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Surfing for porn in Afghanistan

Tom Blackwell, Can West News Service, 4 Jun 07

Article Link


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- At the Internet cafes popping up around this once culturally oppressed city, the computer cubicles usually have little doors that Web surfers can shut behind them.


The reason is simple, says Abdul Qader, a former Toronto resident and owner of one Internet cafe.


In the birthplace of the Taliban, which barred people from as much as listening to the radio or taking photographs, most of the cafes' male Muslim patrons are visiting Web sites best viewed in private.


"The young generation use it for the sex," Qader concedes with a chuckle. "I think the word 'sex' is used here more than anywhere else in the world."


Despite the city's reputation for piety, he maintains, the interest in pornography should come as no surprise. This is, after all, a land where extra-marital relations are virtually a capital offence, and only the most daring woman exposes her chin for all to see.


"We are a sexually deprived nation," states Qader, who spent a few years as a refugee in Canada in the mid-1990s. "At 25 years, a husband cannot even see his wife ... This is a basic human, psychological need. Especially the young ones, they are curious about how it is."


Even so, Qader admits, his own business has made the "ethical" decision to have no privacy doors on its computer kiosks.


Internet cafes started emerging here a year or two ago, and are still a phenomenon primarily of the young and educated.


But their mere presence -- and their proprietors' democratic approach to their use -- is a graphic sign of change in Kandahar, where the Taliban first introduced its almost surreal brand of Islam. The fundamentalist government banned movies, videos, dancing and even music, which one mullah said "creates a strain in the mind and hampers the study of Islam."


As the Internet revolution belatedly comes to conservative southern Afghanistan, users are e-mailing family in other countries, digging up information for school studies, and communicating with western organizations for which they do work.


Mohammed Ihsan, 17, is another booster of the Net, which he was using this week to study up for a chance to compete in an international biology olympiad. Clad in the same combination of long, flowing shirt and baggy pants sported by virtually every Kandahar male, Ihsan said he also enjoys fashion and news sites.


But he acknowledges that some parts of the information highway should be off limits here.

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