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June 21, 2010

Kabul's 'Jihadi gangster' takes on Afghan police corruption

Last summer, Kabul-based artist Aman Mojadidi came up with an intriguing idea. Anpblog

What would happen if he bought some Afghan police uniforms, set up a fake checkpoint and offered an apology - along with a little cash -- to drivers used to paying small bribes at checkpoints across the nation?

The result was "Payback," a 15-minute short film that documents the culture jamming experiment on the streets of Kabul.

For one afternoon, Mojadidi and director Walied Osman staked out a section of Kabul road, set up the road block and flagged down car after car.

The entire afternoon was captured on hidden camera. Most of the befuddled drivers he stopped eventually took the money -- about $2.

Mojadidi said he wanted to examine the roots of pervasive police corruption and see how drivers would respond when they were given a little reverse "baksheesh."

By the end, 16 of the 20 drivers offered money took the cash.

Remarkably, the whole reverse bribe project took place under the watch of a real policeman who, at the end of the day, without a hint of irony, asked for a little baksheesh of his own.

The experiment also exposed an ongoing problem in Afghanistan.

When it is illegal to sell police and military uniforms in Kabul, they are for sale on the open markets, where McClatchy reporters recently bought a police uniform for about $13.

The Afghan interior ministry seemed to be unaware of the shops selling uniforms in the central Kabul market. And it remains unclear if they will do anything about it.

Mojadidi turned the checkpoint experience into an installation shown in Kabul last year. He and Osman are working on the short film.

Mojadidi, a Jacksonville, Fla. native who now works in Kabul, has done a series of thought-provoking pieces while in Afghanistan. Jihadi

"We are all at conflict," Mojadidi writes on his website. "Whether with others or ourselves, with our own ideas, thoughts, desires, history, present, future. We are all at conflict as we try and navigate ourselves through a life we understand only through our experiences, through our confrontation both internal and external with social, political, cultural, and personal strife."

In his most recent work, "The Jihadi Gangster," Mojadidi takes a provocative look at Islamic militants in a bling culture where he wears a gold plated gun on a huge chain around his neck and has sexy women with a revealing burqa fawning over the Muslim gangsta as he watches TV.

You can see more of Mojadidi's work here.

(Photo: Buying a police uniform in the central Kabul market.)


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Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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