Taliban: The World Needs the Iconoclasts

Category: World Affairs Topics: Afghanistan, Taliban

As expected, the Taliban decision to destroy statues from the Islamic State has created a big international uproar. The entire "civilized world", with the UN at its head, has been jumping up and down to condemn this "great crime against humanity." The world leaders have been shaking with anger. The Taliban have been warned by the UN of a "devastating reaction" if they harm the sacred stones. One pundit even suggested sending an army to rescue the beleaguered Buddhas.

It is fascinating to see all these political and cultural champions get all worked up with "moral indignation." Through their pious pronouncements they try to persuade us that theirs is a principled stand.

The only problem is that it is difficult to discern what that principle is.

Is it their concern for humanity? Well, it is the same UN that has started the project of torturing and killing the people by the millions in the war-devastated Afghanistan by imposing sanctions against it. The scheme they are using --- depriving the little children of milk, the hungry of food and the sick of medicine --- has been perfected in Iraq where it has killed half a million people according to the estimates of the UN itself.

The UN Security Council first imposed sanctions on Afghanistan in October 1999. They were tightened even more in December 2000, under strong pressure from the United States and Russia. According to a Global Policy Forum report, the new sanctions were imposed despite an August 2000 report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which highlighted the "tangible negative effect" on Afghanistan's populace of the existing sanctions. Another draft OCHA report has said that "no poor country has ever been sanctioned the way Afghanistan has." So much for their concern for humanity.

Is it their concern for religious freedom? It is important to remember that the Taliban are not destroying any place of worship or anything belonging to a place of worship. And although it is not apparent from the heated condemnations, the Taliban are not doing anything illegal either. The stone artifacts belong to their country; no body else holds title to them. If one buys a home and it comes with some statues, he has a right to keep them, sell them, destroy them or throw them away. Similarly, whether or not others like it or agree with it, the Afghans have a right to do what they want with the mountains, stones, and statues in their country, as long as they do not cause a danger to anybody else.

Things become more interesting if we begin to check the credentials of the anti-Taliban campaign itself on the issue of religious freedom. Consider India, a leader in the current crusade, where the same people are ruling today who had led frenzied mobs to destroy the historical Babri Mosque just eight years ago and had killed 2000 people in the ensuing protests. It is amazing that the butchers have been prompt to display righteous anger over this "medieval barbarism."

Given that the record of our beloved "International Community" on humanity and religious freedom is rather appalling, let us look at something more plausible, like a concern for universal cultural heritage. The results are no better here. For one must ask where were our guardians of cultural heritage when mosques, libraries, schools, historic buildings, and museums ---many of them great historic monuments ---- were being destroyed in the Balkans. More than 1200 mosques were destroyed in Bosnia by the European fanatics known as Serbs. More than 200 were destroyed in Kosova. Of course, unlike the Taliban they also killed the Imams and the rest of the population with the historic monuments they were destroying. Of course they committed other crimes so grisly that their cultural vandalism appeared to be a non-issue in comparison. And of course, the guardians of cultural heritage, of religious freedom, and of humanity were happily strolling through their art galleries when the butchery was going on.

So if there is a principle behind their "principled stand," we are unable to find it. In a rare case the Washington Post tried to find an answer to the question as to why Afghans must keep and preserve the statues: "These old buildings are Afghanistan's identity. And when you lose your identity, you've lost your soul." The problem is these artifacts are NOT Afghanistan's identity. And the assertion is nothing but unvarnished cultural imperialism. Afghanistan's identity derives from the life and example of the Prophets.

Prophet Ibrahim, alayhi-salam, destroyed the idols, even though his own father was the idol maker. He was threatened with the wrath of gods. (Today, his followers are being threatened with the wrath of the "International Community," which is the same thing). He did not care. And in the process he exposed the weakness of the idols and the wickedness of the idol-worshippers. Later on, in Makkah he said the prayer: "O my Lord! Make this city one of peace and security and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols. O my Lord! They [the idols] have indeed led astray many among mankind." [Ibrahim 14:35-36]

When the pagans later on filled the Ka'ba he had rebuilt with idols, Allah sent Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. Again he destroyed all of the idols there, forever. He did not preserve them as cultural heritage. Rather, with every stroke of the hammer, he declared, "Truth has come and falsehood has vanished."

This is the Islamic heritage. You clean your own life and your own house of the idols. You do not preserve them as your cultural heritage or as a cherished work of art. And in doing so you will liberate the world.

So is there a principle behind the "International Community's" stand? May be there is an underlying principle, but it is a sinister one. One "expert" summed up the mood of this commotion while talking to the Los Angeles Times. "I would send in the army, I really would," Pratapaditya Pal, a visiting curator to the US, said. "It is of course very difficult to compare [a statue] with a human life, but don't forget that we [humans] can reproduce. These Buddhas . . . are destroyed forever."

There it is. We are living in a world in which animals are more valuable than humans (In India, for example, men have been slaughtered over the issue of cow slaughter). And now even the stones are more valuable than the humans. And to top it off, those who have developed such inverted values are the self-declared champions of human dignity. And why not? Those who have hearts of stone are naturally showing their love for stones.

This is a cruel, self-conceited, arrogant, wicked and ignorant world. It has incessantly talked about its love of art but the only art at work here is the art of propaganda. It needs someone who can expose that. It needs the iconoclasts who would refuse to continue the business as usual; who would challenge its hegemony and tyranny; and who would rid it of its cruelty, self-conceit, arrogance, and ignorance.

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Khalid Baig is editor of al-balagh.net.


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