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Sunday, March 4, 2001

Art Crimes
When Fanaticism Meets Art

By Doug McLennan

Afghanistan's brutal ruling Taliban fundamentalists have never seemed to care much what the rest of the world thinks of them. They ignored protests of their treatment of women and children, and now, in a move almost calculated to provoke outrage, they are going about destroying Afghanistan's greatest art treasures.

They have set about destroying [AP] what was once "Afghanistan's most famous tourist attraction - two enormous statues of Buddha, 38 and 55 metres high, carved into a cliff-face." The giant statues - located about seven hours' drive from Kabul - were built about 1000 years before the arrival of Islam in Afghanistan.

One expert says of their destruction that it is the equivalent of India deciding to tear down the Taj Mahal.

It looked for a time last week that the destruction might be staved off after a visiting delegation was told the destruction would not take place [The Guardian].

The Buddhas are not the only targets of the Taliban - the Afghani information minister said over the weekend that some "two-thirds" of the country's ancient statues [Washington Post] had been destroyed. Offers by the international art community [London Times], including the Metropolitan Museum, to buy the art and move it were ignored.

Why destroy the art now, the nation's - indeed part of the world's - cultural heritage? The official reason is that worshippers might be tempted [Globe & Mail] to pay homage to the idols."

But Afghanistan doesn't really have any Buddhists.

The country a pariah state, and only three countries even acknowledge the country's government, which took power by force in 1996.

The Taliban have imposed repressive laws - "women must cover themselves from head to toe, photography is forbidden, beardless men risk imprisonment and thieves have been stoned to death." Further, the country has been suffering through a massive drought.

Much of the country's art was already destroyed in the civil war [The Art Newspaper] leading to the Taliban's taking power. Art in the National Museum of Afghanistan - closed for ten years during the war - was massively looted but the government reopened the National Museum [BBC] last winter.

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