Time’s “What Happens…” Cover

The July 29, 2010, cover of Time Magazine features a portrait of a young woman from Afghanistan, her dark eyes arresting the reader and where her nose would be there is only a terrifying scar encircling a single, fleshy hole. The headline is “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan” and the subheading reads, “Aisha, 18, had her nose and ears cut off last year on orders from the Taliban because she fled abusive in-laws.”

Even without the headline it is a deliberately provocative photograph and one that will surely sell a lot of magazines. Contextualized by its headline the cover is pure propaganda. It makes plain the strange ideology of America’s foreign wars: We are at war with (fill in the blank) for their own good. What happens if we leave Afghanistan? Women will have their noses cut off, willy-nilly. You don’t want that do you? Presumably if we leave Afghanistan then Afghani civilians will no longer be accidently killed or mutilated by drone attacks either… those survivors didn’t get a Time-Life photographer though.

Both are acts of violence, Aisha’s disfigurement at the hands of the Taliban and civilizan casualties at the hands of the American military. But the former graces the cover of a major, mainstream media publication because it resonates powerfully with American traditions of belief about “other” people. The Taliban are barbarians and their violent behavior is symptomatic of their temporal displacement, they are literally living in the past rebelling against modernity. And so it is the duty of Civilization to intervene and save them from themselves by making them more like us. By force if necessary.

In conference papers I have argued that the genesis of this ideology is to be found in the formative conflict of the American nation, the Eastern and Western Indian Wars. Throughout the nineteenth century in political, academic, and journalistic circles American violence against Indians was seldom justified in crude materialist concerns like the acquisition of land. Instead experts created a panopoly of deficiencies inherent in the tribes’ supposed savagery that needed only to be replaced by the Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism for them all to become productive members of society. “Kill the Indian and save the man,” was one such rallying cry that Americans should keep the “promise” made to all Indians — to save their souls, teach them English, and make them modern. To make them into versions of us.

Two forms of violence, one is disturbing and senseless, the other distressing but necessary. Two forms of violence, the former justifying the later. What are the means by which American people distinguish between the two? What accounts for the absence of Afghani civilian casualties on the cover of Time? For anthropologist Gabriele Marranci the legitimization of Civilization’s violence can be understood through culture, especially Christian eschatology.

In the West, anthropologically, suffering from acts of war or terrorism (terms which, in today’s Afghanistan, are often used to include national resistance, secular insurgency and territorial disputes) seems to be classified into two distinct categories. On the one hand, the western-induced suffering is perceived as ‘ethnical’ and ‘lawful’, superior and enlightened, an act of ‘love’, a bitter medicine for the salvation of the ‘ignorant’ (understood as ‘not knowing’), the ‘sinner’ through the redemption of blood, and as death with a view to societal resurrection and rebirth. On the other hand, however, there is a perception of a need for punishment of the barbaric actions of the ignorant, of the infliction of evil for the evil committed by people who are somehow disgusting for rejecting the ‘Truth’.

That is, violence and suffering are not condemned for the effect they have on human beings, but are condemned and rejected only if they are not the ‘right’ violence, ‘salvific’ in nature and ‘just’ in cause – in other words, a transubstantiational violence. Hence, destruction and suffering, in this case, is a part of redemption, while the Taliban’s violence is merely destructive.

In this light the old theoretical tools of anthropology — myth, ritual, sacrifice, the gift — all seem fresh and relevant again in the context of international violence and geopolitics. Baudrillard’s hyperreality could be useful too as the circulation of signifiers, let loose from their signifieds, flows permiscuously from Central Asia through the great nodes of global capitalism and on into the blogosphere.

So readers, what is your interpretation of the Time Magazine cover? I’m not asking about the content of the article, but the image and it’s headline. Does it suggest to you a realism that offers a way of understanding living Afghani people? Does it offer any insight into the nearly decade long war that has cost so much in American life and treasure? Or does it, as I argue, stand as evidence of an American epistemology of the Other, showing how Americans arrange what it is that they think they know about the people of the world?

Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a Masters student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.

39 thoughts on “Time’s “What Happens…” Cover

  1. A piece from The Nation made this point:

    Also very much worth mentioning: the girl on the cover was attacked not in long ago days of Taliban rule but not long ago — with tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the country.

