The Afghan Girl 2.0

This is my 690th or so post on iconic photos, and as you might notice, most of my posts are about photos taken before the last two decades. Living in an increasingly desensitized society under a 24/7 news circle, we see a lot of images, and clips. Yet, when I saw this week’s Time magazine cover, I literally stopped walking and quipped, “Wow! This is iconic.” Personally speaking I haven’t seen a photo this shocking and powerful, so enticing yet so hard to look, in past few years.

It is a portrait of Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghani girl, taken by Jodi Bieber. Aisha was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. In an editorial, Time’s managing editor Richard Stengel defends his use of the haunting image as the magazine’s cover:

I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of TIME. 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…. 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…. We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground.

It is highly reminiscent of the National Geographic’s cover “The Afghan Girl” 25 years ago. That Steve McCurry image brought home the Afghan conflict and the international refugee crisis.  Aisha will also bring home a message probably more powerful than any number of leaked Army documents. However, unlike the National Geographic cover (which was accompanied by pretty-much neutral title, Along Afghanistan’s Border), Time’s cover has the title “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” I think this subtext ruins the mood of the photo, since it implied that the tragedies like Aisha’s will ensue/multiply if the U.S. leave Afghanistan. In fact, that is precisely the crux of the article inside: that the rights of Afghan women would be destroyed by a potential settlement between the U.S. and the Taliban.

However, the article largely ignores that the fact that the treatment of Afghan women has not improved a lot despite increasing number of women in the legislature and rhetoric promising increased rights. Fundamentalist judiciary and radicalization of a war-torn population was palpable and in 2009 President Hamid Karzai signed a bill that was seen as legalization of rape against women.

17 thoughts on “The Afghan Girl 2.0”

  1. That item is just one of many reasons I would like you to contact me regarding your work here. Please use Iconic in the subject line.

    Thank you

    1. If we leave Afghanistan we throw millions into a tighter bondage . Esp. women . I do not believe many boots on the ground is the right approach , maybe the special operators only . Just bribe who you have to , in order to keep some semblance of civilization . Empires have crashed on the hidden rocks of this country .
      Vacillating policy . Unclear objectives . Escalation of troop strength . A corrupt govt. we are propping up . What does this sound like ?

  2. Please note, the Taliban are outsiders in Afghanistan. They are from Pakistan, they were sent during the Soviet war and were funded by the Pakistani government, and I think they are still funded by Pakistan. They are not true muslims, and I would like them wiped out and removed from my country. Islam does not allow this type of treatment of women. If fact, Islam and Muslims respect and treat women more than any other culter or religion.

  3. Hi Ali

    I wish the idea that Islam treated women better than other religons were true but it’s not. The large
    majority of so called “honour” crimes are committed by muslims. The figure could be as high as 90%.
    It’s a shocking statistic but unless it’s to be addressed we need to face facts and ask why and what can be done about it.

  4. This photo surely belongs in your selection of iconic images. If you’re looking for more information regarding Richard Stengel’s justification for using Aisha’s image on this month’s issue of TIME, he’ll be on Charlie Rose tonight on Bloomberg Television at 8P & 10P ET. If you’re interested, there’s a preview of tonight’s episode posted at:

    All the best,

    Community Manager
    Bloomberg Television

  5. Yes, a possible iconic photo. No, not something unique.

    Atrocities happen every day, all over the world and are never photographed for the cover of Time, or National Geographic, or any other publication.

    Politics, religion, racism, name your poison, the minds of humans are infested with barbarism, intolerance, and hatred for fellow humans, other animals, and even the Earth its’ self, and always will be.

  6. Beautiful, poignant image. I’m guessing there is more to it than let on.
    I worry, albeit cynically, that the image of a young, attractive woman hurt by the tyrannical hands of this force hides that this isn’t foreign, rather a faraway terrorist behavior.
    Beautiful people who live in all reaches are hurt, even mutilated by religious or self absorbed monstrosities. It can be by a single individual or gang of sorts who carry it out, rarely a well orchestrated regime of monsters. But monsters Taliban collectively are. Fortunately a rare one.
    Clearly, there cannot be and we will not accept a culture of violence, but there needs to be culture of responsibility. One single person cannot be anonymous in their inhumanity. I want to believe that who did this to this girl is a single person, not a mainstream movement, to think otherwise loses our humanity.

    Iconic indeed, but let this image represent all people hurt at the hands of the oppressive, but don’t assume it only happens only in Afghanistan.

  7. I just felt sick and then ashamed when i saw this picture. And strangely exploited myself. The news-making comments by Time’s managing editor really queezed me out. I mean, who is he? Time Warner and other corporations like it, with a global stake in commodity and trade, profit off of this picture. That’s the bottom line here. To listen to an underling managing editor get all humanistic about his selection process is a bit much (imho). Who can really say what motivations when behind using that image, let alone taking it. It’s an iconic photo for more cynical reasons, i think. Consider that it was most likely a fashion photographer and makeup artists behind the camera at this scene.

  8. Hello to all

    When I saw this picture and I read about Aisha, I was shocked !!!!!!!!!

    To Ali and all Afghan and Muslim men who think that Islam is the religion of peace, : Fuck you, you’re nothing but piece of shittttts ! I wish I could kill all Afghan men ! Oh My gosh I hate you FUCKING craps !!

    Fuck to Islam, Death to Islam. I am sorry I used bad words, Actually i am little bit angry and emotional . Even I feel I wanna cry for my poor Afghan sisters .

    Thanks to US and all the nations who are helping my country and Afghan women to seek a new begining .

    We(Afghan women) love you and appreciate your Works/ in Afghanistan.

    Please try to make the situation better for Afghan women. We live in a dangerous condition, our men treats us the way You DON’T treat an animal !


    Many thanks and best regards to all HUMAN BEINGS !

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