The USA of Al (USoA), a brand new CBS scenario comedy produced by Chuck Lorre and Reza Aslan, obtained a direct backlash after the discharge of its official trailer final month. The plot of the present, which aired for the primary time on April 1, is about across the friendship between Afghan interpreter Awalmir or “Al”, and an American marine veteran, Riley. The continued controversy is centred on the selection of Adhir Kalyan (South African of Indian descent) to play an Afghan, and the comedic strategy taken to conflict. However there are stakes at hand that reach past the illustration of an Afghan immigrant in a sitcom.
People are consuming the conflict in Afghanistan curated by media – drone operators deal with asymmetrical warfare as a online game, Lorre and Aslan flip conflict into leisure. Forgotten appears Baudrillard’s warning that applied sciences of picture consumption put distance between conflict and the viewers, making it look like atrocities didn’t occur and aren’t taking place. The conflict is being bought to the general public as one thing ethical and needed, by the figures of the white saviour soldier and the deserving Afghan/Muslim.
Regardless of govt producer Aslan’s proclamations of commitments to a “Muslim protagonist”, and his defensive claims that the USoA is centred on Awalmir, it turns into apparent even within the trailer what the present is de facto about: a white solider who returned dwelling scarred by conflict, Riley, and his white American household.
In Aslan’s personal phrases, after Awalmir arrives within the US he continues “to operate as Riley’s interpreter, however as a substitute of decoding language, he’s type of decoding life for him … serving to Riley to choose up the items of his life, attempting to reunite him together with his ex-wife and his daughter, and to take care of the trauma of coming dwelling from conflict”.
Telling the story of conflict trauma by a veteran, as USoA clearly goals to do, is a typical trope, the place “trauma” features to eclipse the fabric realities of conflict, thereby equating the soldier with the sufferer.
The Muslim Afghan, in the meantime, is assigned the position of the smart jap determine whose goal is to be a vanishing mediator in a narrative of self-discovery and redemption for the white American household. Even the title of the present gestures to this disappearing act by changing Awalmir, the grateful Afghan, into the assimilated “Al”.
The glamourised designation of the connection between Awalmir and Riley as a “friendship” masks the facility differential constitutive of any relations between the occupiers and the occupied – a curious and discomforting fiction from which to look at the consequences of conflict.
Whereas the present highlights Awalmir’s enthrallment with America, we solely catch a glimpse of the horrors that happen in Afghanistan by their affect on the white soldier and his household. America’s post-9/11 wars have a demise toll estimated to be greater than half 1,000,000, lots of them Afghans. However an Afghan has seemingly solely been included on this present to assist an American viewers navigate the troublesome terrain of an American serviceman’s reassimilation into society after collaborating on this massacre.
Riley, in flip, helps Awalmir settle in Ohio. Awalmir, whose Afghan elders probably sacrificed life itself combating towards the Soviet Empire, can now expertise in all its glory what was at stake all alongside for the US in its “Chilly Conflict”: the numerous bounties of unbridled capitalism, from the “lipstick revolution” to the oasis of Costco.
Furthermore, as Maria Ferrari, one of many present’s writers, proudly declared, Awalmir just isn’t solely an Afghan, but additionally a Pashtun – maybe a primary for a fundamental character in a US TV present.
Pashtun males are seen as synonymous with the Taliban and are additionally casually portrayed as inherently sexually deviant. Numerous Pashtun males in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been killed by the US army and its associates within the area merely for being Pashtun and talking Pashto. Will the present try to handle these misconceptions or will it flip the prejudices that price 1000’s of Pashtun males their lives and freedoms into punchlines? Sadly, what we’ve seen thus far factors to the latter.
Promoting conflict as one thing ethical and honourable, and decreasing its victims to one-dimensional villains or instruments to maneuver the redemption story of a white saviour ahead just isn’t new to Hollywood. After the 9/11 assaults, a list of movies within the custom of The Beginning of the Nation has been created to function propaganda for America’s so-called conflict on terror: Jarhead (2005), The Harm Locker (2010), Argo (2012), Zero Darkish Thirty (2013), and TV exhibits like Homeland, and 24, to call only some.
