On Time next week: a true story we all need to read

Time magazine has pre-released its cover for next week’s issue: the picture of an 18-year-old Afghan girl, Aisha, whose nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban. Why? Because Aisha ran away from her abusive in-laws.

This haunting image, of the attractive girl’s face irredeemably scarred by the enemy we know dangerously little about, underlines the danger of a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan to its women citizens. Time magazine’s cover is an enormously powerful symbol of all that is dangerous about that possibility.

Despite the risk of backlash, Time must be commended for publishing Aisha’s picture and showing the personal face of warfare to an occasionally indifferent and often unknowing Western public. Richard Stengal, Editor of Time, did not take the decision to publish lightly. “I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of Time,” he said in an article justifying the picture’s use.

“First, I wanted to make sure of Aisha’s safety and that she understood what it would mean to be on the cover. She knows that she will become a symbol of the price Afghan women have had to pay for the repressive ideology of the Taliban.”

Stengal has also considered how the picture might affect those who will see it on a newsstand. “I’m acutely aware that the 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. I showed it to my two young sons, nine and 12, who both immediately felt sorry for Aisha and asked why anyone would have done such harm to her.”

I believe that the magazine should be applauded for its decision and the mature and brave attitude it has demonstrated by reporting on a story that some might think is too harrowing for Western audiences. It is likely that many are weary of the stream of updates from the war in Afghanistan. On an almost daily basis we hear of soldiers who have lost their lives in a war, against an enemy that appears faceless and relentless.

While these stories upset the communities that they affect directly, I would argue that all of us need to be shocked to realise the real cost of war.

To anyone who questions Time’s front cover, Stengal offers one justification that underlines how vital reportage such as this is: “Bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. 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.”

As journalists we should celebrate the fact that Aisha’s story will be told.

Read the Time article ‘Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban’ here.




“Before we all sink into a slough of digital dystopian despair, it might be worth considering this: is this a sign of the strength, not weakness, of revelatory journalism in the digital age?”

Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS at the London School of Economics, reacts to news that the UK government forced the Guardian into destroying hard drives that contained information leaked by Edward Snowden.

(Source: POLIS)


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