    And boingboing posted a photoshopped version of the Time cover making the same point.

  2. I’m afraid the Taliban is barbaric by any definition whatsoever. Moreover, the false dichotomy you posit is simply the mirror image of the one you criticize. In your false paradigm, America is manipulative, oppressive, ignorant, and hypocritical. The “people of the world” (whatever that means, are Americans on Mars?) are misunderstood, dehumanized victims. This is, at best, a Manichean fantasy no better then the one of which you claim to be skeptical.

  3. I have to go with Benjamin, cultural relativism be damned, the Taliban are barbaric. Decrying practices as abhorrent is not simply a reflection of a colonialist euro-amerocentrist ideology.

    However, those same abhorrent practices are also instrumentalised to mobilise people and support for concrete policies that often have ulterior motives. Which just goes to show that it is too simplistic to simply decry the Time piece as plain propaganda – as the BoingBoing mashup shows, the US public is informed enough to see both the desired message – the propaganda – as well as the subtext – if this is still happening, the West is failing in some way.

  4. In conference papers I have argued that the genesis of this ideology is to be found in the formative conflict of the American nation, the Eastern and Western Indian Wars.

    Rob Williams’s book The American Indian in Western legal thought argues that there are pre-Contact antecedents. I don’t think you are incorrect, though I am not entirely sure that Indians are the only Other in the picture. It seems to me that a similar ideology was at work (though admittedly with less violence) in the practice of what we would now call social work amongst urban-based immigrant communities.

    So readers, what is your interpretation of the Time Magazine cover?

    There are a lot of things going on with the cover but I guess what I really take away from it is something about the pornographization of American social life.* I remember being disgusted with what Mel Gibson did in that regard with The Passion of the Christ but this just seems categorically different to me. At least he and the distributor had enough propriety to not force their torture porn on the public in this way—the movie’s trailers were titillating but you had to buy a ticket to see the goods whereas Time has more or less forced this on the American public.

    *I’m not saying or not not saying that the Taliban are the white hats and the Americans are the black hats here, just as I am not trying to make a some sort of anti-pornography or anti-free speech argument, etc.

  5. I have a Time Magazine subscription, and as soon as I saw this cover on my doorstep I thought of the propaganda behind it. However, I also see the Taliban as a group whose horror’s defy notions of cultural relativism – i.e., their violent and oppressive beliefs cannot be justified with cultural difference.

    That being said, I think that one of the main issues here is not just the American tendency to conceptualize the “other” in a way that portrays it as less civilized, but it is the American tendency to believe that America can fix and/or save everything and anything. Who are we to say that our methods are the best in application for keeping the Taliban out of Afghanistan?

    My biggest issue with the cover to this magazine is not the image as much as the headline. If you read the magazine, Aisha was fully aware of what she was doing in allowing them to put her picture on the front of the magazine, thus implying that she wants the world to know about these atrocities. But the headline “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan” implies that we are the only saving grace against the Taliban, which, as Kerim has pointed out, is simply not true, especially given that this attack occurred during the American occupation of Afghanistan.

  6. The most interesting aspect of the cover for me is the manipulation of the viewer’s perception of time, something that both the original blogger and some of the commenters have already touched on.

    It’s a picture published in the present of something that happened in the recent past, purporting to show us the future. This will happen, if we leave. But of course, it already has happened. It is happening.

    This I think is the strongest evidence for Matt’s assertion that the conflict in Afghanistan from the NATO perspective is being framed in fundamentally wave-of-history type terms. We convert space into time, rendering some spaces into representatives of the past (and a possible retrograde future), where other, more closely-managed spaces can represent modernity (although even such Potemkin villages seem awfully thin on the ground at the moment).

    Blaming “the Taliban” for the mutilation is true but also misleading; the assailant of this young woman was not an agent of the state, a blood-spattered Islamic Eichmann if you want — the equivalent of the morality squads in Iran. To the extent that “the Taliban” are identified as cultural outsiders and also as having the kind of bureaucratic boundedness we expect from would-be state actors, cultural improvement through selective extermination can be given an aura of logic. But as I said, the assailant was not a detached ideologue acting under a general order. He was a relative, a brother-in-law. So I think one of the sociological/anthropological questions provoked by the discussion of the cover is very much “who are the Taliban?” — is anyone who sees violence as a way of preserving personal and familial honour part of the Taliban, even if they work for the Karzai regime?

