Afghanistan Destroying All Statues
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 1, 2001, KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Defying an international outcry,
Taliban soldiers on Thursday began destroying all statues in Afghanistan
-- even targeting two soaring, ancient statues of Buddha carved into the
face of a mountain. Photo before
The ruling Islamic militia said they sought to purge the nation of idolatrous
images, but their closest ally -- Pakistan -- said the action could be
a backlash against Afghanistan's international isolation, including U.N.
Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider told The Associated Press
the Talibans' order ``may have been an act of defiance brought on by the
isolation they feel.''
As troops fanned out with everything from rocket launchers to tanks
to destroy statues, cultural leaders worldwide expressed horror.
The head of UNESCO asked other Islamic nations to pressure the Taliban
to stop, while the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York pleaded
with Afghan officials to give the artifacts to foreign museums.
``In Afghanistan, they are destroying statues that the entire world
considers to be masterpieces,'' UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura
said. ``This iconoclastic determination shocks me.''
``All officials, including the ministry of vice and virtue, have been
given the go-ahead to destroy the statues,'' the Taliban's Information
Minister Qadratullah Jamal said Thursday. ``The destruction work will be
done by any means available to them.''
``All the statues all over the country will be destroyed,'' he said.
It was impossible to confirm what Taliban troops had destroyed so far
-- particularly whether they had begun demolishing two huge Buddha statues
carved into a cliff at Bamiyan. One of the statues is 175 feet high and
dates to the 5th century; the other is 120 feet tall and dates to the 3rd
The road to Bamiyan, 90 miles west of Kabul, was blocked by snow Thursday.
There are soldiers in Bamiyan, but journalists have not been allowed to
go there. The Taliban also refused to let reporters inside the Kabul Museum,
repository for thousands of Buddhist antiquities.
The Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, ordered the destruction
in an edict Monday, saying such images were contrary to Islam.
``These idols have been gods of the infidels, who worshipped them, and
these are respected even now and perhaps maybe turned into gods again,''
his edict said.
The Taliban, who espouse a strict brand of Islamic law, rule about 95
percent of Afghanistan and have been battling northern-based opposition
forces for years. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
recognize their rule.
Religious leaders in Pakistan said they understood the Taliban order.
``Hundreds of people are dying. Afghanistan has been destroyed by war
and the West imposes sanctions,'' Fazle-ur Rehman, head of Pakistan's Jamiat-e-Ulema,
or Party of Islamic Clerics, told AP. Western nations ``don't have any
respect for the people. Maybe that is why they have taken this action.''
The United Nations imposed sanctions against the Taliban in January,
demanding the surrender of Osama bin Laden, who is charged in the United
States in the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The Taliban
have refused, saying there is no proof bin Laden is involved in terrorism
and noting he is their guest.
Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly Muslim since around the 8th century.
But it has relics from the pre-Islamic era when, under Persian and Central
Asian rulers, it was crisscrossed by Buddhists from China and India who
erected many pilgrimage sites.
The 175-foot statue at Bamiyan is thought to be the world's tallest
statue in which Buddha is standing. There are an estimated 6,000 pieces
of Buddhist artwork in the Kabul Museum and a 23-foot reclining Buddha
in Ghazni province, said Brigitte Neubacher of the Pakistan-based Society
for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage.
Even the Pakistani Foreign Ministry pleaded for the preservation of
the ancient statues, which it called ``part of the world's cultural heritage.''
UNESCO's Matsuura said he had contacted officials from Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iran and Tajikistan as well as
the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
``They have all expressed their unconditional support and have pledged
to do all that they can to put a stop to these destructions,'' the head
of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said.
Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
New York, said he was ``horrified at the very notion that some of the great
cultural monuments of the world are being deliberately hacked away.''
He made an offer to the Taliban: ``Stop destroying the statues and offer
them to secular museums around the world.'' There, he said, the works would
be appreciated as ``cultural artifacts, not objects of worship.''
The director of the British Museum in London, Robert Anderson, said
the museum ``deplores any wanton act of destruction of antiquities.''
Such iconoclasm, ``tragically, is not new,'' said de Montebello, noting
that militants defaced statues at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris during
the French Revolution.
Islam's Prophet Muhammad demolished idols at the holy city of Mecca
1,400 years ago during the birth of the religion, said Fahmi Howeidi, a
leading writer on Islamic issues in Cairo, Egypt. But ``there is a difference
between statues being worshipped and statues that represent art.''
The Taliban, he said, ``represent the deep and the very conservative
schools of Islam.''
Muslims have largely left undamaged the extensive amount of pharaonic
antiquities in Egypt or pre-Islamic ruins in Iran.