The Crimson White

Missing the memo about the comedy of war

Sehar Ezez

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Before the “get a sense of humor,” “it’s just a movie” and “if you don’t like this country, go back to where you came from, b—-” gang hops in the comment section let me state: I have sense of humor, I know it’s a movie and I was born here. This is my country. Now that we’ve gotten that out the way, let’s get started.

I shouldn’t be surprised at Hollywood’s ability to whitewash reality and history in insensitive and disgusting manners, but I have to admit, they’ve outdone themselves. Recent releases, Rock the Kasbah and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot are just two of many more movies I’m sure will be made about the American presence in Afghanistan. Shockingly, these movies aren’t action films, documentaries or even horror movies, as war itself is a horrifying experience no matter which side is involved, but rather they are comedies, depicting journalists, musicians and other smiling happy-go-lucky Americans joyriding through Afghanistan as if one of the most brutal wars of the past few decades hasn’t been taking place there.

As a society, we struggle to discuss the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, mainly because we’ve seen them result in the destabilization of the entire region. We struggle to address the issue that our veterans, who stood up for our country, trusted that our leaders were sending them there with pure intentions and fought those wars, are neglected. We struggle to address their challenges in dealing with the VA, suffering from PTSD and even worse, high rates of suicide. We struggle with the financial and foreign political consequences of the war, but in these discussions we leave out the society that has been affected the most: the Afghan people, both within the nation and the diaspora community.

We never depict Afghanistan as it was in 50s, 60s and early 70s, with high educational rates and progressive attitudes. We never show its rich cultural heritage, traditions, diversity and history, nor do we ever allow Afghans the opportunity to depict it for us. 

Do we ever discuss how we, as the great western power we are, armed rebels who would later form into the Taliban and other extremists groups, in order to further our proxy Cold War with the former Soviet Union? Do we ever depict the communities that have been uprooted and devastated through the war, and more so in the past few years, by the drone strikes that have killed thousands? Do we ask our fellow Afghan-Americans how it feels to be away from their home and to watch their fellow people suffer? Have we ever reached out to the refugees in Pakistan and Iran who hang in limbo as the fate of their country lies in the hands of foreign powers and fading promises? 

Being a Pakistani-American and having visited Pakistan years ago, I saw with my own eyes how the refugee situation has now become normalized and how devastating the drone operations have been in the region. I can assure you no one there is laughing.

The fact is that the wounds of war are too raw for us to make jokes, both in the aspect of the state of our veterans and of the situation within Afghanistan. War simply is not funny, especially when it has devastated an entire region. It’s not just the fact that Hollywood has taken it upon itself to rewrite the narrative and depict a “folksy” story of the region, complete with jokes about women’s rights, culture and poverty, but more so the fact that because of our direct involvement with the circumstances that led us there, we don’t have the right to make jokes about people who have suffered far more than we have in this war. It’s not fair for us to sit in the comforts of the western world, wage wars in other nations, destroy entire communities and then sit back and laugh at our painfully corny films. We have not even remotely solved the issues that we set out to solve nearly two decades ago, as self-proclaimed safeguards for global democracy, and yet we’re already capitalizing on weak humor at the expense of others.

But we don’t like it when our own people make jokes about 9/11, criticize our army and our intelligence agencies for their strategies in the war on terror, or even worse, declare that the war was a mistake. When it comes to analyzing our own fault in these circumstances, we are the first to get offended. By all means, laugh at the expense of others, but don’t get your feelings hurt when you’re called out for being disgustingly insensitive. The saying “those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind here. 

Let’s get comfortable telling jokes about ourselves before we start throwing stones on people we’ve already droned to death.

Sehar Ezez is a senior majoring in history. Her column runs biweekly.

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Missing the memo about the comedy of war