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, whilst provoking compassion and sympathy. Which is why I suspect Time magazine chose it as the cover. The image manages to re-assert what Edward Said 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 its viewers compassion for its subject, whilst confirming that she is ‘other’.
America is happily distanced as everything 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 possessing all the qualities which the ‘other’ 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 not new. Through selecting images such as these, media outlets such as Time are able to tap into an age old understandings about the world. Coupled with the heading that ‘This is what happens when we leave Afghanistan’, Time has successfully managed to project an imperialist view over the events occurring in Afghanistan. The calculated use of 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 or they will chop up their women’.
Never mind that this has absolutely nothing to do with the reasons 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 shopped by Rob Beschizza