Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Face of an Afghan Miracle

Bibi Aisha has arrived in the United States for reconstructive facial surgery, reported the LA Times this week. The face of the Afghan teenager, barbarically mutilated by Talib relatives, has already become iconic, especially in the clamorous aftermath of the August 9, 2010, issue of TIME Magazine which dared to display Aisha's haunting features on its cover without apology.

Vigorous debate continues on the political and ethical imputation, the wisdom or cynical opportunism of such an editorial choice—does her image rivet the gaze or repel us—and surely this debate is one of the services rendered by managing editor Richard Stengel.

First reported in the Daily Beast by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, Aisha's harrowing saga began to rise to the surface of global consciousness only when it intersected with a U.S. military-run hospital, whose staff helped the young woman find safe haven at a shelter run by the NGO Women for Afghan Women, based in New York and Kabul.

Aisha will now be shepherded through facial surgeries and recovery by the combined resources of California's Grossman Burn Foundation and its Afghan Reconstructive Surgery and Burn Center Project. Co-director Dr. Peter H. Grossman told the Los Angeles Times that Aisha‘s treatment could include “a prosthetic nose, or reconstruction of her nose and ears using bone, tissue and cartilage from the rest of her [own] body...” And from there, on to a new life, of what shape she can not imagine. The surgeon's skill, the physician's art, the medical technology, all really do exist to make this excoriated young woman whole. In the absence of evil, miracles abound, even for such as Aisha.

Now, thanks to the near universal visibility of TIME, Inc., Aisha's face is likely not just to become a graphic representation of the plight of Afghan women, but also to be co-opted for purposes from the worthy to the ignoble. That may be as she herself now wishes, reports Lemmon. “When I meet the doctor I will tell him all of my story,” she says. “My father told me not to tell anyone the full truth... not to tell anyone anything. But I will tell them all these things because I am not such a person to lie; I will tell them because I think my story must be told.”


The wider moral, political or humanitarian aspects of this story demand informed, thoughtful and compassionate consideration. But for the moment, speaking entirely from my own experience, I will say this about the prospect of Aisha's facial reconstruction:

It is miraculous. It can be done. And for them that dare, it's always right to strive toward the unlikely miracle.

*Photograph by Jodi Bieber / INSTITUTE for TIME/ August 9, 2010