Iconoclasts of Afghanistan

Buddhas destroyed: Taliban rulers carry religious zeal to new depths, valuing life and art cheaply.

March 03, 2001

THE TALIBAN rulers of Afghanistan, on retaking Bamiyan province from rebels, rounded up 500 men and boys from the town of Yakaolang and shot them dead.

The world barely noticed.

Some 2 million Afghani refugees live in camps in Pakistan, more inside Afghanistan. About 600,000 were uprooted by drought, conflict and crop destruction in recent months.

Pope John Paul II and the United Nations called on the international community to provide more aid. Few heard.

But when Mullah Mohammed Omar, head of the Taliban, ordered destruction of two giant Buddhas carved into a cliffside in Bamiyan more than 1,500 years ago, and then of all statues, the world was shocked.

These carvings, the Mount Rushmore of ancient Asia, withstood the ravages of time, climate, invasion and a millennium of tolerant Islamic rule.

The Japanese director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) summoned Islamic representatives to denounce the destruction.

France was negative, Germany appalled, Russia indignant and India outraged. Islamic Pakistan, a friend, appealed to the Taliban to desist.

About the only regimes not to protest are Buddhist. To protest is un-Buddhist. They are sad.

The proscription against graven images is not only Islamic but also Judeo-Christian. Christendom has seen its own bouts of destructive iconoclasm, which its artistic heritage survived.

Mullah Omar's regime is not on Earth long. But the ancient carvings are gone forever. Their destruction is the enduring monument to Taliban rule.

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