Given Hollywood’s archive of conflict propaganda, and its lengthy historical past of appearing as a prolific hand-maiden to submit 9/11 US Empire, what’s the goal of the USoA? Is it in any means totally different to myriad different exhibits and movies that served to mystify America’s wars and switch them into redemptive tasks within the eyes of the American public?
The reply most likely lies with the present’s govt producer, Iranian-American non secular research scholar and TV character Reza Aslan.
In response to the critics who labelled the USoA a “white saviour mission”, Aslan claimed it’s, in actual fact, a “brown saviour mission” – and inadvertently defined the true goal of the present: whitewashing an American conflict, by redubbing Spivak’s descriptive analytics of colonial civilising missions from “white males saving brown girls from brown males” to “brown males saving brown males from brown males”.
And Aslan didn’t rework right into a spokesperson for the American empire in a single day.
Eleven years in the past, in April 2010, Aslan mentioned America’s conflict in Afghanistan with political commentator and tv host Jon Stewart on his satirical information programme, the Day by day Present. There he revealed his characteristically liberal, and racist, studying of the conflict and Afghanistan – a studying that demonstrates why Aslan has lengthy been the right candidate to additional Hollywood’s efforts to whitewash the conflict.
Of their dialogue, Stewart and Aslan employed the same old tropes to explain Afghanistan – a corrupt, non secular, anti-democratic and irrational narco-state the place politicians put on humorous hats. They framed the conflict as an try and root out the Taliban from a rustic that randomly spawned this violent group, with out providing any context. They didn’t, for instance, discuss of the US position in intervening within the anti-Soviet resistance to advance their very own agenda within the Nineteen Eighties. They’ve additionally not talked about how the People, who are actually claiming to be on a mission to “save” the Afghan folks, have been completely satisfied to look at them sacrifice their lives to guard a world order that excludes them.
Within the narrative peddled by Aslan and Stewart, the US troopers are the great guys amid a sea of savages, and Afghans are disposable – until they show their utility and loyalty to the American Empire.
Aslan’s respectability politics lastly got here to full aid within the USoA – a sitcom that celebrates a “deserving” immigrant by way of the “loyal” Afghan who admires the US and works to protect American values and lifestyle, with out pondering an excessive amount of in regards to the harm the American Empire prompted in his homeland, to his personal folks.
Within the promos for the USoA, Aslan and different members of his group repeatedly spoke of what number of interpreters and fixers, like their “lead” character Awalmir, who served alongside US troops have been “deserted” in Afghanistan and compelled to attend three or extra years to obtain particular visas to immigrate to the US.
In none of those conversations during which they voiced the plight of the “deserving Afghans” or, to be extra correct, the imperial collaborators, nonetheless, they talked in regards to the thousands and thousands of frequent Afghans whose nation the US become a everlasting conflict zone.
That Aslan, Lorre and the USoA group have chosen as their trigger celebre to take away the hurdles Afghan collaborators face in receiving particular immigrant visas, and never Afghan asylum seekers typically, is undoubtedly revelatory.
Certainly, within the eyes of western liberals, the one “deserving refugees” are those that have particular vulnerabilities and circumstances that match into the dominant western narratives about Muslim tradition – the oppressed Muslim lady, the ex-Muslim, the persecuted minority, LGBTQ Muslims, and naturally, the collaborator.
Solely time will inform whether or not the USoA goes to achieve success in creating Awalmir right into a multidimensional character. However irrespective of how delicate the sitcom finally ends up being in its illustration of this one collaborator, there may be little doubt that general it’s going to go down in historical past as simply one other iteration of the basic white saviour story. Even when the present at some factors decides to significantly have interaction with the conflict, will probably be an try at explaining what the conflict in Afghanistan means for People – with little consideration paid to thousands and thousands of Afghans who’ve been caught in a without end conflict since 1978.
The views expressed on this article are the authors’ personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.