Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.
A few weeks ago I had an argument with someone regarding using photos of maimed women for political purposes. My point was that using women and their personal tragedies as ways to justify political actions (including war) further denied them personal agency as they had little to no control over the delivery of their messages of pain and suffering, nor did they have control over the kinds of things that would be done in their name. During the buildup to invading Afghsnistan we read story after story on how the Afghan’s treated their women. It hearkened back to justifications during the Spanish-American war of women being “hassled”, thereby justifying the death of hundreds of thousands.
When one looks at a photo like what is on the cover of Time this week, we should first stop to consider not only the events and conditions that allowed such violence to happen, but also the motives behind such a cover. “What happens if we leave Aghanistan” hangs like a warning, as if we are forcing the illustrated situation upon more women if we leave. However, the United States has been in Aghanistan for decades. Even before our invasion in late 2001, the United States was present in Afghanistan through our CIA-client organization, the Taliban. This woman illustrated, whose name and identity is swallowed up by the political overtones of her portrayal, was maimed during American presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, violence against women in Afghanistan has not abated since our invasion. The warlord government set up by NATO forces has just as bad of a track record with women as the Taliban does. Executions continue, poverty is endemic, and 103 women have set themselves on fire between 2009 and 2010.
Among their usual problems, Afghan women now must worry about being bombed by NATO forces or caught in the crossfire between fighting warlords and gangs. Their economic and educational system is still in ruins. As the recent wikileaks documents show, the way we have been counting casualities in Iraq and Afghanistan is untruthful. Thousands of civilians have died in Afghanistan and thousands more have been killed by the ensuing humanitarian crisis.
The above cover is a shameful appeal to emotion on a complex and dire issue. Like the leaked CIA documents show, as illustrated above, women who have suffered under war are being cynically exploited to justify more war and destruction. It is vital that victims of violence have a voice in speaking their experiences, but the editors of time could have just as easily used a photo of a woman maimed in a NATO attack and told a different story. Next year we will see a decade of official military presence in Afghanistan, and the situation seems to be degrading rather than improving. While Afghanistan warps into an opium plantation state, the Afghan women enjoy just as little if not less human rights than they had before our official involvement. Another note on the cover: Joe Klein’s piece on our “challenges” in Pakistan seems especially chilling given the juxtoposition with the rest of the format elements.
Either way, the woman who shares her pain so poigently on the cover will soon be forgotten, cynically pushed aside to justify further pain and suffering in Afghanistan.