[Marxism] What Time's mutilation photo really shows about Afghan war

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Aug 12 16:20:37 MDT 2010

Afghan Women Have Already Been Abandoned
Ann Jones | August 12, 2010

I know Bibi Aisha, the young Afghan woman pictured on the August 9 cover of
Time, and I rejoice that her mutilated nose and ears are going to be
surgically repaired. But the logic of those who use Aisha's story to
convince us that the US military must stay in Afghanistan escapes me. Even
Aisha has already left for America.

I realize that last remark has no logical basis, but then neither does the
Time cover line "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan" beside a shocking
photo depicting what happened (to this woman) after we had already stayed
for eight years. I heard Aisha's story from her a few weeks before the image
of her face was displayed all over the world. She told me that her
father-in-law caught up with her after she ran away, and took a knife to her
on his own; village elders later approved, but the Taliban didn't figure at
all in this account. The Time story, however, attributes Aisha's mutilation
to a husband under orders of a Talib commander, thereby transforming a
personal story, similar to those of countless women in Afghanistan today,
into a portent of things to come for all women if the Taliban return to
power. Profoundly traumatized, Aisha might well muddle her story, but what
excuses reporters who seem to inflate the role of the Taliban with every
repetition of the case? Some reports have Aisha "sentenced" by a whole
Taliban "jirga."

The Taliban do terrible things. Yet the problem with demonizing them is that
it diverts attention away from other, equally unpleasant and threatening
facts. Let's not make the common mistake of thinking that the devil we see
is the only one.

Consider the creeping Talibanization of Afghan life under the Karzai
government. Restrictions on women's freedom of movement, access to work and
rights within the family have steadily tightened as the result of a
confluence of factors, including the neglect of legal and judicial reform
and the obligations of international human rights conventions; legislation
typified by the infamous Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL), gazetted in 2009
by President Karzai himself despite women's protests and international
furor; intimidation; and violence. Women legislators told the UN Assistance
Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) last year that they have come to fear the
fundamentalist warlords who control the Parliament. One said, "Most of the
time women don't dare even say a word about sensitive Islamic issues,
because they are afraid of being labeled as blasphemous." (Blasphemy is a
capital offense.) Women journalists also told UNAMA that they "refrain from
criticizing warlords and other power brokers, or covering topics that are
deemed contentious such as women's rights." A series of assassinations of
prominent women, beginning in 2005, have driven many women from work and
public life. Women working in women's organizations in Kabul regularly
receive threatening letters and, recently, high-tech videos on their mobile
phones showing women being raped.

The Taliban claim responsibility for some, but not all, of the
assassinations and threats, while most members of the Karzai government
maintain a complicit silence. These developments have sent into reverse what
little progress women in the cities had made since 2001, while most women in
the countryside have seen no progress at all, and untold thousands have been
harmed and displaced by warfare. All this has taken place on Karzai's watch
and much of it with his connivance. Our government complains that the Karzai
administration is corrupt, but the greater problem—never mentioned—is that
it is fundamentalist. The cabinet, courts and Parliament are all largely
controlled by men who differ from the Taliban chiefly in their choice of

If our government were truly concerned about the lives of women in
Afghanistan, it would have invited women to the table to take part in
decision-making about the future of their country, beginning with the Bonn
conference in 2001. Instead, they have been consistently left out.

Our long history of woeful policies has put us and Afghan women in a double
bind. If we leave, the Taliban may seize power or allow themselves to be
bought in exchange for a substantial share of the government, to the
detriment of women. But if we stay, the Taliban may simply continue to creep
into power, or they may allow themselves to be bought (or "reconciled") in
exchange for bribes and a substantial share of the government, all to the
detriment of women, while we go on fighting to preserve that same
government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assurance that "reconciled"
Taliban will agree to observe women's rights under the Constitution is
either cynical or naïve in the extreme. And the US pretense that somehow
women's rights will be preserved if only we stay long enough to shore up the
Karzai regime and the ragtag Afghan National Army is at best a delusion. Yet
the specter of the demon Taliban somehow makes it seem plausible.

Before feminists and the antiwar left come to blows, we might do well to
consider that every Afghan woman or girl who still goes to work or school
does so with the support of a progressive husband or father. Several
husbands of prominent working women have been killed for not keeping their
wives at home, and many are threatened. What's taking place in Afghanistan
is commonly depicted, as it is on the Time cover, as a battle of the forces
of freedom, democracy and women's rights (that is, the United States and the
Karzai government) against the demon Taliban. But the real struggle is
between progressive Afghan women and men, many of them young, and a phalanx
of regressive forces. For the United States, the problem is this: the
regressive forces militating against women's rights and a democratic future
for Afghanistan are headed by the demon Taliban, to be sure, but they also
include the fundamentalist (and fundamentally misogynist) Karzai government,
and us.
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