A time of war, a time of peace

This Time cover has led to much consternation on the internet. Most of the outrage isn’t over the image but, rather, the headline. Still, the image itself is shocking. It depicts Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by the Taliban to have her nose and ears cut off after she fled her abusive in-laws. Time managing editor Richard Stengel explained his decision to run the image:

I’m acutely aware that this image will be seen by children, who will undoubtedly find it distressing. We have consulted with a number of child psychologists about its potential impact. Some think children are so used to seeing violence in the media that the image will have little effect, but others believe that children will find it very scary and distressing — that they will see it, as Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, said, as “a symbol of bad things that can happen to people.” I showed it to my two young sons, 9 and 12, who both immediately felt sorry for Aisha and asked why anyone would have done such harm to her. I apologize to readers who find the image too strong, and I invite you to comment on the image’s impact. (Comment on this cover.)

But bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. 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.

Religion, of course, plays a major role in this story. While the article isn’t available online (except for this heavily abridged edition), I hope that it does diagnose that role and offer views about how to improve the plight of women in Afghanistan. The last paragraph of the abridged version seems to indicate at least some discussion of the topic.

In the meantime, many left-of-center folks are outraged at the idea that continued military action could improve the situation for women like Aisha. That’s a debate better left to another blog but since we’re on the topic of the Taliban, what role do you think the religion-beat media can play in helping improve the situation for women in Afghanistan? What questions need to be asked? What stories can help? I think back to that incredible Frontline documentary on the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan. I think raising awareness of the rape of these boys, as difficult as the topic was, was important.

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  • Dave

    Mollie, I agree that the image wrenches the gut, and I’m old enough to recall a time when it wouldn’t have been considered for the inside of Time, let alone the front cover.

    I’m not sure God-beat journalism in particular can do much about the plight of Afghan women. Their treatment by the Taliban has been known in the West going back to when they were the mujahideen resistance we supported against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Journalism in general could give the US public a refresher course in what life under “strict sharia” is like, as Time is doing, but to what effect?

    Increasing our dedication as a nation to that war? If the fact that 9/11 flew out of the Taliban regime doesn’t do that… Getting us to fight the war smarter? Obama is trying that and getting push-back from the troops and the right wing. Getting us to pressure the Kabul government to enforce women’s rights? The Kabul government doesn’t govern much more than Kabul.

    It’s an intensely affecting aspect of an increasingly foggy war.

  • Jerry

    what role do you think the religion-beat media can play in helping improve the situation for women in Afghanistan? What questions need to be asked? What stories can help?

    I think this is one of the most important questions you’ve ever asked.

    I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea, a bit late to be sure, but I really hope that the book is widely read because I think it provides a very important perspective and I’d love to see some stories about how teaching and empowering women is affecting the country.

    That book covered how Muslim religious leaders are using Islamic methods to rule against the fanatics and those trying to use religion as a means of extortion. So I’d like to read more stories about the fight within Islam between the ignorant fanatics and those with a deep understanding of Islam.

    I think part of that is to highlight different interpretations of Islam and how the mind of the fanatic works as this recent story on Chesser did:

    “He was becoming more and more conservative, and more and more on the side of the Islam that we do not recommend,” Farooq said. “If there was one quotation from the Hadith, he would take that one hadith and not consider that there are 10 other quotes in the Quran that point to the middle ground.”

  • Ben

    I guess what I’d like to see religion-wise is a story that points out that the Taliban aren’t the only ones peddling or following an extreme version of Islam in that country. Some Karzai allies are quite extreme. And many vile attitudes about women are pervasive in Afghanistan — they weren’t imparted whole-cloth to the people by the Taliban, and they didn’t go away when the Taliban were ousted.

  • http://jerstew.wordpress.com/ J

    I think some questions that dig into the ideas that these Muslim men have towards women. Maybe someone could compare and contrast the views towards women in Turkey (the most “westernized” Muslim country) and those found in Afghanistan. One question I haven’t heard much on is the differences between Sunni and Shiite views. How do the views of the Taliban compare to the Sunni and Shiite? For as volatile as the issue of Islam is, there does not seem to be good journalism investigating the differing views of Islam.

  • http://alislam.org Hasan Hakeem

    As human beings, we have a responsibility to recognize God, the Creator. We can recognize God through our loyalty and sincerity towards Him. It is in this way that the beautiful teaching of Islam – of peace, harmony and reconciliation – can be displayed. And by causing this message to spread, religious hatred and ignorance is removed.

    The cover of Time Magazine is disgraceful. It is an irresponsible decision that should be condemned by anyone who sees this ugly image.

    The emphasis on Taliban and cultural extremism dominates journalistic forays into Islam. Journalist continue to demonstrate their ignorance of religion and cultural norms that deviate from the teachings of Islam.

    If a particular group has committed something wrong in any society, this should not be unnecessarily exploited so that Muslims across the board are wrongly labeled, and therefore it would be prudent for journalists and editors to move beyond sensational photos or simple-minded stories that defame Islam or any religion.

    Without a doubt, what is desperately needed in the world today, is that we must create an atmosphere of love and affection. Ignorance and vulgarity in religion cannot prosper if we convey a message of love and peace throughout the world. We have to learn how to live with ever greater harmony and recognize the values of humanity.

    Love For All. Hatred For None.

  • Peggy

    I commented elsewhere (before I saw this post) that my son saw this cover in a waiting room. He was very disturbed by it all day Friday. He’s commented about it this weekend too. He told his brother about it. I’ve had to check out the story online to see what was going on and determine what to say to him.