An Alibi for a Magazine
Images of female refugees have been used by the US and many international organizations to promote and draw attention to a specific cause. The photograph of the Afghan Girl is not unique, but the global circumstances surrounding her 1985 National Geographic cover allows communications scholars to draw connections between post 9-11 images of the plight of Afghan women and those of the Afghan Girl. Recent communications scholars have seen a connection between the justification for military intervention in Afghanistan and the use of images of Afghan women in creating the “Afghan Alibi.” The Afghan Alibi is a relatively new field of study and is founded on “Eurocentric representations of Afghan women.”  The Afghan Alibi is centered on post-colonial and feminist theories and how their interpretations of images depicting Afghan women, supports western justifications for intervention, colonization, and territorial occupation. For this cause, no image has had more of an impact than the groundbreaking image of the Afghan Girl in 1985.
National Geographic has long played a role in US history and continues to promote a distinctly pro US agenda as with its depictions of the Afghan Girl on the cover of the 1985 issue. The decision to place the image of the Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 was calculated and strategic with an aim to foster public support for increased US aid to Afghanistan.
National Geographic was founded on racist ideologies that promoted paternalistic colonialist attitudes that reinforced the existing stereotypes that Europeans were “at the pinnacle of civilization” while non-western cultures and civilizations were inherently backwards. Rae Lynn Scwartz-DuPre lays emphasis on the importance of National Geographic as an institution for promoting the US as “rational, generous, and benevolent.”
A Western Gaze
The Afghan Girl is seen by Western audiences as a frail, helpless girl, who has no control over her future. This simplistic representation of the plight of refugees from the conflict in Afghanistan following the Soviet occupation, has allowed Western audiences to feel sympathy and promote change in the region. Schwartz-DuPre identifies race, veil, refugee status, direct eye contact and frontal posture as signifiers of inferiority. The photo shows a girl looking directly at the audience with “sea green” eyes. The uniquely “western” eyes allow for the audience to connect and identify with the subject and help to evoke paternalistic emotions which helped justify US intervention to aid the refugees. These emotions are reinforced by the fact that she is twelve years old, a refugee, and is wearing a veil. The veil further exemplifies western perceptions of the plight of women in Afghanistan and the Muslim world. Although the Western perception of the Muslim woman can be linked to the colonial narratives, more recently there has been a close link with feminism The veil is seen in the West as a tool of oppression towards women and evokes emotions amongst Western audiences to intervene and “free” or “unveil” them.
Pictures Change the World
In the article Schwartz-DuPre states, “Photographs of the victims of war are themselves species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They Agitate. They create the illusion of consensus.” The timing of the depiction of the Afghan Girl and the scale and sophistication of the aid given to Afghanistan demonstrates the effectiveness of images as tools to convey messages. The Afghan Girl is not unlike other photographs which depict the horrors of war where images of nameless female refugees have been used by a plethora of international organizations to evoke emotions, raise awareness and gain support. Schwartz-DuPre makes a very relevant point that after American audiences were familiar with the 1985 Afghan Girl, the US media could simply evoke the same emotional response using images of veiled Afghan women. The image of the Afghan girl and veiled women bring to light the justifications that sold the current war in Afghanistan to the American public. It is important to “recognize that history often repeats itself; fort he images that refigure our future in many cases mirrors our past.”
 Rae Lynn Scwartz-DuPre (2010): Portraying the Political: National Geographic’s 1985 Afghan Girl and a US Alibi for Aid, Critical Studies in Media Communications, 27:4, 337
 Sontang, S. (1973). On Photography. New York: Picador. 6
 Rae Lynn Scwartz-DuPre (2010): Portraying the Political: National Geographic’s 1985 Afghan Girl and a US Alibi for Aid, Critical Studies in Media Communications, 27:4, 352