Aesha's face and story have captivated readers across the world
Readers speak of her beauty, her bravery and how she's inspired them
Her story offers uplifting message amid sadness of Connecticut shootings
The evolving life, face and story of Aesha, disfigured by the Taliban and featured on the August 2010 cover of Time magazine, has captivated audiences around the world.
CNN has been following her for close to two years and, earlier this week, updated readers on how she is doing both physically and emotionally. We shared exclusive photographs of what she looked like before her latest surgery.
Monday’s procedure, the fourth in a series to reconstruct her nose, lasted about 9½ hours and went smoothly, said Mati Arsala, who’s become a father figure to Aesha Mohammadzai. Doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where she’s being treated, will not discuss her case.
The reactions to the latest story about Aesha poured in – both in the story’s comments section and by way of e-mail – even as the world’s eyes remained trained on Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“This girl has more courage than all the fanatics that hurt her will ever have,” wrote akmac61.
“Aesha you are a beautiful woman, wishing you the best! A whole new great life is ahead just for you, better things are coming,” said tr0j4n.
“I am speechless, no words can express the depth of my feeling for this beautiful lady. I salute your courage in the face of illiteracy and extremism,” added ProsNCons.
Some readers wrote with special offerings for Aesha and the family caring for her. An e-learning company in Canada wants to help with her education. The owner of a bed and breakfast in West Virginia would like to treat them to a weekend getaway. A woman in Texas encouraged Aesha to open a Web-store, perhaps on Etsy, to sell her jewelry. Many others wrote with promises of prayers and extensions of love .
As is so often the case when CNN mentions Afghanistan or simply the Muslim world, there were inevitably readers who took this opportunity to attack that faith. But more readers pushed back, perhaps hinting at decreased tolerance for such prejudices. There was also a fresh perspective brought on by the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I guess in the Taliban, everybody with a twisted opinion gets to play God,” wrote onaturalia.
“and unfortunately some in the US,” responded are122.
“Exactly, and they are not all Muslims,” said Rollins.
Further down in the comments, Tina Mantooth added, “I agree 100%. Islam doesn’t teach hate.”
“Then why do Muslims do so many inhumane things?” asked swarm4.
“Was Adam Lanza a Muslim? No,” answered Elhaba Wackadoodle. “Inhumane things are inherent in all humans. Some just act on them while the rest of us don’t.”
Some, who wrote to me directly, shared that the story about Aesha was a salve for the sadness that had befallen the country.
“It was especially nice to read after the horrors of Newtown,” wrote one person.
“It did my soul some good to read such a hopeful story and to learn about the Arsalas’ kindness and good will at a time like this, when everything seems pretty dark in the U.S.,” wrote another.
“In a time filled with tragedy and sorrow, thank you for an uplifting and positive article,” wrote a third.
A couple of readers seemed bent on offending Aesha, those who care for her and pretty much everyone else, by making comments directed at her looks – as if she had any control over them.
But plenty of readers stood up for her, including lxNay, who wrote, “She will be beautiful again. The surgery will repair her mutilations, but nothing can repair the ugliness displayed by some posters here. Stupid can’t be fixed.”
Some readers wondered why the country would help her instead of others.
“Who is paying for the surgery? Don’t you think there are enough disfugured (sic) citizens in this country who needs (sic) more attention?” asked Jayjay.
In response, iPostEyeAm wrote, “You misspelled ‘I need a heart implant.’”
A handful of readers latched onto information in the story about how Jamila Rasouli-Arsala, Aesha’s mother figure and a former OB-GYN in Germany, is struggling to find her way in America’s medical community. If she wants to practice medicine here, she must start over in a residency program – and so far she’s had no luck getting into one. If she can’t, the whole family, Aesha included, may end up moving to Germany.
“Concerning Jamila’s plight, one has to ask what is going on in the U.S. concerning attracting and keeping good doctors,” wrote bob. “From what I am hearing, the U.S. doesn’t sound like a land of opportunity but instead a country representing endless bureaucratic roadblocks, dogma and special interests.”
Answered FBreen: “Until there is an international standard for medical education and training, I am happy that such requirements exist.”
There were lessons that readers from across the globe took away from the piece. A reader in Poland, who previously had not felt connected to Aesha’s story, wrote, “It is the right thing to shout it to the world, to make clear there is no acceptance to barbarism and abuse.”
Added a writer from Nigeria: “Am very happy the way you Americans are helping people all over the world.”
And then there was this one, from a young woman who saw in Aesha’s story something she knows too well.
“This is Anika from miles away, Bangladesh. I read your story on Aesha early this morning on the CNN website and it overwhelmed me with emotions I usually try to bury. I am 22 too like her and part of a society that may not bruise my body but wounds my soul and self confidence everyday. Stories like Aesha’s inspire us, girls, struggling to live a normal and deserved life.”
Whether she knows it or not, whether she means to or not, Aesha is making a difference.