  7. Sorry to double-post, I just wanted to add: I guess what I’m saying is that it isn’t necessary to be a cultural relativist to see the disconnect here. One can see such practices as falling under a definition of *criminality* that demands redress, under a utilitarian human-rights logic, and also the deficiency of de facto enforcement of this justice, without accepting that such criminality defines a case for “just war”.

  8. I’ve noticed also that the false dichotomies offered to us from both the far right and left are mirror images of each other, but that there is any interesting aspect to the far left narrative. The false dichotomy here is one of human suffering. There is this strange notion among ideologues that suffering or injustice somewhere cancels out the suffering and injustice in another place, or among another people.
    All degrees of human suffering and injustice add to each other, they don’t cancel each other out. “Yeah, but we did this,” isn’t an excuse that lets off someone for cutting up young girls as a matter of common practice. Anyone that could say such a thing has a very hard heart. Both injustice and suffering existed long before Capitalism, or any other cultural boogie men.

    The story is correct. If we leave there will be a mass slaughter as bad as the killing fields, and we have to accept that as reality. People where getting beheaded and girls mutilated long before we got there, and they aren’t doing it in NATO controlled areas without punishment. Whether that is emotional blackmail is another thing entirely. Propaganda is only powerful if it utilizes the truth within it’s narrative. The Taliban poison gas girls schools, and there’s nothing you can say that makes this ok. Nothing can justify it, or cancel it out. Exploitation of some, doesn’t make the exploitation by others ok.
    When did tolerance of intolerance become the rule in anthropology? Some worldviews are not just different they are better. They incorporate more views, great tolerance, and greater inclusion of behavior. Ethnocentric is better than egocentric. Global-centric is better than ethnocentric. Religious freedom is better than theocratic totalitarianism. Not allowing woman to be beaten and maimed, is better than treating them as chattel.

    Understanding the origin or causes of behavior does not excuse them.

  9. It is hard not to laugh (or cry) reading this post. Manichean seems like a really nice way of putting the world view it espouses. Of course Americans (Europeans + Westerners etc) objectify the ‘other’…this point of Said’s et al was made a long, long time ago and entire departments of Academia endeavor to explicate it. And maybe Time’s magazine cover is propaganda, maybe the real feeling of its reporters and editors who have covered this story for years. But to argue that the Taliban is not a hideous and cruel group of people who are brutal to their own kind and others makes the academic anthropologist seem like as much of a joke as the caliper-toting Victorian ‘great man.’ Although, actually, Frazier and his ilk probably had a lot more empathy for the people they studied. This is why no one who deals with global issues of violence towards women — whether that be clitorectomy, gang rape, honor killing, etc — looks to anthropologists. All that Baudrillard and Bakhtin has the field unable to discern its proverbial ass from a hole in the ground.

  10. Is it possible to condemn the behavior of the Taliban while condemning and critiquing the methods used to police their behavior, and the other phenomena surrounding those methods and police actions?

    If so, is it necessary to always include the former (condemnation of the Taliban) with the latter (critique & analysis of policing)?

    Because I saw the latter in this post, not the former.

  11. That something is heinous does not mean a bomb can make it unheinous. The ends can only justify the means if the means lead rationally to the ends; well, such a condition is necessary though not sufficient. All this “do you hate the terrorists *enough* you bad liberal you?” stuff is ultimately a red herring.

    Not to mention not really relevant to the intellectual questions raised by the post.

  12. bq. But to argue that the Taliban is not a hideous and cruel group of people who are brutal to their own kind and others makes the academic anthropologist seem like as much of a joke as the caliper-toting Victorian ‘great man.’

    Sorry, this wasn’t at all the point of this post. Seems to me the author simply wanted to note the irony of a propagandistic image such as this, one which ostensibly decries violence in order to justify it. The reference to Baudrillard was rather unhelpful though. I would have preferred a reference to Barthes’ analysis of myth today, where the ostensive content of the image becomes a signifier in relation to a larger ‘truth.’

