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TIME Cover of Maimed Afghan Woman Incites Controversy, Debate

August 4, 2010

[caption id="attachment_9577" align="alignleft" width="228" caption="Aisha, courtesy of The Washington Post"]Aisha, courtesy of The Washington Post[/caption] The cover of the August 9th edition of Time magazine is stark—a young woman looks at the camera, and there is a hole where her nose once was. The headline accompanying the portrait states simply,“What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” Direct, to the point, hard to stomach and, no question mark – And as the intense media scrutiny proves, even harder to ignore. The striking image has unsurprisingly caused controversy and fierce debate in the media as to what the Time cover aims to accomplish in regards bolstering domestic support for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Some laud the cover for bravely exposing an ugly side of a largely neglected war; others contend that the cover sensationalizes the abuse of women in order to evoke sympathy in a way that a male soldier on the cover, for example, might not.  Still others take issue not with the image itself but with the accompanying headline; Irin Carmon at Jezebel, for one, writes that the headline complicates the relationship between “these women's oppression and what the U.S. military presence can and should do about it.” Ida Lichter of The Huffington Post  also posits that the image “fail[s] to reflect the determined achievements of a women's movement that has battled cultural and Islamist misogyny.” Katie Couric of CBS hosted a half-hour online special with Time editor Richard Stengel and Zama Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch in which the decision to run the cover, the treatment of Afghan women and women in war was discussed at length (watch it here).  The fact that Time specifically uses an image of a woman in order to generate this kind of response is in itself significant.  Gendering  the face of war as female to gain awareness and sympathy is a common wartime journalistic tactic, as can be seen in World War I and II propaganda posters with women and children at the forefront—precedents that Time undoubtedly draws upon as it makes Aisha the face of the war in Afghanistan. Regardless of their differences, there’s one thing these conflicting perspectives on the cover can agree on: putting a woman who has suffered at the hands of wartime abuse on the cover of Time magazine has increased the level of conversation around how war affects women. This is a crucial issue that often goes ignored, or worse, discarded. The Associated Press quotes Time’s managing editor Richard Stengel as saying, "[The cover] provoked a tremendous amount of conversation, which is exactly what we wanted…it both gets people's attention and kind of repels people's attention, but it commands you to look at it and have an opinion about it." As the fierce debate and prolific reporting (especially by women journalists such as Couric) continue on, it is clear that Time has made its impression.