I’ve watched with great interest the general reactions to Time magazines cover over the last couple of days. From my tumblr feed, there was a sway of horror and shock, followed largely by gratitude for being born American. Conversely, on the Feminist Peace Network, outrage that a young girls image was being exploited for the use of war propoganda, and rather a lot of disgust about being American.
It is an image that manages to compel both a voyeuristic sense of disgust, with an overwhelming provocation of compassion and sympathy. It is this combination I suspect, which is why Time magazine chose it as a cover. It manages to re-assert what Edward Said has described as being the ‘othering’ of the Orient. What happened to Aisha is despicable. But what Time magazine is doing can only be seen as propoganda on a most devious and calculated scale.
Through presenting the image of a young women who has been brutalised and maimed, the magazine is inducing within the viewer not only compassion for its subject, but confirming the understanding that she is ‘other’. That America is all this image is not. If you are not familiar with the work of Said, the basic principles of his theory are that the West has constructed a particular understanding of the Orient (The Orient being what we would now call the Middle East) and through this understanding, is able to project all its collective fears and desires. For example, in the Victorian era, stories of mass harems run by lascivious men in turbans, were largely generated by sexually repressed English men with overactive imaginations. Through projecting such desires, a society is able to define itself as posessing all the qualities which the ‘other’ most definately lacks. In this example of Aisha’s face, we are able to define our own society as being civilised, progressive, and most importantly, free of such brutal violence against women. We are able to experience disgust and outrage, but from a comfortable distance. This understanding of the Middle East is an old one, and through selecting images such as these, media outlets such as Time are able to tap in to age old understandings about the world. Coupled with the near unbelievable heading that ‘This is what happens when we leave Afghanistan’, Time has successfully managed to project an imperialist view over the event occuring in Afghanistan, and through deliberately using such an upsetting image, leaves the reader feeling emotionally swayed towards the message of the piece. Which is essentially, the barbaric people of Afghan need us to be there so they will stop chopping up their women. Never mind that this has absolutely nothing to do with the original reason for invading Afghan. Never mind that this event actually occured whilst American and British troops were supposedly helping the Afghan people. And nevermind as well, that in supposedly civilised countries such as Britain, The Donkey Sanctury recieves more funding than all Domestic Violence safe houses put together. Like so many cases before, the image of the woman has been conjured up as a means through which a war propoganda machine can keep on churning.
Check out this somewhat more accurate cover, as shooped by Rob Beschizza