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Plight of Maimed Afghan Woman Stirs War Debate

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  • Listen to Kate Woodsome's full-length interviews with Shinkai Karokhail

  • Listen to Kate Woodsome's full-length interviews with Richard Kohn

An Afghan woman who grabbed the world's attention with her appearance on the cover of America's TIME magazine has arrived in the United States, hoping to change her life.

Eighteen year-old Bibi Aisha has shining brown eyes framed by dark eyebrows and long black hair. A picture of beauty.

Her nose, however, is not.

In its place is a gaping hole surrounded by angry red scars. The Afghan Taliban hacked off her nose, and both her ears, with a knife for running away from her husband's house. A husband who, she says, was abusive and treated her like a slave.

Better days

Bibi Aisha is now in the United States, in California, for reconstructive surgery. She is consulting with doctors at the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills, California, run by non-profit group that is paying for her medical treatment, education and personal needs throughout process.

First, her doctors will determine the scope of her injuries, and then over a long period of time, perform a number of reconstructive procedures and surgeries.

Controversy

Her picture on the cover of TIME magazine has stirred controversy, not only because of the jarring photograph, but also because of the story's headline, which reads: "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan."  The use of the conditional word "if" and not "when" is starkly different from the language used by Obama administration officials, who have said U.S. forces will begin a "drawdown" from Afghanistan next year.

The story has also put a spotlight on the moral aspect of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, raising questions about America's duty to protect human rights. While some say the U.S. should stay, others argue the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. forces is in effect an occupying force that impinges on the freedom of Afghans.

Rights groups' warning


But women's rights groups say Bibi Aisha's case is a very real warning of the atrocities that could happen without a foreign presence in Afghanistan. Women regularly face domestic violence and abuse in the male-dominated society, and the presence of the Taliban reinforces this behavior, according to Shinkai Karokhail, a member of the Afghan parliament.

(Click here to listen to Kate's interview with Shinkai Karokhail)

"When there is no law enforcement, when there is no strong government in some places and the presence of Taliban and no accountability for the situation, so definitely they will do the worst to a woman," said Karokhail.

War porn?

The editors at TIME magazine are being taken to task by some critics who have gone so far as to call Bibi Aisha's cover photo "war porn," emotionally manipulative and exploitive.

Even the U.S. Congress has reacted to the story. The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, recoiled when confronted with the magazine cover during a television interview.  Military historian Richard Kohn from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says the idea of human rights resonates strongly among the American public.

(Click here to listen to Kate's interview with Richard Kohn)


"It goes all the way back to the founding of the United States, and when an indigenous culture or a hostile group like the Taliban threatens the United States' security, it seems to me that the moral issues of the treatment of their peoples essentially magnifies the issues and to some extent simplifies the issues for the American people," said Kohn.

Not a priority

Still, Kohn believes that realistically, the situation in Afghanistan is not a top priority for Americans.

"Most Americans are focused today on domestic issues and particularly economic issues," he said. "So, the debate I think over Afghanistan and when and how the United States should extract itself is a secondary or a tertiary debate"

Kohn adds the Obama administration will look first and foremost to American national security, not necessarily Afghan human rights.

Furthermore, Bibi Aisha was mutilated last year, a time when tens of thousands of international forces were on the ground in Afghanistan – raising the question that if foreign troops could not prevent her attack then, will they ever be able to in the future?

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