  13. Morality is so rich and complex. It’s so multifaceted and contradictory. But many authors reduce it to a single principle, which is usually some variant of welfare maximization. So that would be the sugar. Or sometimes, it’s justice and related notions of fairness and rights. And that would be the chemist down the street [who sells salt]. So basically, there’s two restaurants to choose from. There’s the utilitarian grille, and there’s the deontological diner. That’s pretty much it.

    We need metaphors and analogies to think about difficult topics, such as morality. An analogy that Marc Hauser and John Mikhail have developed in recent years is that morality is like language. And I think it’s a very, very good metaphor. It illuminates many aspects of morality. It’s particularly good, I think, for sequences of actions that occur in time with varying aspects of intentionality.

    But, once we expand the moral domain beyond harm, I find that metaphors drawn from perception become more illuminating, more useful. I’m not trying to say that the language analogy is wrong or deficient. I’m just saying, let’s think of another analogy, a perceptual analogy.

    Jonathan Haidt (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/morality10/morality.haidt.html)

    Good to think.

  14. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Hekmatyar received millions of dollars from the CIA through the ISI. Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin received some of the strongest support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and worked with thousands of foreign mujahideen who came to Afghanistan.[16] According to the ISI, their decision to allocate the highest percentage of covert aid to Hekmatyar was based on his record as an effective anti-Soviet military commander in Afghanistan.[17] Others describe his position as the result of having “almost no grassroots support and no military base inside Afghanistan,” and thus being the much more “dependent on Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq’s protection and financial largess” than other mujahideen factions.[18]“

    The question is not whether the Taliban are barbaric but whether US policies, even those (belatedly) opposed to them have made them stronger.

    US policy has always been predicated on a desire for compliance on the part other states, not justice for their citizens. We supported Zia, we supported the future Taliban, we encouraged Saddam Hussein in his attack on Iran, against those who deposed the Shah who’d also received US support. We support Mubarak. We support the obscene Saudi monarchy.

    Would it have been better not to interfere in Afghanistan? Are the Taliban preferable to Najibullah?
    If your interest is the well being of the Afghan people the answer is clearly no.

    Hekmatyar, known for throwing acid in women’s exposed faced.

  15. I appreciate this post from Matt and his careful observation/articulation of the use of violence in the context of ‘civilizing’. Some of the comments even reinforce the point of justifications that Matt makes in the post. The mention of American Indians is interesting given how the ‘civilzing’ project is still underway and we can easily find the same propaganda (which I monitor daily here in Canada). In fact, one of the most popular academics, Tom Flanagan, has a whole book explicitly saying that the civilizing project is justifaible as inevitable and necessary. The Time Magazine image is both a simple example of sensationalizing an unimagibale and immoral horror and a piece of propaganda. More importantly, it sells magazines and ideas. The debate over how ‘evil’ and ‘barbaric’ the Taliban is widely misplaced. There are strong democratic movements in Afghanistan, some led by women, that are beginning to prefer the Taliban to Imperial/foreign occupation. The Taliban themselves have been softening many of their political positions towards community, women and education because they sense the anger and disappointment towards the Nato forces. The image is loud and irresponsible attempt to agitate/motivate the public to see the issue as one of necessity. While American forces forticate themselves deeper and strenghten their geo-political hold on a long valued region for strategic reasons, we need constant re-affirmation that ‘we’ are good. Yet, we continue to deny basic democratic and self-determining rights to the Nations of North America. In Canada, (also in Afghanistan) the parrallells are uncanny. What we justify in the name of ‘civilization’, ‘modernity’, ‘Rights’ and so on is largely indefensible when ‘westerners’ examine the actual poltiical and economic agendas. Moreover, The impulse to see this as a debate about cultural-relativism is misleading- it is not about passively accepting the Taliban for who they are (anymore than we would Nazis); they are a political organization more than anything else. To be concerned and address the issues of tyranny is different than large-scale occupation and possession of an entire people. When a female activist gained access to an Obama fundraising dinner and asked him whey there were no women on one of his Committees for the futrue of Afghanistan, he relied,”We have Hilary”. The time magazine image reduces the issue to one that people can accept and believe to be so pure, so simple- it is easy to support a war that is waged for good than one waged for greed.

