Taliban Afghani Art Destruction

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EXPLAINING THE DESTRUCTION: Taliban leaders decided to destroy artwork after a delegation visited and offered money to help protect the giant Buddhas. "They said, `If you are destroying our future with economic sanctions, you can't care about our heritage.' And so they decided that these statues must be destroyed. The Taliban's Supreme Court confirmed the edict. The New York Times 03/19/01 (one-time registration required for access)

EYE-WITNESS PROOF: Taliban leaders say they may let journalists see the destroyed remains of the giant Buddhas they destroyed as early as Wednesday. The New York Times 03/18/01 (one-time registration required for access)

UNDERSTANDING THE TALIBAN: Difficult as it is for the rest of the world to understand why the Taliban would destroy artifacts so old and precious, a question arises: "In the deepest, broadest sense, did the Taliban really have any idea what they were doing? The movement's leaders are mostly young sons of illiterate peasants, raised on mine-strewn battlefields and stark refugee camps, and educated in rote sectarian blinders. Do they understand that this act, more than anything else, will be how the world remembers them?" The New York Times 03/18/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE MOST DANGEROUS RELIGION (HINT: IT'S NOT ISLAM): The world has watched in horror as Afghani fundamentalists willfully destroyed cultural treasures. But destruction of art is only a piece of a larger cultural battle going on here. Is international cultural conflict replacing political Cold War conflict? ArtsJournal.com 3/16/01

PROVOKING THE BULLIES: Most of the world has been outraged over the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddhas. Now Pakistan's foreign minister urges other nations not to shun the Taliban, fearing the regime will use international hostility as an excuse to make life even more difficult for the Afghan people. Pakistan is one of three countries that offically acknowledges the Taliban regime. The Times of India (AFP) 3/15/01

DUTY TO PROTECT: Destruction of Afghani art certainly didn't begin with the Taliban's assault on the giant Buddhas. The Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage (SPACH) has been fighting to save artwork in Afghanistan since 1994 (without much luck). "Monuments were being neglected, if not badly damaged by the war, historic sites had been and were still being illegally excavated and, most importantly, the Kabul Museum, which houses an important collection, was being damaged and plundered." Purabudaya 2000

ATTENTION GETTER: The world is still trying to figure out why the Taliban destroyed their art. Was it just to get attention for a country the rest of the world has been ignoring? "For Mullah Omar, who had spared the statues in the hope of improving relations with the West, the increased pressure indicated he had nothing left to lose. His response to the rest of the world: If you want the monuments to survive, then recognize us as we are." Newsweek (MSNBC) 03/13/01

ART OR PEOPLE? Who can explain the Taliban's destruction of art? "For example, why are they doing so? Was the destruction of statues a stupid act, or was it a shrewdly calculated move to attain international attention? Then, who created the Taliban? And who is pushing them against the wall now? After the world's reaction over the statue issue, many in Afghanistan might ask whether the stone statues were more important than millions of starving human beings." Middle East Times 03/12/01

HOW THEY KILLED THE BUDDHAS: "After failing to destroy the 1,700-year-old sandstone statues of Buddha with anti-aircraft and tank fire, the Taliban brought a lorryload of dynamite from Kabul. A Western observer said: 'They drilled holes into the torsos of the two statues and then placed dynamite charges inside the holes to blow them up'." The Telegraph (London) 03/12/01

  • SMUGGLED OUT OF HARM'S WAY: A wave of art has been smuggled out of Afghanistan and is being sold on the black market in London. It's a trade that has been active for some time, but the Taliban destruction has upped the stakes. The Observer 03/11/01

BUDDHA WAS RIGHT: So now the giant Bamiyan buddhas have been destroyed. The Metropolitan Museum had offered to buy and transport the statues to New York in order to preserve them "It's hard to imagine a more perfect or succinct misunderstanding of the issue. Absence is absence, no matter if the Buddhas become dust in Afghanistan or dusted objets d'arts in some far away museum. That this seemed, if briefly, a plausible solution indicates what is truly at stake here, and that it is not so simple as preserving 'the world's cultural heritage'." Killing the Buddha 03/08/01

  • STAY-AT-HOME ART: "In recent years, the dispute over the right to antiquities has tended to favor those who argue that art treasures belong near their origins, rather than in collections continents away." But the Taliban destruction has changed some thinking on the issue. "Museums [in the West] are saying, 'We should have protected this material.' " Los Angeles Times 03/10/01

WHY OH WHY? So what is the religious justification for the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddhas? "The deed is being perpetrated in the name of Islam, in which there is no basis for such vandalism. Indeed, the Islamic world has admired the two sculptures almost from the day Islam became entrenched in the area around the ninth century." International Herald Tribune 03/07/01

EARLY DESTRUCTION OF ART: Egyptologists are debating whether to restore a toppled 3,200-year-old 50-foot-high statue of Ramses II or leave it on the ground in pieces where early Christian monks felled and dismembered it to discourage idolatry. "The face was attacked, as the early Christians often did, and traces of hammering can be found all over the place, clearly showing that the destruction was willed." Middle East Times (Egypt) 03/07/01

