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TIME’s Epic Distortion of the Plight of Women in Afghanistan

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Help us push back against TIME Magazine's distortion of women's issues in Afghanistan.

Tomorrow, TIME Magazine will treat newsstand customers everywhere to one of the most rank propaganda plays of the Afghanistan War. The cover features a woman, Aisha, whose face was mutilated by the Taliban, next to the headline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." Far more people will see this image and have their emotions manipulated by it than will read the article within (which itself seems to be a journalistic travesty, if the web version is any indication), so TIME should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for such a dishonest snow job on their customers. Readers deserve better.

Let's clarify something right off the top when it comes to this cover: Aisha, the poor woman depicted in the photograph, was attacked last year, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops tramping all over the country at the time. This isn't the picture of some as-yet-unrealized nighmarish future for Afghan women. It's the picture of the present.

Human Rights Watch's (HRW) recently published report on this issue, The "Ten-Dollar Talib" and Women's Rights, provides key context for the struggle for women's political equality in Afghanistan:

Afghan women assert their rights in what is already a deeply hostile political environment. Any assessment of women’s rights, and indeed the prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation needs to be made in the context of the very traditional and often misogynistic male leadership that dominates Afghan politics. The Afghan government, often with the tacit approval of key foreign governments and inter-governmental bodies, has empowered current and former warlords, providing official positions to some and effective immunity from prosecution for serious crimes to the rest. Backroom deals with abusive commanders have created powerful factions in the government and Parliament that are opposed to many of the rights and freedoms that women now enjoy. As one activist told us, “We women don’t have guns and poppies and we are not warlords, therefore we are not in the decision-making processes.”

This is something that folks who put together TIME's cover better understand right now: the fox is already in the hen-house. There is a very powerful set of anti-women's-equality caucuses already nested within the Afghan government that the U.S. supports. These individuals and groups are working to reassert the official misogyny of the Taliban days already, independent of the reconciliation and reintegration process. Given the opportunity, these individuals and groups in the U.S.-backed government will manipulate the reconciliation and reintegration process and leverage armed-opposition-group participation in the process to push through policies they'd prefer already as compromises with their "opponents." This is why the propaganda of TIME's cover is so pernicious: the women of Afghanistan are caught in a vice already, stuck between their opponents in the insurgency and in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. If one is concerned about the rights of women in Afghanistan, the question is, how do we give women the most leverage possible in this situation?

Further, TIME's incendiary headline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan," is a total misrepresentation of the issue discussed in the article. Here's Aisha in her own words:

"They [the Taliban] are the people that did this to me," she says, touching her damaged face. "How can we reconcile with them?"

Here's another quote from another woman that gets at the issue much better than TIME's headline:

"Women's rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved," says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

And another quote:

"When we talk about women's rights," Jamalzadah says, "we are talking about things that are important to men as well — men who want to see Afghanistan move forward. If you sacrifice women to make peace, you are also sacrificing the men who support them and abandoning the country to the fundamentalists that caused all the problems in the first place."