  16. Thanks to the commenters for the great conversation. Gold stars to everyone! And keep up the good work.

    Did anyone read the Gabriele Marranci posts I linked to? Your thoughts?

  17. Thanks Matt- Yes, I did read it and his points resonate/correlate well with researches I am engaged with regarding the ongoing colonial situation here in Canada (particularly, Vancouver Island, British Columbia). In fact, this analysis (working out the genealogy of where this discrimmination of morality or/and justification of violence for good) is quite easy to do. It is really the hallmark of Liberalism. What is more interesting, is to understand how these moral discriminations/differentiations are constructed to fit with agenda’s- both political and economical- both on theological and scientific grounds. Thanks for posting this- I had not come accross Maranci’s work and look forward to learning more. Cheers- J.

  18. “That something is heinous does not mean a bomb can make it unheinous. The ends can only justify the means if the means lead rationally to the ends; well, such a condition is necessary though not sufficient.”

    I think this is a very good example of examining groups and ideologies that would kill you and subjugate others the first chance they got from a very safe place and with the benefit of secular, democratic, rule of law type ideals. This ties into the Wikileaks conversation. The irony seems to be lost on the fact that one has the freedom to release thousands of secret documents to anyone restriction free, and at the same time be arrogant enough to not think about how few places in the world they would be able to do that.

    Peaceful protests only work when various social structures are in place; including the guaranteed safety of protesters, the respect for descent, a system that is changeable, etc… If the US civil rights movement of the 1960′s happened in Stalinist Russia, they would have been slaughtered and forgotten. If Gandhi stood in front of a Nazi tank, he would have been crushed and thanked for not wasting bullets. Only an absolute fool would do such a thing. These guys are no different. They are the last absolutist, totalitarian ideologues of the 20th century.

    A great and forgotten figure who criticized Gandhi for such simplistic thinking was Aurobindo, who was correct that Gandhi was only successful, because he was fighting the British at the time. Aurobindo says of Gandhi what I’m saying here:

    “Gandhi’s theories are like other mental theories built on the basis of one-sided reasoning and claiming for a limited truth (that of non-violence and passive resistance) a universality which it cannot have. Such theories will always exist so long as the mind is used as the main instrument of human truth-seeking.”

    This is a form of ethnocentrism. People are trying to understand this conflict through a narrow cultural prism of western secularism, and the discourse of cultural debate. Someone find me a single work from this enemy that has any form of self-reflexivity, doubt, anything that isn’t single mindedly sure of the absolute right of their side, and I will send you 20 dollars. Such a thing doesn’t exist.
    We are having this conversation alone and with ourselves.
    I can, at the same time, understand that there are no pure innocents in conflict, and understand that every human is equally capable of every evil or good, and still not hesitate to put a bullet in the Stalin’s, Hitler’s and Bin Lauden’s of the world. This is so even if one must at times make an ally of Stalin to defeat a Hitler. No doubt we are not innocents in any of this, but we are better by any rubric or unit of measurement, be it ethical or moralistic. Our soldiers put their lives at risk to not drop bombs on civilians, while killing civilians is of no consequence to the Taliban or their allies. We have the technology to turn Afghanistan into glass. If they had that ability you would be living under Shar’ia right now and watching gays beheaded as a matter of routine. If you believe that women are equal to men, and that minority people and views must be protected, then you have no choice to be against them, because they are against you, whether you like it or not.

  19. Regarding the manipulation of time: the subheading does indicate that the mutilation happened “last year”; the headline i also phrased in the present tense. I guess better copy/editing could have helped, but it is written with the assumption of an eventual complete and total victory of the US in Afghanistan, in which nothing bad will ever happen again.

    Does it suggest to you a realism that offers a way of understanding living Afghani people? Does it offer any insight into the nearly decade long war that has cost so much in American life and treasure?

    I think it shows a reality that a lot of people are not aware of… Sure, it’s a “war”, people “die”, etc… but until you are faced with a person’s face and her nose cut off, it’s all images on the TV screen. This single image is much more powerful than most of the TV coverage served daily.

