"The Road to Kabul"


It's Ramadan, and that means that Arabic-language TV is featuring a slew of the loudly hyped, month-long soap operas that have become a centerpiece of regional broadcasting. However, one of the more heavily advertised series, the Qatari-produced "Road to Kabul," has been pulled from the schedule by Jordanian TV. An Internet site that often features messages from Islamist extremists apparently carried a threat against everyone involved with the series.

"We swear to the great God that if we see in the series anything other than the honorable reality of the Taliban . . . we will assault all those who participated in this sullied malice," said the posting. "We direct our strong warning to all who participated in producing this series, whether an actor, producer or cameraman."

The series apparently begins during the years of Soviet rule in Kabul, and deals with an Afghan woman exile in England who falls in love with an Arab. She eventually returns to Afghanistan only to confront the harsh rule of the Taliban. There had been some anticipation that the series might spark a broad conversation about the role of women and the interpretation of Koranic law. The show was also scheduled to be shown by the Gulf-based TV service MBC, but it wasn't clear from early reports whether they had also cancelled the series.

Jordanian TV denied that the Internet threat was a factor in their decision, citing instead the request from Qatari producers to pull the show. The Qataris cited technical problems. But technical problems are never a reason to pull one of these shows, which are often riddled with production deficiencies. For example, the opening episode last week of a new Egyptian series about an Alexandrian wheeler-dealer went on the air with an incomplete sound mix, so that the dialog in important expository scenes was completely inaudible under a blaring track of incidental music.

Despite the attention the Ramadan series enjoy, and their ability to make and break careers, they are often still being written, shot, and edited during Ramadan itself. That can result in a precipitous decline in the quality of the later episodes. Indeed, in the case of one of last year's more popular series—it dealt with Hizbollah's war against Israel—the producers miscalculated the pace of their narrative. The result was that the series ended with the story still unresolved, to the deep consternation of the audience that had been following it faithfully each night for a month.