Taliban Demolishes a Cinema in Kabul In Effort to Erase Secular Culture

VANCOUVER, CANADA —The Taliban municipality in Kabul approved the demolition plan of Khair Khana Cinema, one of a handful of theatres in the city.

The Taliban municipality has reportedly allocated the land of this cinema to a construction company for building a commercial market, a mosque, and residential blocks.

Khair Khana Cinema, located in the north of Kabul city, was built several decades ago when the cultural scene in Afghanistan was unimaginably vibrant. It was screening East Indian movies and was also available to stage live performances. The cinema was closed in August 2021 when the Taliban returned to power.

Most of the cinemas in Kabul were built before the war began to ravage the country in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion in 1978. Unimaginably contrary to the religious dogmas that assumed centre stage in the country’s post 1992 culture and politics, Kabul had had a tolerant, diverse, and vibrant secular cultural scene. Much of what the country has ever produced in the form of high quality art, from literature to music and cinema, dates back to those decades.

Although many of the cultural centres were renovated after 2001, the city never regained its pre-war character. Cinemas played Indian and Afghan films while the city’s echelons gathered often in foreign-funded hubs such as the French Cultural Centre or Germany’s Goethe Institute for movie nights and art exhibitions.

With the re-advent of the Taliban to power, all of that character, for the ordinary citizen and the socio-intellectual elites, disappeared almost overnight. Women were pushed to the limits of the home and their presence erased from any aspect of public life. Listening to music quickly turned to a taboo let alone playing an instrument. As recently as last month, the regime barred radio hosts from answering phone calls from women and journalists to not photograph human subjects.

Perhaps, no one expected cinemas to be kept open under the Taliban. Yet, many would hope that the physical buildings remain intact as monuments from an era far bygone.

One person we spoke with did not ask for the cinema to be operational, but for the building to be preserved as a ‘cultural heritage site”.

And it is that cultural heritage the regime has vowed to erase. In its efforts to recreate a new society according to its ultra-conservative worldviews, the Taliban try to destroy any remnant of a culture that implies tolerance, diversity, or human creativity.

A letter from Kabul municipality says that the Head of the regime’s Economic Commission has approved the Khair Khana project which would demolish the theatre hall.

Yet, the motives to replace the cinema with commercial buildings might not be all that for the sake of propagating piety. One source claimed there is corruption involved in the lease contract and alleged that the municipality has awarded this lease to a ‘mafia’ team affiliated with its  officials.      

According to the source, the municipality has also entrusted several other leases to the same team without any transparency.      

The Kabul municipality has not officially commented on this matter yet. The appointed spokesperson for this municipality by the Taliban has also not responded to inquiries from KabulNow reporters.