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Islamic Attack
On Buddhist Heritage Raises Outcry
Manpreet Singh in New Delhi

As Islamic Taliban militia’s mindless crusade brings down the Buddha’s statues in Afghanistan ‘Buddhism Today’ talks to the Buddhists and academia and shares their hurt feelings and perspectives.

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An undated photo of the world's tallest Bhuddha statue at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (AP)

The news of Taliban Islamic militia demolishing the Buddhist statues and masterpieces with canons and tanks in Afganisthan has sent shock waves amongst the Buddhist community and civilized society world over. The Muslim fundamentalists yesterday started destroying all the statues, including the two massive Bamiyan Buddhas, carved into a sand stone cliff near the provincial capital in Central Afganistan. Both these towering statues were carved around the second century and one of them is the world’s tallest standing Buddha.

The extremist Muslim religious leaders see these statues against the spirit of Islam and term them as ‘false idols’. Most Buddhist countries of the world--Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka--and the US, Germany, France, Iran and others have asked the Taliban extremists to halt this fundamentalist crusade but they insist to continue with their plans.

There is a growing feeling of disgust amongst the civic society and Buddhist community against this ‘lunatic’ act of Islamic fundamentalists. "It’s a barbarian act. These people are destroying the heritage of their forefathers. Theses statues have strong association with the people and culture of Afganistan.," says an angry Indologist living in Indian Capital New Delhi, Prof. Lokesh Chandra, a member of Indian Parliament for four times.

The former head, Department of Buddhist Studies, Delhi University and general secretary of Buddha Triratna Mission, Bhikshu Satyapal calls this development "a madness of the Muslim fanatics" and sees the whole issue in a political context. "It’s all political. This is not the civilized way. Some Muslim religious leaders out of their madness think that by destroying these statues they will destroy Buddhism. They are utterly mistaken."

The Buddhist member of India’s Minority Commission in New Delhi, Rev. T.K.Lochan finds this act "very unfortunate" and regrets: "It is sad not only for the Buddhists. The heritage that represents two thousand years of old world culture would be lost. There is nothing much the Buddhists can do in this situation. And we should not react violently. The whole world is reacting and if someone doesn’t listen to reason it’s very unfortunate."

Lieu Phap, a Vietnamese research scholar in Buddhist Studies Department, Delhi University, says she can not understand what will they gain from destroying the Buddha’s statues. "I think may be they’re crazy; or have gone out of their minds. I think these people do not understand and empathize with the harmonious aspects of religious co-existence."

Dr. Bhaswati Sinha, a senior lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, Panjabi University, Patiala tries to go deep into the religious differences of principles in Islam and other religions. "The Islam may be against idol worship but it is considered dogmatic to force your principles in today’s world where religions should exist in harmony. These fundamentalists may be thinking that they are doing the right thing but personally I feel all religions teach us to respect the others’ religious feelings."

Dr. M.L. Sharma, a reader in Department of Gandhian Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh is shocked by this extremist act of intolerance. "This act is not to be seen in isolation; tomorrow it can happen to other religions too if people keep silent. Religious intolerance is a very unfortunate thing. The Buddhist heritage does not belong to one country or countries, but to the whole of humanity. There is a need to generate world opinion against extreme religious fundamentalism to avoid such occurrences in the future. If religious fundamentalism is allowed to grow it will reach a point of no return. Time is now, to check and control."

India’s national daily The Times of India’s journalist, Jitender Kaushik sees this episode as an act of "lunatic fringe" of Islamic leaders in Afganistan. "This is muck and madness; once it begins there is no end to it. But this move is quite confusing considering the fact that Taliban has been trying to stay out of the news and limelight for the last two years; and now it acts like this to get international attention. Chances are that the US might strike against Afganistan as it did against Iraq."

Prof. Lokesh Chandra is critical and annoyed with the way India tackled the whole issue. "India behaved very softly despite the Buddhist countries pleading her to take some action. India once again showed its soft character and remained a silent spectator. Our country is a softy ice cream that melts in the Indian heat."

He sees this incident in a wider perspective and as an indicator of the worst things to come against Indic culture. "This is just the beginning. It’s an attack against Buddhism and Indic culture. They are bent on destroying anything that is Indic. It is a barbarian attack against civilized society too."

Most people are unnerved at this development and feel helpless as the Taliban is not open to listen to reason and bow to the world opinion and pressure. "When in the morning I read this news of Buddha’s statues being demolished I felt sad, hurt and helpless. But I will do my bit—I will tell everyone I meet that this is wrong and should be condemned," says Dr. Sharma.

Prof. Chandra bursts out: "The UNESCO has done nothing; they are just interested in their fat salary checks. In the capacity of an individual I don’t feel helpless, my country is helpless-- it should have done something."

Meanwhile, Ven. Thich Minh Duc, in America says: "I feel sad. I will tell the Buddhist community from Vietnam, Japan, China, Korea and others to generate support against it. I will do something about it."

Rev. Thich Nhat Tu, a Buddhist scholar in India sees in this incident a historical continuity—flowing from the medieval ages to the present. "It’s not the first time that the Islamic fundamentalist leaders have tried to destroy the Buddhist culture and idols. They have done it in the past too. And the history is the witness that when the Muslim rulers conquered India they destroyed the Buddhist holy places in medieval times."

About the motives behind the Taliban’s sudden crusade against Buddhism Thich Nhat Tu reflects: "No religion can be glorified by destroying another. And politically too, I don’t think, Taliban would get the world recognition if it aimed at this by destroying Buddhist culture."

(The author, an international freelance journalist in India, can be reached at mpreet@hotmail.com). 


Updated: 1-3-2001

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