Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bamiyan: The Sequel

In March 2001, Afghanistan's Taliban shocked the civilized world when they destroyed the historic Buddhas of Bamiyan. This act of cultural vandalism has come to epitomize Islamism's intolerance the same way that the May 1933 book burnings symbolized that of the Nazis.

Today, having been driven from most of Afghanistan, the Taliban have carved out de facto control of a large part of northwestern Pakistan, where they have imposed the same draconian strictures that existed in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. This passage from a May 22, 2007 Time article describes the situation:

The residents of Dara Adam Khel, a gunsmiths' village 30 miles south of Peshawar, Pakistan, awoke one morning last month to find their streets littered with pamphlets demanding that they observe Islamic law. Women were instructed to wear all-enveloping burqas and men to grow their beards. Music and television were banned. Then the jihadists really got serious. These days, dawn is often accompanied by the wailing of women as another beheaded corpse is found by the side of the road, a note pinned to the chest claiming that the victim was a spy for either the Americans or the Pakistani government. Beheadings are recorded and sold on DVD in the area's bazaars. "It's the knife that terrifies me," says Hafizullah, 40, a local arms smith. "Before they kill you, they sharpen the knife in front of you. They are worse than butchers."

Not content with this barbarous form of social control, the Taliban are once more engaging in cultural desecration. A November 8 article from Der Spiegel provides the details:

Islamists inspired by the Taliban recently destroyed an important Buddhist sculpture 40 meters (131 feet) tall and about 1,300 years old in the north-western part of the Swat Valley, reports Vishaka N. Desai, the director of the US-based Asia Society.


In her article, which appeared in the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper on Tuesday, Buddhism expert Desai reports that the Islamists were able to act without any interference from the local administration -- in broad daylight. Their first destruction attempt left the sculpture undamaged; the second damaged the Buddha's face, shoulders and feet. The culprits had used large machines to drill shafts into the historic monument. They then filled the shafts with explosives and detonated them.

Desai, who is Indian, also reports that while Pakistani newspapers criticized the desecration extensively, the international press hardly took notice of the incident. And yet it was not the first of its kind. As recently as September of this year, gunshots were fired at a rock effigy of Buddha in the same region.

Sadly, as with the Bamiyan Buddhas, the destruction of the Swat Buddha is merely one manifestation of the Taliban movement's hatred of any form of art or culture deemed "un-Islamic":

Mullah Maulana Fazlullah is currently the strong man in the Swat region, notwithstanding his youth: He is only 28 years old. He thinks of himself as part of the Taliban movement and accepts only one authority: Mullah Omar. He has even proclaimed an "Islamic emirate" in his area of influence, and he commands a militia estimated to comprise some 4,500 men.

But Buddhist artefacts are not the only thorn in the Islamist's side. He also emulates the Taliban's religious and moral terror in other respects. For example, he threatened members of the Christian minority in the region -- about 1,000 people -- with death if they do not convert to Islam, Swiss daily Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung reported recently. And a Christian girls' school was forced to close and only allowed to open again on condition that all the girls wear a burka.


British daily The Guardian reports that the religious warriors operating under Fazlullah's control also set fire to several stores selling Indian and Western films and destroyed barber's shops that were known to shave men. Fazlullah even prevented the implementation of a polio vaccination program supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the New York Times reports. Fazlullah claimed the vaccinations would make men impotent.

While the Pakistani regime of Pervez Musharraf focuses on repressing opposition politicians and civil society activists, the Taliban are turning northwest Pakistan into a model of Islamist totalitarianism.


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