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Kite Runner Hill

by Geraldo Rivera | Dec 06, 2007

Kabul, Afghanistan
When I got to Kabul just after it was liberated in 2001, one of the first things I saw were the thousands of kids flying their brightly colored, handmade paper kites. Now, American movie goers are getting that same look inside Afghanistan’s history and culture with the new movie called Kite Runner, based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini that just opened last week with the gala Hollywood premier. The film portrays the lives of two Afghan boys, one a member of the upper class who manages to escape the Taliban and move to America. The other gets caught in the grip of the radical fundamentalist thugs who ruled this poor nation with irrational violence and the most extreme form of Islam on the planet between 1996 and 2001.

Among other things they banned movies and television they ordered all the men to grow beards and the women to be covered up from head to toe. They banned education for girls after the age of eight they killed the zoo animals because they thought it was decadent entertainment and they banned the kite runners.

Well, despite Afghanistan’s troubles, and there are plenty of them, the kite runners are back. As the sun was setting on this breezy, barren hill above the city, a gigantic and sprawling graveyard actually, dominated by a half-completed memorial to the late King Mohammad Zahir Shah who returned here to help rid the country of the Taliban after the invasion and only died in July at the age of 93, kids as young as four or five were running their kites. The idea is to cut the other guys kite string with yours, the strings are coated with tiny shards of broken glass, and the last kite flying is the winner and it wasn't me. I tried it and was almost instantly ‘kite runned.’ Although the movie is based on a fictional story, there was fear that the four young Afghan boys who appear in the film, which includes a graphic rape scene, might be subjected to ridicule or even retaliation for the negative portrayal of their society. So even though the kite runner movie is not scheduled to be released here, the producers thought it best to relocate the young actors for the time being, and on Friday they were flown out of the country for the time being, each accompanied by an adult.

The child actors are going to spend a semester studying in the United Arab Emirates until the dust settles. But the fact that their lives could be thought at risk is perhaps the best indicator of how deeply conservative much of this nation’s society is. While Afghans can be among the most hospitable people on earth once they welcome you as their guest, and I number some among my best friends, their fierce history also has a tradition of profound suspicion of the outside world, which has brought conquerors from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan, Imperial Britain to the Soviets, Al Qaeda to Pakistan Intelligence Services. One of the Taliban's strongest weapons against the West was to play on their ancient memory of outside conquest. Overcoming that innate conservatism and convincing the ordinary people that all we in the United States and our allies want is for them to live free is a challenge, even though they love their kites.

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