March 23, 2001


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S Gopikrishna

Overlook the obvious and repent at leisure

The destruction of the two statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan by the Taleban provoked much outrage amidst a frenzy of activity to save the statues.

Besides turning up their noses in lordly disdain (overlooking their own record in the erstwhile colonies), some European countries have attempted to negotiate with some minister in Kabul, and have been rebuffed in no uncertain terms. Clerics in Cairo's influential Al-Azhar Islamic University have run out of breath quoting the Quran to describe how un-Islamic the acts of the Taleban are -- all to no avail. India also added its voice to the chorus of condemnations from the world.

Well, if the Taleban is mule-headed, the rest of the world has been muddle-headed not to predict the obvious -- Mullah Omar's bearded men would destroy anything and everything deemed 'un-Islamic', be they two year old children or two thousand year old statues.

How can one miss the Taleban's penchant for destruction even after a cursory glimpse at their record? Some of the highlights of their 'illustrious' career, as documented by Human Rights Watch include:

  • Decrees forbidding non-Muslims from building new places of worship and prohibiting non-Muslims from criticising Muslims.
  • Forcing non-Muslims to wear a piece of yellow cloth to identify their religion.
  • Forcibly cutting the beards of Non-Islamic men in conformity with the rule about 'Islamic beards'.
  • The aforementioned forcing of non-Muslims (Hindus and Sikhs) to wear yellow clothing is eerily reminiscent of Hitler's forcing all Danish Jews to wear a yellow star during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. If great minds think alike, all gross minds stink alike.

It is tragic that these moves have not met with the strident condemnation as the burning of churches in East Timor.

It is important to briefly dwell the reasons on the phenomenon of continual bloodshed, religious bigotry and pillage in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution of 1979, a wave of intolerance in the name of Islam swept many countries from Pakistan to Egypt. Nations vied with each other in providing the strictest interpretations of Islam and the consequent destruction of everything that didn't meet their exacting if whimsical standards. Khomeini probably quantified the feeling when he asked, 'If we are prepared to die for Allah, shouldn't we also be prepared to kill for him?'

Afghanistan has obviously been trapped in the fire of killing in the name of Allah.

Add to this fire, the fuel of tribal feuds and the intense feeling of clannishness that has always dominated Afghani politics. The constitution that traditionally governed Afghanistan was the Jirgah, (the unwritten code of the Pathans that demands an eye for an eye as revenge) and the concept of Siyaasat -- loosely translated as unwavering loyalty to one's clan. As an Arab saying phrases it, Siyaasat is about 'I against my brother, I and my brother against our neighbour, my family and my neighbour against another tribesman, I and my tribe against another tribe'.

When the Russians attacked Afghanistan in the '70s, the Afghans had to rely upon the above cultural characteristics to band together and repel the invader. The contest was labelled 'Allah vs the Infidels'.

By the time the Russians quit a decade later, the concept of labelling everything foreign as being 'Un-Islamic' had taken root deeply. And since everything Russian was to be destroyed, everything foreign was so un-Islamic that it had to be destroyed. A whole generation has been nurtured by a culture whose narrow definition of what was acceptable served as an excuse for destruction of the unacceptable.

Under the tutelage of ignorant Mullahs who challenge man's landing on the moon as a violation of Quranic principles, a whole generation of Talebani warriors have emerged with the sensibilities of a mule and the predatory instincts of a wolf.

When their lack of respect for human life is evident in all their killings, it is foolish to think that statutes from other religions would merit any respect. The presence of the un-Islamic 'Idols' in Afghanistan is no different from waving a red cape before a bull. It would have been a matter of time before the idols would have been obliterated in the name of Allah.

The episode of destruction isn't the first time Mullah Omar's faithful have let themselves loose on the statues of Buddha in Bamiyan. As early as 1999, Taleban officials admitted to the defacing of one of the two historic statues but made the standard excuse of 'accidental damage'. It is surprising, indeed shocking that no warning bells went off about the eventual fate of the statues in view of the Taleban track record.

If only the Buddhist statues could have been salvaged then instead of crying bucketfuls over their fate now!

It is important to note that statues, irrespective of fragility, can be dismantled and reassembled at other sites. An example is the re-assembly of the Abu Simbel temple dating back to the times of Pharaoh Ramses II ( 1279-1213 BC) when it was threatened by the waters of the Nile river in the 1960s. The relocated temple is one of the greatest examples of Egypt's pre-Arabic, pre-Islamic legacy.

Wealthy countries such as Japan or Thailand (with their prominently Buddhist populations) could have intervened with an offer to dismantle the statues and relocate them to a different country away from the eyes of the Taleban. The result would have been a win-win situation -- the awesome breathtaking statues of Buddha would have been preserved and become more accessible to everybody while the Taleban could have divested itself of 'polluting' influences.

To sweeten the deal, the kafirs could have baited the Taleban with financial aid -- an increasingly precious commodity to an isolated government. From the experience of the 1999-2000 Kandahar hijacking episode, it would be evident that the Taleban makes a beeline for foreign exchange (read 'ransom money') with an enthusiasm quite out of tune with the teachings of the Quran.

While the 'ransoming' strategy can work in principle even now, it is doubtful if there is any statue left to save in Afghanistan.

Can we put pressure on the Taleban rogues and make them see the error of their ways?

The world can put pressure on Afghanistan by prevailing upon countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to issue a fatwa condemning the actions of the Taleban. Given the influential role of Saudi Arabia and Egypt in arbitrating Islamic affairs, the fatwa would go some way in checking the destructive enthusiasm of the Taleban. Since it is speculated that Saudi Arabian reluctance to endorse Khomeini's 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie played an important role in preserving the latter's neck, "Islamic" isolation of the Taleban may be an avenue worth pursuing.

In any case, nothing can be lost by giving the Islamic fanatics a taste of their own medicine.

S Gopikrishna

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