If you walked by any sort of newsstand this past week or spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve seen the newest cover of TIME Magazine. If not, you should.
The story at its most basic is this: 18-year-old Bibi Aisha ran away from her Taliban-connected husband’s and in-laws’ home, where she lived in a barn with livestock and was treated like a slave. About a year ago, her husband found her in Kandahar, and in the seemingly opposite of Pashtun tradition in which a man shamed by his wife has his nose removed, he cut off both her nose and her ears, leaving her to bleed. Left behind is her 10-year-old sister, as their uncle had killed one of Aisha’s relatives; the girls were a gift in order to settle a blood debt.
The headline next to Aisha’s face purposefully reads: “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.” “If,” not “when.” A lack of punctuation rather than a question mark. Editor Richard Stengel has maintained that he is not on either side of the fence, that he just wants to show what is happening now.”I would rather confront readers with the Taliban's treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan,” Stengel says in this brief editorial addressing the controversy. (Particularly saddening is the part in which he says he shows the image to his two sons, "who both immediately felt sorry for Aisha and asked why anyone would have done such harm to her.")
Said controversy does not merely involve the way in which Aisha was treated in her own country, however, but in how she is being displayed, in what is her image’s purpose. Looking at this girl’s matter-of-fact disposition, it is hard to believe that there are no motives of persuasion intended, but I suppose the truth of a personal narrative clearly speaks for itself. Many people, especially feminists across the country, are arguing that throwing down the women’s rights flag is cheap. I can see this point, definitely. In some ways, I almost feel gypped…way to not give a crap about every other serious women’s issue, but use poor Aisha to show we need to keep an already-long war trucking on. Because shooting at and killing people has clearly worked for the last 9 years, and numerous others before it in various other places.
But then in this process I look back at this image and I can’t help but touch my own nose. The one I still have. Because I am lucky enough to be able to leave my relationships when I need to.
As of Saturday, the Taliban officially released a statement refuting the article and its cover. The statement claims this article to be journalistically unethical; it is “desperate propaganda.” The writer says that they would never have condoned this act, and that it has never ended up in any of their courts of law. An eye for an eye would have been enacted upon the criminal. Aisha’s husband would have also lost his nose and ears…had they known.
The statement goes on to present a whopping 30 statistics, adamantly titled with “Fact #…,” dealing mostly with sexual and domestic violence against women in America. Scrolling through this list, I’ve read most of these before, or some variation. I’m not shocked by their contents; what I am amazed at is the attitude of this release. “I know what you are, but what am I??” Do we plan to start flinging statistics at each other? Does the Taliban refuse recognize the injustices they have done to women?
But again, we know that this country isn’t full of angels and heroes and practicers of chivalry (though I can open my own doors, thanks). It’s hard to point the finger at what is worse, hard to judge, when we don’t even know how to manage our own inner battles, how to keep potential rapists from feeling the need to violate another human being, how to keep people from expressing their feelings through violence, how to change minds and mental states and ideals. But I guess if we knew how to do that, we wouldn’t have been in Afghanistan in the first place. And we wouldn’t really be “free.”
I don’t know when Aisha’s surgery in America will be, but I hope it is soon. I also love that the honorific TIME used, Bibi, also has roots in Latin that mean “alive.” After all of her experiences, at least she has that.
As always, please feel free to start the conversation below.