18 Dec 2010

Afghan teen who had nose and ears cut off by order of Taliban court is in U.S. for reconstructive surgery

TIME - July 29, 2010

Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban

By Aryn Baker

The following is an abridged version of an article that appears in the Aug. 9, 2010, print and iPad editions of TIME magazine.

The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband's house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn't run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha's brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.

This didn't happen 10 years ago, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It happened last year. Now hidden in a secret women's shelter in Kabul, Aisha listens obsessively to the news. Talk that the Afghan government is considering some kind of political accommodation with the Taliban frightens her. "They are the people that did this to me," she says, touching her damaged face. "How can we reconcile with them?"

In June, Afghan President Hamid Karzai established a peace council tasked with exploring negotiations with the Taliban. A month later, Tom Malinowski from Human Rights Watch met Karzai. During their conversation, Karzai mused on the cost of the conflict in human lives and wondered aloud if he had any right to talk about human rights when so many were dying. "He essentially asked me," says Malinowski, "What is more important, protecting the right of a girl to go to school or saving her life?" How Karzai and his international allies answer that question will have far-reaching consequences, not only for Afghanistan's women, but the country as a whole.

As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the need for an exit strategy weighs on the minds of U.S. policymakers. Such an outcome, it is assumed, would involve reconciliation with the Taliban. But Afghan women fear that in the quest for a quick peace, their progress may be sidelined. "Women's rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved," says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

Yet that may be where negotiations are heading. The Taliban will be advocating a version of an Afghan state in line with their own conservative views, particularly on the issue of women's rights. Already there is a growing acceptance that some concessions to the Taliban are inevitable if there is to be genuine reconciliation. "You have to be realistic," says a diplomat in Kabul. "We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made."

For Afghanistan's women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous. An Afghan refugee who grew up in Canada, Mozhdah Jamalzadah recently returned home to launch an Oprah-style talk show in which she has been able to subtly introduce questions of women's rights without provoking the ire of religious conservatives. On a recent episode, a male guest told a joke about a foreign human-rights team in Afghanistan. In the cities, the team noticed that women walked six paces behind their husbands. But in rural Helmand, where the Taliban is strongest, they saw a woman six steps ahead. The foreigners rushed to congratulate the husband on his enlightenment — only to be told that he stuck his wife in front because they were walking through a minefield. As the audience roared with laughter, Jamalzadah reflected that it may take about 10 to 15 years before Afghan women can truly walk alongside men. But once they do, she believes, all Afghans will benefit. "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."

This article was found at:



CNN - August 4, 2010

Afghan woman whose nose, ears cut off travels to U.S.

By Atia Abawi | CNN

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Bibi Aisha, a young Afghan wife whose ears and nose were cut off by her husband, is heading to the United States on Wednesday for reconstructive surgery.

Aisha made headlines [see article below] and was on a recent cover of Time magazine, showing the plight of women in Afghanistan.

"When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out," Aisha said, describing the attack. "It felt like there was cold water in my nose. I opened my eyes, and I couldn't even see because of all the blood."

But she survived.

With the help of an American provincial reconstruction team in Oruzgan province and the organization Women for Afghan Women, she finally received the help and protection she needed.

And now she is on her way to the United States, where the Grossman Burn Foundation will provide her with reconstructive surgery and a new life.

Aisha says her mutilation was an act of Taliban justice for the crime of shaming her husband's family.

At 16, she was handed over to her husband's father and 10 brothers, who she claims were all members of the Taliban in Oruzgan.

"I spent two years with them and became a prisoner," she said.

She eventually ran away but was caught by police in Kandahar. And although running away is not a crime, in places throughout Afghanistan, it is treated as one if you are a woman. Eventually her father-in-law found her and took her back to her abusive home.

She was taken to a Taliban court for dishonoring her husband's family and bringing them shame. The court ruled that her nose and ears must be cut off, an act carried out by her husband in the mountains of Oruzgan, where they left her to die.

After Aisha's story was exposed to the world through various news organizations, offers of help poured in.

But there are many more women still suffering.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan's women face some sort of domestic abuse. This in a country where there are fewer than a dozen women's shelters providing sanctuary from the cruelty they face. And all of them are privately run.

"Bibi Aisha is only one example of thousands of girls and women in Afghanistan and throughout the world who are treated this way. Who suffer abuses like this -- like this and worse," Women for Afghan Women board member Esther Hyneman said.

In 2001, the situation of Afghan women and Taliban brutality received lots of attention. Now, organizations like Women for Afghan Women say, the international community is strangely silent on the issue.

And with the Afghan government's plans to negotiate with some of the Taliban -- supported by many in the international community -- many fear that it will be the women who will pay the price.

Hyneman says that not enough is being done to help the women in Afghanistan, and that feeds into the hands of the Taliban.

Aisha is reminded of that every time she looks in the mirror.

But at least now she will be going to the United States for a chance at a new life.

And just like the iconic picture of an Afghan girl on a 1985 National Geographic cover brought the plight of Afghan women under Soviet oppression to the world's attention, many hope Aisha's face can show the new plight under the Taliban.

