Tuesday, February 15, 2011

World Press Photo: Win?

Beautiful victims.  Damaged models.  Disfigured cover girls. 

"What will happen if we leave Afghanistan."

While the Time Magazine cover prompted many Americans to consider it, the caption was not a question.  And the shocking photo the statement accompanied just won the World Press Photo award for 2010.


Taken by South African photographer Jodi Bieber, the picture creates a sense of urgency and our minds are
made up before we ever turn a page. 

A glimpse of this infamous photo would convince anyone; we must stay.

Featuring 18-year-old Bibi Aisha, onlookers could barely stomach the nose-less woman.  If they dared to peek inside, the young girl's story only confirmed their greatest fears.

Oh, the horrors she experienced before she was granted asylum in the United States.

The patriotic image, paired with the bold affirmation, was an ethnocentric, self-congratulatory American's wet dream.

Aisha came to the U.S. for reconstructive surgeries.  Sponsored by Women for Afghan Women, she now owns a prosthetic nose-- and Ugg boots

As the Sun wrote in their follow-up story "her beauty has been restored."  But what if she had been an ugly woman?  Would we have cared so much?

While most reports failed to mention whether the uneducated woman had learned to read, the masses heard she lives with a roommate and likes to shop.  Yes, this unfortunate soul now reaps the benefits of capitalism.

A long way from home and her terrible past, Aisha is two years older now.  Always depicted as shy, helpless and childlike, many Western journalists have shared her story-- topped with a gruesome photo. 

Aisha was given to the Taliban (to settle a debt) at the age of 12.  She was married to an older man, but her husband was in hiding, so she worked as a slave for his family.  Tired of frequentt beatings, hard labor, and sleeping with livestock, Aisha ran away.  She found her way home; only to be returned to her in-laws by her own father. 

As punishment for her disobedience, Aisha's husband took her into the mountains, with other members of the Taliban, and cut off her nose and ears-- and left her there to die.

The words she spoke to CNN have been used over and over again:
"When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out. In the middle of the night it felt like there was cold water in my nose," Aisha said.  "I opened my eyes and I couldn't even see because of all the blood."
Aisha sought refuge in Kabul, and was later brought to the United States; where she tasted sweet freedom and became a symbol for something she doesn't really represent.

The Guardian called Aisha's cover story propaganda:
Because, of course, Afghanistan plays host to tens of thousands of foreign troops, most of them American, and as such any efforts to remove the troops are seen by critics of the occupation as all part of a legitimate anti-imperialist cause. From this perspective, to put it crudely, national liberation always trumps female emancipation.
After speaking with experts who summarized the Taliban's position in the country and misogynist tactics for control, Guardian contributor Andrew Anthony wrote "No amount of foreign troops can change the status of Afghan women."

Many have called the photo "war porn" and Aisha herself was unsure if the media spectacle will help other women-- because really, how will occupying Afghanistan keep an entire culture of fathers from treating their daughters like property to be bought and sold? 

Critics have addressed Time Magazine's desperate attempt to make Americans feel responsible for the safety of women in Afghanistan and some even question the women and children abused by American soldiers stationed overseas.

No; the plight of women-- whether it's Bibi Aisha, veiled strangers, or any face wearing the mark of oppression-- was never an incentive.

So as we hand out awards for exceptional journalism, let's remember why we're really occupying Afghanistan; because Bush certainly did not launch this never-ending war in the name of women's rights.

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