    Or does it, as I argue, stand as evidence of an American epistemology of the Other, showing how Americans arrange what it is that they think they know about the people of the world?

    TIME gives its readers an opinion, of course it’s biased, and of course it’s incomplete, this is news media, what else can you expect? Do not fool yourself: this cover is just as ethnocentric as any other cover in the last 90 years of publishing history. Baudrillard, why not, Barthes, sure; I think Debord would be a much more appropriate starting point if we were going to analyze this.

  20. This is typical TIME propaganda. I’m waiting for the day when TIME and people like Rick apply the same critique they have of the Taliban to Saudi Arabia (the nation whose citizens attacked the USA on September 11, 2001. Saudi women suffer the same as Taliban women, yet TIME and Rick aren’t calling for the same military action.

  21. Gia, I recall asking my daughter, then a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot about to leave on her second deployment to the Middle East what she thought of the war in Iraq. “Dad,” she said, “think about it. Military dictatorship, harbors Islamic fundamentalists, has weapons of mass destruction….why aren’t we doing Pakistan?”

    I also recall, however, Bill Clinton’s argument for intervention in Kosovo but not in Rwanda. He said that, as President, he had to consider three elements in a situation: the humanitarian cause, the national interest, and the practical feasibility of whatever action would be taken. In the case of Rwanda, the humanitarian cause was great, the national interest small, and the practical problems of intervening in a landlocked African country daunting. In the case of Kosovo, the humanitarian cause was compelling, the national interest (securing NATO’s southeast flank) significant, and the operation, given that the U.S. Navy and Airforce already had bases in Italy and forces in the Eastern Mediterranean, was eminently feasible.

    Applying this cold-blooded logic to Saudi Arabia suggests why Saudi Arabia is not on a U.S. hit list. The 9/11 attackers may have been mainly Saudis, but the Saudi Kings have been reliable allies and Saudi Arabia is still a critical source of oil, more so than ever with oil production in Iraq disrupted and oil in Iran relatively inaccessible. The humanitarian cause might be great, but the national interest would not be served by the U.S attacking Saudi Arabia. The feasibility of action that would be both effective and not detrimental to U.S. national interests is close to zero.

    An attack on Iran or Pakistan would be equally ill-advised. With U.S. military forces bogged down in Iraq and overstretched by operations in Afghanistan as well, the U.S. simply cannot, without reintroducing the draft and going on a WWII like footing raise the amount of troops to make success even remotely possible. The terrain, the size of the countries in question, Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons and Iran’s possession of a large and, if what I have heard from my daughter is right, experienced and highly competent military suggests that action in either place would be–to use the official military term–a clusterfuck of proportions that will dwarf the U.S.’s current entanglements.

    It is highly likely, I believe, that Afghanistan will turn out to be yet another example–as Vietnam was–of imperial overstretch, motivated by hubris, excessive trust in technology, and lack of understanding of conditions on the ground at the time the war began. But, I have mentioned this before, there is the difference Howard Dean noted analogous to the the one that distinguishes the surgeon opposing the use of a particular procedure from the surgeon with a patient open and bleeding on the operating table. The former can simply walk away. The latter cannot, in any morally defensible way.

    I offer these thoughts not to dismiss the objection that this war should never have been started. I couldn’t agree more completely. But if we hope to understand, let alone affect, the decisions policymakers make, we need to get over the self-righteousness that disfigures too many of the arguments seen here.

  22. On technical terms for me the argument is not really valid, because the Time story would be framed, if in such terms at all, as what is called “opposing information,” not propaganda which is something else. The strong reaction is simply a visceral one, because it offers valid opposing information to a particular set of opinions and beliefs. Personally, I don’t know how someone can see that picture and not immediately feel a sense of immediate empathy for that poor girl, and an anger of the injustice; whatever one’s personal political opinions.