This article was found at:



CNN - March 18, 2010

'Shaming' her in-laws costs 19 year old her nose, ears

"When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out," 19-year-old Bibi Aisha of Afghanistan says with chilling candor.

Her beauty is still stunning and her confidence inspiring. It takes a moment for the barbaric act committed against her to register in your mind and sight.

Wearing her patterned scarf and with roughly painted nails she shares her story.

"It felt like there was cold water in my nose, I opened my eyes and I couldn't even see because of all the blood," she remembers.

It was an act of Taliban justice for the crime of shaming her husband's family.

This story began when Aisha was just 8 years old.

Her father had promised her hand in marriage, along with that of her baby sister's, to another family in a practice called "baad."

"Baad" in Pashtunwali, the law of the Pashtuns, is a way to settle a dispute between rival families.

At 16, she was handed over to her husband's father and 10 brothers, who she claims were all members of the Taliban in Oruzgan province. Aisha didn't even meet her husband because he was off fighting in Pakistan.

"I spent two years with them and became a prisoner," she says.

Tortured and abused, she couldn't take it any longer and decided to run away. Two female neighbors promising to help took her to Kandahar province.

But this was just another act of deception.

When they arrived to Kandahar her female companions tried to sell Aisha to another man.

All three women were stopped by the police and imprisoned. Aisha was locked up because she was a runaway. And although running away is not a crime, in places throughout Afghanistan it is treated as one if you are a woman.

A three-year sentence was reduced to five months when President Hamid Karzai pardoned Aisha. But eventually her father-in-law found her and took her back home.

That was the first time she met her husband. He came home from Pakistan to take her to Taliban court for dishonoring his family and bringing them shame.

The court ruled that her nose and ears must be cut off. An act carried out by her husband in the mountains of Oruzgan where they left her to die.

But she survived.

And with the help of an American Provincial Reconstruction Team in Oruzgan and the organization Women for Afghan Women (WAW), she is finally getting the help and protection she needs.

Offers have been pouring in to help Aisha, but there are many more women suffering in silence.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan's women suffer from some sort of domestic abuse. This in a country where there are only about eight women's shelters to provide sanctuary from the cruelty they face. And all of the eight are privately run.

"Bibi Aisha is only one example of thousands of girls and women in Afghanistan and throughout the world who are treated this way - who suffer abuses like this, like this and worse," says board member for WAW, Esther Hyneman.

In 2001, the situation of Afghan women and Taliban brutality received plenty of attention. Now organizations like WAW say the international community is strangely silent on the issue.

Hyneman says not enough is being done to help the women in Afghanistan and that feeds into the hands of the insurgency.

"When you have ... 50 percent of a population on their knees, it's very easy for extremists, tyrants to take over a country," she adds. "They have a ready-made enslaved population."

Aisha is reminded of that enslavement every time she looks in the mirror.

But there still times she can laugh. And at that moment you see her teenage spirit escaping a body that has seen a lifetime of injustice.

This article was found at:



AlterNet - August 8, 2010

Beautiful Women Used to Obscure the Horrors of War

By Daisy Hernandez | ColorLines

On Monday, Time magazine will hit newsstands and Ipads with its full story on the plight of women in Afghanistan --- and the disturbing cover image that's already been intensely debated on the Internet.

The photo is of 18-year-old Aisha, a light brown Afghan woman with piercing eyes, a thick mane of dark hair, and her nose cut off. Her husband also sliced off her ears after she ran away from her in-law's home, where she was being beaten so badly she thought she would die.

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.

But Time isn't the only with Photoshop and a political agenda.

Photography, war and women's lives are the focus of artist Rosemarie Romero's new solo exhibit, "Sexual War Politics," which opened last week at the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami.

The exhibit is a series of photomontages in which white women's bodies have been visually excavated and scenes of war have been placed where a pale belly or breast or buttock once was. In one piece, a blond woman stands with her legs spread, her hands on her hips, hair tousled. But her torso, including her breasts and vagina, have been replaced with the image of what appears to be an alley or hallway that's been bombed and where soldiers are gathered. A rifle is propped up against the wall, which in this case is the woman's right thigh.

The effect is jarring. Most people don't watch online porn or open up Playboy to look at naked women alongside images of soldiers guarding borders or a man dying on the ground.

Romero, who's 24-years-old and an MFA student at the University of Florida, says that when people first see the photomontages at a distance, they're titillated and drawn to the women's faces or spread legs or exposed breasts. When they get closer and realize what they're looking at, the party's over. They're disturbed, repulsed.

"I wanted to make a commentary on voyeurism, how victims are photographed, how women are photographed. The way they seem in the media," says Romero, who's Dominican.

Part of what makes "Sexual War Politics" so successful artistically and politically is that it takes into account the degree to which both porn images and war photos in and of themselves now largely fail to move us.

