Analyzing Newsweek’s cover page for the week: Oct 10, 2011

            “Afghanistan: ten years of war in a land where your enemy will fight you forever.” This is the headline on Newsweek’s cover page for the week October 10, 2011. The cover page includes an articulate portrait of a man who seems to be a “typical” Afghan citizen. The photograph is taken by a well-known photographer named Guillermo Cervera and the story inside is written by Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau. How does Cervera’s image help skew reader’s understanding of the message? How does the headline influence the meaning of the image?

Discussion

            To begin with, the photo is a zoomed in portrait of an Afghan man giving great importance to his eyes. Those thoughtful pensive hazel green eyes speak for themselves. They shout out sorrow but hope, no fear and a great deal of bravery. Years of war and unstoppable fighting are engraved in each wrinkle carved on his face. His overall look hints to his identity. The turban covering his hair often linked to Arab and Islam. It is somehow a stereotype that men who wear such form of headgears are usually associated to Muslims or Arabs. In Afghanistan, these turbans are called lungee and they constitute part of their culture and tradition. Without reading the headline, and by only examining the features of the man, the reader would predict that the article deals with a Muslim issue just because there is a widespread impression of a Muslim’s physical appearance. In addition, it is notable that the color black dominates the photo thereby implicating a sad, grief-stricken mood.

At the first glance, the reader may relate this photo to the 1984 photograph of Sharbat Gula, “the Afghan girl”, taken by Steve McCurry in National Geographic. Gula’s strong features, pensive eyes, and alluring beauty lead her to become an icon of war and hardship. So by some means Cervera may have been influenced by Gula hence representing these emotions in a similar male figure.

The headline on the cover page exactly states “Afghanistan: ten years of war in a land where your enemy will fight you forever.” (Yousafzai& Moreau, 2011) The voice of hope is about to expire in that phrase, especially when using words such as “forever”.  The linguistic implication of this word leaves no room for optimism whereby it assures that The US- Afghanistan conflict does not know an end. The headline on the cover page does not necessarily reflect the purpose of the full story inside the magazine. On the first page of the article is a very catchy well know phrase that more or less summarizes the whole point of the article. It says “You have the watches, we have the time”, implying that the Afghans are never giving up on their land where as the Americans negotiate according to calendars, statistics and deadlines. As mentioned in the article, 28-year-old Afghan named Mujahid Rahman says to an American: “Your watch’s battery will run down, and its hands will stop. But our time in the struggle will never end. We will win.” (Yousafzai& Moreau, 2011) This young man has so much hope and does not know the meaning of surrender. He is just one of the many afghan men who believe that they have an “ideal life with a motorbike, an AK-47, an RPG, long hair and a holy cause to fight for.” This message is not clearly established in the headline on the cover page. Despite all criticism, the cover page holds a crucial topic to be discussed now that 10 years have passed.

It is important to mention the authors’ credibility in this topic. Sami Yousafzai was born in Afghanistan but was forced to move to Pakistan after the Soviet war in 1979. Consequently he is credible o write about this issue knowing that he has covered the Taliban for Newsweek since September 11, 2001. Likewise, Ron Moreau has also been covering the region since 2001 and has reported from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Yousafzai and Moreau put together trusted stories they have stumbled upon while reporting from Afghanistan in order to produce an enlightening news article.

Alternatives

             Finding the correct “headline” is like finding the correct pair of shoes, you know when it fits! Therefore, I would recommend a more suitable headline which is “You have the time and we have the watches”. This Pashtu proverb grabs more attention and makes the reader want to open the magazine and read more. It is a very suitable metaphor to illustrate the American obsession with time and dates as opposed to Afghans, and specifically Taliban’s never-ending tolerance. Also another suitable headline may be “Time in Afghanistan is measures in decades, not in months or years”. (Yousafzai& Moreau, 2011) This headline comes from Winston Churchill’s observation during the British Struggle in the Northwest Frontier. These headlines focus more on the core subject of the article being time with respect to Afghans and Americans.

An alternative image would be the one attached in the appendix by the famous photographer Adam Ferguson. It was taken on September 4, 2009, which is after 8 years of war. This image may be more touching than the published one because it deals with children, and for some reason children trigger emotions faster. Also it shows a clear image of the extent to which the conflict has reached. It portrays the two sides of the issue rather than focusing on one side only. The helicopter symbolizes the “enemy” and the children covering their heads represent Afghan citizens.

In short, the cover page of this week’s Newsmagazine is a relatively an appropriate one. The photograph is very expressive with strong emotions and the headline is direct and straight to the point. Overall, the authors Yousafzai and Moreau, and the photographer Guillermo did a fine job covering an issue in somehow “liberal bias” and keeping the magazine centered equally away from the left and right leaning perspectives. At the end of the day, it is not the work of words solely that contributes to a good news article, but the concoction of relevant text and images.

References

Denker, D. (n.d.). A Life Revealed – Original Story – National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/original-story-text

Ferguson, A. (n.d.). Adam Ferguson. Adam Ferguson. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from http://adamfergusonphoto.com/

Yousafzai, S., & Moreau, R. (2011, October 10). You Have the Watches, We Have the Time. Newsweek, NA, 26-31.

Appendix

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