Controversy Over Time Magazine Cover Showing Mutilated Afghan Woman

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Time magazine's new issue features a disturbing and controversial cover: an 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose has been cut off, accompanied by the coverline "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." Time says the woman "was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws" and that her story represents what will happen in Afghanistan if the U.S. military departs its now-8-year mission. Is Time right? Are they right to publish the cover?

  • We Want to 'Confront Readers' With Reality Time managing editor Richard Stengel explains the magazine's decision. "I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of TIME. ... But 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."
  • Implicit Argument for Endless Occupation? The Awl's Choire Sicha wonders, "That sure sounds like an argument--and, you know, a very moving and affecting one!--for something like a permanent or at least extended occupation."
  • 'Good Journalism' Mediaite's Meenal Vamburkar praises, "This reasoning follows what many might agree is the definition and purpose of good journalism. The things that are hard to look at are often the things that are most necessary to look at. Whether readers think the cover is bold or too graphic, the shock value cannot be denied."
  • Vastly Oversimplifies War Jezebel's Irin Carmon says of the mutilated woman, "Such stories are obscene, not at all uncommon, and need to be told. But there is an elision here between these women's oppression and what the U.S. military presence can and should do about it, which in turn simplifies the complexities of the debate and turns it into, 'Well, do you want to help Aisha or not?' While Aryn Baker's story features the voices of many Afghan women who worry that the likely compromise with the Taliban vis a vis a possible U.S. exit will curtail their new freedoms, it doesn't actually forcefully make the case that American military presence is the only solution to their problems."
  • OK, But at What Cost to Us? Liberal blogger Gulliver asks the question implicit in Time's cover and story: "should the plight of women (or people in general) under hard-line theocratic rule be driving our policy choices? What about after 1,000 dead Americans? What about after 10,000 dead Americans? ... where's the line? How many human rights are enough? How much suffering is too much? So, this: What's the magnitude of human tragedy required to justify a financially and strategically bankrupting enterprise?"
  • The Other Thing That Happen If We Leave The Nation's Greg Mitchell writes, "I'd propose here a few alternative, or at least additional, cover images, all showing Americans here at home, that Time might go with an upcoming cover on 'What Happens If We LEAVE Afghanistan.' Please supply your own ideas in the comments section below."

-- A student in a high-tech classroom.

-- Workers streaming into a newly re-opened factory.

-- A poor black or Hispanic woman examined by a doctor in a first-class facility.

-- A returning soldier embraced by his wife and two kids.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.