The editors at Time magazine were preparing for outrage over putting such a disturbing picture on their cover. Their managing editor reported that the staff consulted with child psychologists before deciding to run the photograph of Aisha with her missing nose. But the reaction they had expected never materialized. As the AP noted, very little of the discussion has centered on the shock of seeing the mutilated face of a young woman. In a visually saturated culture like ours, it may be that we are reaching a point where we can no longer see violence without --- as Romero's exhibit suggests --- putting it out of context.

In one of her pieces titled "Bomb Shell," the perky left breast and torso of a woman has been removed and in its place is the image of a building that's been bombed. Romero says she didn't realize how violent the porn names were until she adopted them as titles for her pieces. Taken out of context, they revealed more.

Out of context.

The more I've looked at the picture of Aisha this week, the more I've found something that's as disturbing as her mutilation and Time's call to war: the beauty of the image.

In the cover photograph, Aisha's hair is thick and wavy as if it had been carefully arranged in a New York studio. The camera has captured her at a moment when she's staring at us from the corner of her eyes, her lips slightly parted as if she's about to speak. The light falls across her pale brown cheeks, picks up the contrast in the shawl covering her dark hair. The nose, cut away, the flesh having healed as one commentator wrote into a "heart shape," is the only indication that this young woman's life is endangered.

It's a photograph in the tradition of the National Geographic, where brown and black women and men and even children are rendered in bright colors, made exotic, almost desirable, and placed alongside images of whales and polar bears. The pain of hunger or war or disease is eerily absent. The images -- out of context -- are made more palatable to audiences.

It was National Geographic whose editors put an Afghan girl on their cover in the 1980s. Sharbat Gula was photographed in a refugee camp and this became "the" image of the war along the Afghan border at the time, even though the photographer never recorded her name. 

Sharbat's picture, like that of Aisha's, was a palette of rich colors: the haunting green of her large eyes, the light brown hues of her face, the dark cherry red of the shawl. With a nose intact, Sharbat could have appeared on the cover of Vogue as Afghan chic.

What were the photographers thinking?

In Aisha's case, South African photographer Jodi Bieber, who took the photo for Time, says in a video that she was struck by the beauty of the young woman. It captivated her. She saw Aisha not as a victim but as a survivor.

But what if Aisha had been unattractive by Western standards? What if her eyes were crossed or her hair cut badly or her skin a rich dark black? 
Even with the mutilation, the photograph conforms to an aesthetic beauty we're familiar with from women's magazines and it's that, which I imagine, helps American viewers (I'd add white viewers) feel they have a connection to what they are seeing: "How awful, how beautiful, we should do something to save Aisha."

Michelle Chen reported on Time's cover and the savior complex earlier this week. Some women's rights advocates are more than willing to support Obama's futile war on the flimsy pretext that it will save women's lives. Other advocates are, fortunately, clear-headed, recalling that the Soviets used the same rationale for staying in Afghanistan and we can see how much liberation they brought to women there. 

A National Geographic team tracked Sharbat almost 20 years after her picture graced the magazine's cover. She hadn't learned to read but she hoped her own daughters would have more opportunities. She didn't know that millions of people had seen her face --- or that they had paid to do so.

War photography, women's faces and race have a long, complicated relationship, one that has taken some decidedly bizarre turns, as in the case of Rita Hayworth.

Hayworth, who was born Margarita Carmen Cansino (her father was a Spaniard), changed her name so she'd stop getting minor "Hispanic" roles in films. She also had her hairline altered through electrolysis and her wavy hair dyed red so that by the time she became a coveted pinup girl, she was white.

Soldiers favored Hayworth's image during World War II and millions of copies of her picture traveled with them into war. She was considered a "bombshell" and so when the first nuclear bomb was tested in 1945, an image of her decorated the missile. 
She hadn't given her consent.

The story has a science fiction quality to it: A biracial woman makes herself white to get work and her image ends up on the weapon that will be used to kill people of color.

Time's managing editor, Richard Stengel, has written that he published Aisha's picture not to support the war but to show "what is actually happening on the ground." The problem is he forgot the ground.

Granted, a cover photo can't serve too many purposes, not even more than one really. But placing the image of a young woman who's been mutilated outside of the context in which the horror has happened obscures the reality of the situation and conceals those who are responsible.

Here, I'm thinking of Phan Thị Kim Phúc.

The 1972 picture of her as a child, naked, her light brown body burning from napalm, running, revealed the cruelty of the war in Vietnam and actually of the 20th century. It unmasked what was happening on the ground, precisely because it showed Kim Phúc running down the road along with other children, soldiers behind and to the side, in the background the sky had been replaced with ominous man-made clouds.

I'm not suggesting that a photograph should have been taken of Aisha as she was attacked. But it's a disservice to the reality of war to have her image so carefully constructed and divorced from its context: the men and women dying at the hands of American forces, the collaboration of Pakistan spies and the Taliban.

It suggests that photojournalists and their editors today, unlike their 1970s counterparts, might be leaving the hard work of revealing what's actually happening on the ground to young artists of color like Romero.

Click here for more images of the show.

This article was found at:



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