Friday, July 30, 2010

The power of images

I've been kind of haunted by Time magazine's most recent cover image ever since I saw this Salon piece on it yesterday. In it, a striking beautiful young Afghan woman stares defiantly at the camera. The woman, an 18-year old named Aisha, has been brutally mutilated by her own husband, her nose and ears cut off. But the way the photographer Jodie Bieber captures the fire in her eyes shows that even this brutal act did not defeat her.

Or, at least, that's what the photo says to me. I have to idea how Aisha actually feels about her situation and the horrific crime that her husband and the people of her village, who enabled him to do this, enacted against her. But I appreciate the decision Bieber made to not photograph her as a broken victim.

What I don't appreciate, what in fact drives me up the wall, is the headline Times chose to place with her picture. The cover reads, "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan." Nice try, Times, but I'm not buying it. This isn't what happens when we leave Afghanistan, it's what's happening now. Aisha was attacked last year.

In what, as Daisy on Facebook mentioned, appears to be a bald attempt to engage in a propaganda war with Wikileaks (and what I think is more of a cynical attempt to sell magazines), Times has hoped that the arresting nature of this image will make your brain skip over this fact.

Not to mention that, with the addition of that text, the image becomes yet another Muslim woman is the "ultimate victim" needing rescue from the West. Boy, does that trope not ever get old.

You can't solve problems like violence against women with a war. If anything, our presence, and the money we're funneling to all the wrong people, is merely fueling top-down corruption that is probably making situations like this worse. Watch this segment from Rachel Maddow's recent trip to Afghanistan to see what I mean.

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I don't have a solution for how to make it that another woman never gets mutilated for attempting to escape abusive situations. I don't even know whether or not I actually feel like we should withdraw from Afghanistan, really. I mean, I recognize all the good reasons to do so, but there is a part of me that feels like its kind of amoral to destabilize a country and then just leave.

What I do know is that you can't use what happened to this woman as a reason to stay. Because our presence there couldn't keep it from happening in the first place.

And also because the suggestion that we're in Afghanistan to protect the lives of the women there is laughable. If this were the case, how come it took us so long? I was reading about RAWA and the oppression of Afghan women years before the war (in, if I remember correctly, Jane magazine). What about women in the Congo? Women in Juarez? Women in Darfur?

And if you're looking for arresting images, how about the image of this child, burned after a NATO bomb attack?

War is a complicated issue, there are no easy answers. Let's not be swayed by an (admittedly powerful) image, but try to actually think.

**Edited some for clarity. It's hard to blog when a four-year-old is also seeking your full attention**


blue milk said...

Good call out. The arrogance of the text on that cover - outrageous.

Vanessa said...

Right? The arrogance of both thinking our presence is helping and the arrogance that their readers won't notice the obvious bait-and-switch.