I must take exception to the very unprofessional attack lodged against my integrity by blogger Melissa Roddy ("Correcting the Record on Bibi Ayesha," posted Sept. 7) as she tries to make the case for keeping US troops in Afghanistan by rerunning the story of Aisha, the mutilated young Afghan girl pictured on a recent TIME magazine cover. That cover made such an indelible impression on the American public that most readers seem to have ignored reporter Aryn Baker's carefully nuanced article suggesting caution in negotiations already underway with the Taliban. Similarly, Roddy ignores the argument of my recent editorial in the Nation and zealously denounces me for having "untruthfully claimed" that when Aisha told me her story, "the Taliban didn't come into it at all."
To disprove that fact, she quotes a member of Women for Afghan Women, the American organization running the Kabul shelter where Aisha lived for several months. The staff member, Esther Hyneman, reportedly said that while I did meet Aisha at the shelter, it was only for a few minutes, that I spoke through a translator, and that Aisha answered in monosyllables. For the record, Ms. Hyneman was not in Afghanistan at the time. In fact, I had a very long conversation with Aisha, with particular attention to the circumstances of the dreadful assault. And while the shelter normally provides a staff member to translate for visitors, I worked with my own translators -- two of them to insure accuracy -- which may help to explain why the story I heard differs so substantially from the official version put out by Ms. Hyneman. When the TIME cover story appeared, I also verified with other sources who had also talked with Aisha that the Taliban had nothing to do with her personal tragedy. I would have told these things to Ms. Roddy had she bothered to ask, but apparently the official story was the only one she wanted to hear.
She is right, however, in saying that some commentators have made improbable arguments to disprove that story, mainly because it is used so shamelessly to manipulate public opinion in favor of continuing a war that almost everyone involved acknowledges cannot be resolved by military means. Roddy is right also to fear that the withdrawal of foreign forces may set women back, particularly in Kabul where many women made some gains after the fall of the Taliban. But she doesn't seem to be aware that women have already lost much of that progress to creeping Talibanization within the Karzai government that the US put in place, still supports, and in effect fights for. Those of us who have spent years on the ground in Afghanistan know that in three decades of hopelessly misguided foreign policy, the US has created for itself an immensely complicated dilemma that very probably has no good solution. But war is never, anywhere, good for women -- and it is never fought on our behalf. The question that demands our attention now is not whether American troops should stay or leave Afghanistan. That decision has been made. The question now is how to make a kind of "peace" in which women might still live.
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