January 12, 2019
When an Afghan TV host highlighted censorship on neighboring Iran’s state-controlled broadcaster, it didn’t go down well with everyone.
Former soccer player-turned-sportscaster Ali Ansarian responded by suggesting that Iranians are better off than Afghans. He said his Afghan counterpart, Amanullah Qaisari, should stick to reporting and refrain from commenting on the state of affairs in Iran.
“Dear friend, we’ve seen things that you’ve never seen,” Ansarian urged Qaisari via Iranian TV. “Also, remember that you’re talking about a country to which you owe a lot. So, do your report and don’t interfere in these things.”
But it was the way he said it that angered some.
Persian is spoken in both Iran and Afghanistan, but the accents and some vocabulary are slightly different.
Ansarian, whose 15-year soccer career included call-ups to the Iranian national team, appeared to be mocking the Afghan dialect of Persian, known as Dari.
Beyond the linguistic and cultural affinities between Iranians and Afghans lie some politically and religiously fueled rivalries that have been complicated by the presence in Iran of millions of Afghan refugees over the past four decades.
Some social-media users were quick to condemn Ansarian’s comments as “racist” and “insulting” while describing his mockery of Dari accent as tasteless.
Many apologized to Afghans for Ansarian’s “ugly” comments.
They included political analyst Morteza Kazemian, who tweeted that instead of censoring women, Iranian state TV should remove “racist comments.”
“They owe us humiliating behavior with their refugees?” another social-media user, Mahdi Zandi, said via Twitter in an effort to highlight the discrimination that many Afghans living in Iran face. “Growing up without identification cards? Not having the right to study? I wish we could understand the root of this ridiculous feeling of superiority.”
Ansarian, who later apologized, was reacting to Qaisari’s comments in a widely shared video of fans cheering during a January 7 Asian Cup qualifier between Iran and Yemen in United Arab Emirates.
In the video, the Afghan TV host is heard to say over images of jubilant men and women at the match that Iranians won’t see the footage live — or maybe even at all — due to their government’s censorship policies.
“The images you see live, Iranians will see with one or two minutes of delay — they might not even see many of them,” Qaisari, a sports presenter for the Tolo and Lemar Afghan TV channels, said.
Iranian state television heavily censors content deemed politically or culturally sensitive or anti-Islamic. Soccer matches and other programs are routinely aired with a short delay to give censors time to remove objectionable content.
Women are particularly frequent targets of discrimination and censorship by Iran’s clerically dominated regime. Women are generally barred entry to soccer stadiums and women without the strict Islamic head scarf are frequently scrubbed from photos and videos of soccer fans cheering the Iranian national team at matches held outside the country.
In an interview with the BBC, Qaisari called censorship an undeniable reality of life in Iran. “I pointed to a fact that no one can deny,” he said, adding, “I just wanted to highlight the difference between our broadcast and Iran’s TV.”
“I had no other intention,” he said.
Many social-media users said Qaisari was right to highlight Iranian censorship, which is also derided by many Iranians.
Ansarian eventually issued an apology in a video posted on social media in which he said he hadn’t meant to upset Afghans.
“There’s been a misunderstanding. And I say it again: I apologize if I offended you, my Afghan friends,” Ansarian said.
But he couldn’t help adding, of Qaisari: “He should not express his opinion. Each country, each organization has its own rules and principles.”
When asked about Ansarian’s apology, Qaisari said that a representative of any nation “mocking “or “poking fun” at his accent was unkind.
Many Afghans moved to Iran after the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979 and in the decades of war that followed. Tens of thousands of Afghan migrants have also flocked to Iran in more recent years in search of jobs.
Afghans have long complained of discrimination and abuse in Iran, where those without proper documents are regularly expelled.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of recruiting thousands of undocumented Afghans living in Iran to fight in Syria, where the IRGC has been supporting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.