcomings as a singer, still two Coaches, Aryana (Sayeed) and Qais (Ulfat), pressed the buttons on their chairs and attempted to have Shabana join their Team.”
Faryad wore a traditional scarf, or “chadar,” during her performance and a stylish pair of sunglasses.
But the clash of cultures on this show is apparent. The female judge, Aryana Sayeed, a popular Afghan singer and artist, does not cover her hair and wears European and American fashions. Sayeed, unlike Faryad, left Afghanistan as a child, and grew up in Europe. She calls London her “home away from home,” and her Western style has drawn criticism.
“I’m not sure if Aryana Sayeed is aware about her religion. If she had so she will never do such actions,” wrote one male viewer on the TV program’s official Facebook page. “She is a Muslim girl, but looks like a non-Muslim girl. Shame on her!”
Other comments were more positive. “Nice voice!” wrote one viewer under a posted video.
However, Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a representative from western Herat province, said at a June session of parliament, “I can prove that TV channels are one of the reasons for the war in Afghanistan. The un-Islamic broadcasts by some TV channels provide the Taliban a reason to wage their war against the Afghan government and train suicide bombers.”
Clearly, “Voice of Afghanistan” producers, hoping to win broad support for their program, will have to navigate the sentiments of conservative members of the government who will try to ensure more traditional programming, believing they are protecting the country.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.