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January 15, 2011

Jihadi Gangster: Censored in Afghanistan


(Image of Afghan Scene article on Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi banned by Afghan government censors.)

The Jihadi Gangster has been censored in Afghanistan.

Afghan government censors have branded the unrepentant Kabul Gangsta Godfather as an offense to the nation's traditional values and directed Kabul's largest English-language magazine to excise an article about the Afghan-American artist.

A story on the Jihadi Gangster, aka Aman Mojadidi, was slated to appear in the current issue of Afghan Scene, a glossy English-language monthly geared towards the expat community in Kabul.

When the latest issue was flown in from the Dubai printer, government censors were not too happy with what they found.

The article (a reprint of this Checkpoint Kabul blog post) featured photographs that Afghan government censors said were offensive to the country's mujaheddin anti-Soviet fighters.

One of the photos showed the Jihadi Gangster's faux campaign posters stuck up around town during last fall's parliamentary race.

The JG's campaign slogan, emblazoned on the poster, was simple: Vote for me. I've done jihad. And I'm rich.

JG's face was blacked out by a box and the words: Your favorite jihadi face here. JG wears a black turban, suit and a gold plated handgun hanging around his neck from a large gPicture 1old plated chain.

The backdrop was filled with dollar signs and AK-47s.

The campaign poster and Jihadi Gangster persona are unique artistic critiques of the corrosive culture of corruption in Afghanistan.

But the message wasn't very funny to Afghan government censors. 

"This is an insult to all society," said Abdul Raquib Jahid, an Education Ministry official who serves on the 14-member commission that scrutinizes publications coming into Afghanistan."The media in America might draw an unflattering picture of President Obama, but not in Afghanistan."

By law, Afghan Scene must be vetted by government censors.

Picture 2 Before it was printed, in an apparent move to stave off possible objections from the censors, Afghan Scene removed a photograph of the Jihadi Gangster sitting on a couch, channel surfing while a scantily clad, pistol toting woman with a burqa covering her face fawns over the nonplussed gangsta.

Even so, when government regulators saw the piece, they threatened to take legal action, said Saad Mohseni, the head of Moby Group, Afghanistan's pioneering media company and publisher of Afghan Scene magazine.

Even though the magazine, with a print run of about 9,000 copies, is geared towards the expat crowd, Jahid said it was possible that prominent Afghan leaders could also see the piece.

In defending the decision to prevent the article from being distributed in Afghanistan, Jahid cited Afghan law that allows the government to ban anything that could increase tensions.

"If the magazine found its way into the hands of [Afghan Vice President] Marshal Fahim he would hold the commission responsible," Jahid said.

Jahid said he found no offense with a photograph depicting the imminent execution of a kneeling, gagged, blond Westerner by masked men -- aside from the black oval over the face of one of the would-be executioners with the phrase: "Your favorite jihadi face here."

Faced with threats of legal action, Afghan Scene officials agreed to have the article cut out of the printed magazine and even had to go back to distributors to collect some issues before they were sent out to cafes, restaurants and bookstores.

The current issue around Kabul touts the "Jihadi Gangster" story on the cover and in the index. But when readers go looking for it, the article isn't there.

"We tried hard but they said no and threatened us with legal action (referring the case to the Attorney General)," Mohseni said in an e-mail. "Their action is nothing unusual (given our neighbourhood and people sensitivities to certain issues). It is an expat magazine and as such it is not going to impact freedom of expression at a national level."

Moby and Mohseni are known for pushing free speech boundaries in Afghanistan.

Moby is the parent company of Tolo TV, which airs 'Danger Bell," a biting political satire show that has been compared to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and frequently airs pieces that are as caustic as the Jihadi Gangster campaign posters and photographs.

Perhaps because he has larger battles to fight, Mohseni said he chose not to challenge the demand that Afghan Scene cut out the article.

"We win some and lose some," said Mohseni.


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Hah! A laugh from Afghanistan at last.

The Afghans may not understand the 'gangsta' concept, but Americans sure do.

While it would be fun to think of the Taliban as latter-day crips and bloods and their leaders as some sort of ho-bangin', rappin' bling bags. That ain't the case.

It ain't a gang war. They're fighting for their country.

There are more 'gang-bangers' learning soldierin' in the US armed forces than there are hiking around the Hindu Kush.

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

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