THE ART OF TOMB ROBBING: "When I first started out in this business, many of the objects I handled crumbled to pieces. They were too fragile. Now, I have a more scientific approach...The first rule of tomb-robbing is never take anything home and never put anything in your car. If the police find you in possession of anything, you're in trouble... I love history. If I had studied, I'd be a great archaeologist...I've taken my son out with me three or four times, but he's not really interested in tomb-robbing. There's no passion." The Art Newspaper 03/06/01

PROUD DESTROYER : Despite condemnation from around the globe - even from their few allies in Pakistan and the UAE - the Taliban are boasting of their destruction of irreplaceable artwork. The Taliban leader broadcast a message throughout Afghanistan Monday telling his countrymen to be proud of his decision to destroy all the country’s pre-Islamic art and Buddhist sculpture. "The Taliban maintains its action would help create the world's purest Islamic state saying their mission to destroy ‘false idols’ will continue." CNN 3/05/01

FAITH-BASED VANDALISM: "Christians needn't be entirely smug on the subject of destroying holy images. Iconoclasm (literally, the breaking of images) was the name of an eighth- and ninth-century movement in the Eastern church against the worship of holy pictures… It's partly that, as Saul Bellow wrote, different minds inhabit different centuries. If you take your beliefs seriously, and are consistent in marrying deed to creed, then you may see, with blinding clarity, the need to eliminate blasphemous inconsistencies." Time 3/05/01

AFGHAN ART DESTROYED: "Taliban Information Minister Quadratullah Jamal announced that, in apparent defiance of international condemnation and pleas to preserve the world's tallest standing Buddha statue and other ancient artifacts, two-thirds of the country's statues had been smashed. 'They were easy to break apart and did not take much time,' he said." Washington Post 03/04/01

WILLFUL DESTRUCTION: Last Monday Afghanistan's Taliban leaders were assuring a delegation that they had no intention of destroying art treasures. By Thursday they were methodically obliterating them. "They set about what was once Afghanistan's most famous tourist attraction - two enormous statues of Buddha, 38 and 55 metres high, carved into a cliff-face. Using tanks and rocket launchers they began to destroy the two works, which had survived since the second century AD." The Guardian 03/03/01

OUTSIDE OFFERS: New York's Metropolitan Museum offers to buy the giant Buddhas and other artifacts. Meanwhile, the trade of smuggled Afghani artifacts has increased in recent weeks. The Times (London) 03/03/01

DESTROYING ART IN AFGHANSTAN: Afghanistan's ruling Taliban run an oppressive regime. Now the country's Ministry of Vice and Virtue has announced plans to destroy every statue in the country, including the world's tallest Buddha, almost 2,000 years old. Why? "Worshippers might be tempted to pay homage to the idols, the Taliban's youthful leaders have decided, even though Afghanistan is devoid of Buddhists." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/01/01

A PLEA FOR PRESERVATION: Unmoved by an international outcry, Taliban troops began destroying artwork across Afghanistan Thursday, including the demolition of 5th-century Buddhist sculpture and precious pre-Islamic artifacts in Kabul’s national museum. UNESCO and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are pressuring the Taliban to give the artifacts to foreign museums. "They are destroying statues that the entire world considers to be masterpieces." New York Times (AP) 3/01/01 (one-time registration required for access)

AFGHAN MUSEUM REOPENS: Though many of its treasures have been looted, the National Museum of Afghanistan has reopened after a decade of being closed during the civil war. BBC 08/18/00

DESTRUCTION, NEGLECT AND PILLAGE: Archeological treasures in Afghanistan have been massively damaged and destroyed after years of civil war, reports a historian and archeologist who has returned from the region. The Art Newspaper 03/04/00 

NO PEOPLE ALLOWED: The Taliban reopened Afghanistan's National Art Gallery in Kabul this week, but no art depicting human figures was allowed, in keeping with the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law. Times of India (AP) 02/18/00    

AFGHANI ART DESTROYED? Afghanistan's National Museum lost much of its art during the country's civil war. But now reports say the ruling Taliban have destroyed more than a dozen ancient statues in the museum. "The Taleban minister of information and culture has denied the reports but has refused to allow journalists to enter the museum to check them. Reports started to circulate last week that the Taleban were destroyed non-Islamic artefacts in the museum, including statues of the Buddha dating back nearly 2,000 years." BBC 02/12/01

LOOTERS RUIN AFGHANI ART: International concern is growing for the safety of artwork in Afghanistan. "The frescoes behind the Great Buddha at Bamiyan are being hacked from the walls by locals living near the site. Although it is doubtful whether any reputable Western dealer would risk purchasing such well recorded frescoes, these unique paintings have been irretrievably damaged. They now risk disappearing forever into the hands of individuals who have few scruples about owning such artefacts." The Art Newspaper 02/02/01





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