Mag Bag: Graphic 'Time' Cover Stirs Debate


Graphic Time Cover Stirs Debate

The cover of the latest issue of Time is designed to shock and appall -- and it succeeds. The photograph is a portrait of an 18-year-old Afghan woman, Aisha, whose nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban for fleeing her abusive in-laws. The caption reads: "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan."

The mistreatment of women in Afghanistan, and the Middle East in general, has been a rallying cry and point of contention in political arguments about U.S. foreign policy in that part of the world. President Bush presented women's rights as one of the causes served by the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Yet skeptics point out that women are also mistreated in countries allied with the U.S., like Saudi Arabia. Moderate Islamists have hastened to distinguish their own conservative views on women from the medieval attitudes of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, while defending traditional practices that demand total coverage of the female body.



The timing of the Time cover is interesting, coming as President Obama struggles to defend his decision to increase the American troop commitment in Afghanistan. Critics are citing classified documents that seem to suggest the U.S. may be losing the war. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said as much earlier this month, when he called the U.S. presence in Afghanistan a "war of Obama's choosing" and noted that no invader has ever successfully subdued the country.

While observing the niceties of objective journalism, the story on Aisha -- with its powerful cover image and blunt headline -- seems intended to help rally support for continued (and expanded) U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Time's Western middle-class audience can only disapprove of the Taliban's brutal misogyny. But it's worth noting that the story (as told by Time) is a bit more complicated than it might appear.

First of all, Aisha was mutilated by the Taliban last year, well into the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. And this highlights the real issue: The U.S.-NATO mission's failure (so far) to eliminate the Taliban as a military and political force in Afghanistan. In this sense, the story accompanying the cover image -- while disturbing -- doesn't tell us anything new about the situation in Afghanistan. It's also worth noting that such mistreatment of women may well continue, regardless of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan -- especially if the weak central government tries to cut a deal with the Taliban. The Washington Post reported that Afghanistan's U.S.-backed leader, Hamid Karzai, is attempting to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Taliban warlords who control about 30% of the country.

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WSJ Hires Needleman for New Glossy

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1 comment about "Mag Bag: Graphic 'Time' Cover Stirs Debate ".
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  1. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, July 30, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    The Time cover story about the Afghan woman mutilated at the hands of the Taliban reflects Time's new approach to current events. They can't compete in print by just rehashing the week's events. So they have set out to provide more insight and commentary, informing from different perspectives. This cover is just one example, and I hope the company succeeds. They have the staff talent and resources to make this work.

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