HBO's Love Crimes of Kabul Looks At Afghanistan's "Moral Crimes" and Consequences

Tanaz Eshaghian's disturbing film about the plight of Afghan women who give in to their most basic desires.

By , Columnist
Picture this: a woman runs off with her boyfriend for a weekend of fun, frolic, and sex, something not unheard of in the western world. Now imagine the same scenario in Afghanistan.  If the woman's dalliance is discovered, she will be imprisoned for giving into her desires, and most likely her boyfriend will suffer a similar fate. In Afghan culture, premarital sex is not only a sin, it’s a criminal act.

The same holds true for adultery. If a woman is even suspected of acting in an immoral fashion, she can be put away for years.

In the HBO documentary Love Crimes of Kabul, we get an inside look at Badam Bagh Women’s Prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, where we meet Kareema, 20, Aleema, 22, and Sabereh, 18, three women whose desires and fierce independent natures have put them behind bars awaiting trial for “moral crimes.”  If convicted, each will face up to twenty years in prison. However, if their boyfriends agree to marry them, their sentences may be greatly reduced.

Their families bicker about money, and what they expect financially if their daughter marries the man she allegedly had relations with. One father is more concerned with “saving face” than his daughter’s welfare.  Oddly the women seem untroubled by it all; smiling and laughing, they are more than willing to talk openly about why they’ve been incarcerated.

When Sabereh is forced to undergo a medical examination to prove she is still a virgin, she takes it in stride. This is her culture; it is how she’s been raised. For her, Aleema, and Kareema, this sort of degradation is nothing out of the ordinary.

A straying woman is perceived to be a threat to the moral and ethical fabric of society. As a social worker explains to Aleema, “A bad husband is better than no husband. None of this would have happened if you had a husband and a nice home.”

Not a word of English is spoken in Iranian-American filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary. Subtitles are used to translate the words of the Afghan women, their families, and the men they will be forced to marry. However, no translation is needed to read the sorrow in the faces of the mothers, and the regret in the eyes of the young men and women forced into marriage.

“I often look to tell stories about what it is like to live in the Middle East,” Eshaghian explains in the press release. “I feel it is important for Western audiences to understand the logic that governs these societies as they make decisions.”

Although the film is meant to be an unbiased look at the consequences of these “moral crimes,” it is hard not to feel horror, anger, and mortification over what Afghan women are forced to endure for simply being human. 

In the end, after sentences have been passed, a judge is asked what will happen if people in Afghanistan are allowed to act on their desires. “Society’s order will be ruined,” is his reply. It is a sad end to this disturbing yet powerful portrait of a society whose moral code is so vastly different from our own.

Love Crimes of Kabul premieres on July 11, 9:00-10:15 PM ET on HBO.

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Mindy Peterman is a freelance writer whose focus is on television, movies and pop culture. She has written over one hundred articles for the award winning website and has conducted interviews with producer Peter Asher, psychic-medium John Edward, Greg Grunberg and Bob Guiney from Band…

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