English Section

      Buddhism Today 

Vietnamese Section


...... ... .  . .  .  .
Bombarding at Bamiyan
Sanjoy Hazarika

March 10, 2001: The devastation of history as seen in the Taliban's systematic destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan should have been expected. After all, this is not some revisionist group or radical fundamentalist gang out to stamp its own special terrorist imprimatur on our times. The motive is deeper and therefore, culturally and philosophically, a greater assault on the truth.

The outrage at Bamiyan is not an assertion of Islamic purity but should be seen for what it truly represents; an unmitigated fear of facing up to the past, of a refusal to acknowledge that past as part of a national history and identity.

What future awaits a nation so fearful of its past? It is not as if history began with one messiah and there was nothing before him. This is a fact accepted by religions and religious leaders across the world. The fear of the past makes men (and women) do strange and seemingly illogical things. But let us, for a moment, look at what the Taliban and its shadowy leadership were seeking to establish through the murders of two great unarmed, peaceful religious figures at Bamiyan.

There are those who say that the Taliban govern by terror, that in their age and their land, women cannot walk about unveiled, that men cannot trim their beards, that prayer five times a day is a must for every citizen. This is the obvious. What we can only guess at is the violence with which such edicts are implemented. The decadence of the outside world is attacked. But what of the fear and frustration that the thought police bring to the streets, into homes, offices and schools. Their job is to harm those who may be straying from the narrow Talibanistic path. This is not necessarily the right path, no matter how strongly they may declare their religiosity.

Thus, to see the destruction of the Buddhas as an statement of intolerance or fanaticism is to miss the point. It is a decision taken out of fear. No matter how angrily the Taliban may deny this or however they may seek to justify the act, we should remind ourselves that the other face of terror is fear. In this case, it is fear of the knowledge that the history of Afghanistan is greater than its Islamic existence. In most societies, endowed with a sense of history, this reality would be accepted and people would move on. Bamiyan and Kabul as well as other Afghan towns were on the Great Silk Route which brought ideas, trade, cultures and conquerors to a region stretching from Europe through Central Asia and India to China. This is a part of the history of the world and those who seek to deny this are diminishing their own countries and societies.

The Taliban wishes to assert that what Bamiyan does not represent is its past. Perhaps it is right. After all, it did not exist at the time. But the Bamiyan rock cuts are a majestic, indivisible part of the region which bombs and bluster cannot destroy.

One wonders what are the thoughts of those who have awakened to the sight of the Buddhas over the centuries? Are they happy that these gentle giants, who sought no harm to others and only their good, have been blasted to bits in the face of a worldwide outcry seeking their safety? Did they see this as a loss of something that had been an integral part of their lives, of their waking, sleeping, living and dying?

If the bombings were not bad enough, there are worrying reports about the treatment of religious minorities in the country. Hindus and Sikhs have reportedly been ordered to wear patches of yellow on their clothes to show their religious affiliation; their homes are also to be painted with yellow. An Afghan minister sought to impress the world media by keeping up a barrage of words about how the statues were being brought down. In his haste, he let slip a great truth, which the Taliban would do well to remember: It is easier to destroy than to build.

The bombings at Bamiyan need to be viewed in this light. It is not just a repudiation of the past but a concern about what may yet be. One is not talking in terms of new faiths taking over there. But is there a fear among the rulers of today that the gentleness of tolerance will overcome the violence of terror and hate?

It is a fact that men and women of other religious and philosophical persuasions walked the ancient roads and valleys of Afghanistan, at a time when it was divided into many conflicting tribes and communities. The fierce loyalties inspired by tribal codes are legendary. They persist to this day, making any effort at governance near impossible.

It is now over a decade since the last of the Soviet troops left the Central Asian country. In this period, there has been a singular failure to forge an Afghan identity acceptable to all groups. This is connected to the failure to form an administration that can bring peace and the basics of development such as drinking water, power, roads - forget about equality and justice. It is a tragedy of inestimable proportions that sees over a million Afghans, a sizable proportion of the national population, still living in refugee camps in Pakistan.

Surely, the camp people have a right to return to their homeland. Yet, they remain reluctant to go back until so long as terror and fear, those inseparable twins, stalk Afghanistan long after liberation from the imperialist.

The Taliban may have destroyed the Buddhas. But what have they built in their rule? It is worth reflecting here on Babur, the first Mughal emperor, who is buried on the outskirts of Kabul.

Babur is as much a part of the history of India as he is of Afghanistan, Samarkhand and Farghana. There are those who rail against him and his invasion of India in 1526. But few would contest that his victory over Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat was one of the decisive moments in Indian, nay Asian, history. The BJP and its cohorts would do well to rein in their extreme elements in the following days. We cannot allow a replication either of Bamiyan here or of the destruction of the Babri Masjid or any harm to the Muslim community.

A nation that denies its past cannot have a future.


Updated: 10-3-2001

Return to "Buddhism around the World"

Top of Page