A Prosthetic Nose for Time Mag’s Aisha Won’t Beautify Our Wars

The Afghan teen is a symbol for many things, but war-making isn't one of them.

By Kai Wright Oct 13, 2010

Time magazine’s Afghan-war cover model has a new look. This summer, Time stirred emotions–positive and negative–by featuring a young woman named Aisha who had been brutally attacked. The 18-year-old had been horribly abused by her Taliban husband, who sliced off her nose and ears after she tried to run away from her in-laws’ home. As ColorLines’ Daisy Hernandez wrote when the issue hit the stands:

It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to look at the picture of Aisha and not feel horror, anger, fear. What’s to be done? Time’s editors have just the solution. The story’s headline reads: "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan." Critics, including Muslim women bloggers, are accusing Time of exploiting Aisha to gather support for Obama’s futile war in Afghanistan and boost dwindling sales of the magazine as well.

Now ABC News reports that America has welcomed Aisha with the same gusto with which our leaders led us to war. The Grossman Burn Foundation has given her an "enduring heart" award and is financing reconstructive surgery. In the meantime, Diane Sawyer tells us, Aisha has a prosthetic nose she puts on each morning. The segment features Aisha showing off prosthesis for Laura Bush (who murmurs softly about its beauty), Maria Shriver and, of course, ABC.

Aisha’s story is to be a feel-good tale about American generosity. And surely, anything that betters the young woman’s life and restores her dignity is a victory. But something dark and troublingly familiar lurks behind the narrative. We can’t seem to leave it at helping Aisha. Rather, we insist her prosthesis also be used to cover up our war-making folly, our assault on civilian life, our total disregard for literally uncounted numbers of women around the globe who suffer daily violence–sometimes with the culpability of our own corporations.

Global Justice columnist Michelle Chen described the original Time cover this way:

Her piercing stare seems to beseech the earnest Americans pouring blood and treasure into their war-torn nation, the last hope for the forsaken masses. The caption below reminds us, "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan." Don’t dare debate the answer–the photo says it all: How could we be so savage as to turn our backs on Aisha and all the other girls destined for destruction at the hands of their backward patriarchs?

How could we turn away from this? Easy. We already have, and we’ve turned our guns on the women of Afghanistan instead.

Read Michelle’s full blog post here and Daisy’s August feature exploring the broader question of violent imagery taken out of its lived context here.