    Kerim posted a link to an interview with Noah Schactman, a journalist, on NPR’s show, “On the Media,” on Zoe’s wikileaks thread. Schactman talks about his personal experiences in Afghanistan and notes the difference between what’s given in one leaked report and what happened:

    NOAH SHACHTMAN: The sort of critical moment in the documents is that a Harrier jet dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb on a compound, and it says the threat was suppressed. But what it doesn’t say is how many times the captain opted not to use that bomb because 1) he was worried about the damage to civilian life or to civilian property and 2) the rules set down by General Stanley McChrystal, his boss’ boss’ boss’ boss, said that you really can’t use air power in any instance unless it’s really, really, really critical. And then when the captain finally did decide to drop that bomb, it says the enemy threat was suppressed. But the suppression only lasted 17 minutes, and then the fighting started again.

    What the documents don’t even allude to is while this American captain was fighting the fight, his British counterpart and his Afghan counterpart were in the nearby villages sitting down with local elders, trying to gain their support.

    BROOKE GLADSTONE: What else do you think was missing?

    NOAH SHACHTMAN: One of the important things missing was just in how much danger the Marines were there. These guys were surrounded. And yet still, their captain held off from dropping a bomb that might have ended the conflict instantly. You know, there were bullets flying by people’s heads and missing by inches.

    Ok, so that’s one side of the debate in all of this. Yet for some reason there are those of us who would say that this behavior is equal in relative terms to a Taliban commander ordering the punishment of a young woman, because she wanted to leave her husband, because it would give other women a bad example to follow. Her in-laws held her down, and her husband cut off her ears and nose and left her for dead. The Americans saved her and treated her, BTW.
    To someone out there this is morally and ethically equal in scope? Seriously? That somehow the behavior of the above Marines needs to be pointed out as excusing the latter incident? I don’t even know how to respond to that.

  23. *referee’s whistle

    TIME OUT

    I want commenters to stop insulting each other by name, Gia. There’s no reason for you to hang geopolitical blame around Rick’s neck. Why, not long ago we were even talking about the subject of this blog post. Let’s keep it topical, not personal.

    Rick, I’m going to have to ask you to reign it in here. At this point you’ve got 6 out of the 27 comments. So about 20% of the conversation is just you. You’ve made your points. Thanks.

  24. “There’s no reason for you to hang geopolitical blame around Rick’s neck.”
    This is getting absurd.

    It’s harder and harder to take this site seriously, because the people who run it don’t take it seriously. It’s their site, the have opinions, or they should. As it is the best that can be said is that they pretend not to.

  25. If you can’t take the site seriously s.e., then I’d encourage you to stop reading it. No need to prolong your agony!

  26. Hey! Remember when people left comments about anthropology instead of about other commentators? That was great, let’s go back to that.

  27. Is there a way to avoid the spam filter, and post a link without it assuming you’re selling Viagra?

    I just lost a post to the filter, which I promise will be my last on this thread. It is my first that is actually about propaganda and not the other stuff I meandered on about. Matt, can you please pull it out of the filter? It’s got another Time Magazine Link.

  28. I’ll go into the works and pull it out.

    There was one in there for the Kapah post, but nothing from this post. Sorry, I guess it got eaten. Go ahead and repost.

  29. My 2 cents,

    The problem here is how Time picks and chooses its outrage issues…

    It is not cultural relativism, but rather whether this cover represents the normal day-to-day in Afghanistan. As if I make a cover with a homeless person in the U.S., with an amputated limb (which is not so hard to find) trying to make the point that it represents the normal life of the everyday U.S. citizen.

    Also, it is portraying the woman as the victim (again) and the U.S. as the “big strong man” that cannot allow that to happen.

    On the other hand, it’s unfortunately true that Islam is somewhat behind in terms of gender issues and that no matter where you are on the world, it seems the women are always the one that suffer from our intolerance…

    Thanks for a great post!

    Pedro

  30. A good movie for anyone that is interested in getting a better understanding of day to day life in rural Afghanistan during the Taliban should rent the movie, “Osama.” It’s the first film allowed to be made after the fall of the Taliban in 2002 in Afghanistan.

    It was recommended to me and I watched it today from Blockbuster. In terms of cinematic quality it wasn’t the best movie, but in terms of visual ethnography it was really good. The gist of the movie surrounds a little girl whose mother dresses up as a little boy so she can get a job and help the family survive (she’s given the name Osama). It hits on all the gender issues, and it shows various cultural practices in the Pashtun tribal areas. The people that recommended it to me have all been there and all said the movie shows the place perfectly.

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