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.