Afghanistan's Supreme Court has ruled against private cable TV operators in the eastern city of Jalalabad, barring the company from presenting Indian and American films. The recently established Afghan Cable Centre had been offering subscribers 20 channels of news and movies, with American and Bollywood productions in heavy rotation. But the court found the movies to be obscene and "totally against Islam, our culture and the spirit of jihad." The ruling is a reminder of the late Taliban's moralistic dystopia, under which movies and TV were barred altogether.
This time, Jalalabad's cable subscribers don't face incarceration, and apparently can keep their TV sets. They'll presumably watch most of the same movies on VHS or DVD, and hook their TVs to satellite dishes. A movie black market was well-established under the Taliban, and Afghans made their own satellite dishes out of hammered paint cans.
The desire of moralists to stand athwart culture and yell 'Stop!' is as futile as it is indefatigable. Similar media moralism exists in neighboring Iran, where an estimated 80 percent of the populace watches TV via illegal dishes. Everybody in Tehran knows where to obtain the dishes (the market at Khayaban-i-Jamhori Islami), just as everybody knows where to get the illegal movies (Nasir Khusru Avenue). Iran's governing mullahs know, too. But at this point, as this fine report from Syed Saleem Shahzad observes, the mullahs also know they can't do much about it anymore.