The Taliban's war on art
November 23, 2001 7:58 PM   Subscribe

The Taliban's war on art extended beyond merely blowing apart the two monumental Buddhist statues. Here's a nice little piece about a wrecking party at the Kabul Museum of Art lead by the Taliban Ministers of Information and Finance. Their acts of barbarism against women and people who failed to live up to their religious code was unspeakable, but IMHO this willful destruction of art is also worthy of condemnation. This is nothing less than the destruction of a people's culture.
posted by MAYORBOB (17 comments total)
The Taliban is bad, mmmmmkay?
posted by Optamystic at 8:04 PM on November 23, 2001

Surely this post deserves more than condescension. The sad part is that there probably isn't a place on this planet that couldn't reach that state of barbarism in, say, 25 bad years.

I guess that's why we're practically out of 22,000-year-old sculpted stone heads.
posted by coelecanth at 9:09 PM on November 23, 2001

Well, I'm not exactly sure what kind of reaction this post is supposed to elicit. I mean, didn't we already bomb the fuck out of these guys, ridding the world of evil in the process? Yeah, they're bad guys. They're bad to women, they're bad to men, they're presumably bad to camels and goats and various forms of microbial life. They're bad to statues, and they're bad to pretty pictures. Truly a tragedy that such badness ever existed in an otherwise nifty world. Hopefully, after they surrender, we can return to our idyllic lives in the Paradise that Planet Earth was before the Taliban messed it all up for everybody.

posted by Optamystic at 10:00 PM on November 23, 2001

You forgot to say, "...and don't call me 'Shirley'."

You seem to think that anyone who says "Taliban bad" must actually mean "U.S.A. good." Of course they could be true independently, but nothing in the IHT article, or its accompanying comments, or mine, even suggested the second part. There's nothing in this article that couldn't have been written during the Buddha blowup. (The brouhaha. At Bamian.) In fact, my point was that this can happen -- quickly -- to any society that suffers enough misfortune.

Of course your reaction to the post is your business. The condescension just seemed a little over-the-top, after I had, you know, actually read the article.
posted by coelecanth at 11:43 PM on November 23, 2001

Hey, I read the article. I was just commenting on the fact that I have 550 channels of "news" reminding me of Taliban atrocities every single time I turn on the television. The point that these are not the type of guys that you want to hang with at the pub has been well made. To be honest, I find this type of destruction to be unconscionable, but I'm running a little low on righteous indignation these days.

Plus, I like being called Shirley. :)
posted by Optamystic at 11:56 PM on November 23, 2001

Yes, well, your point about overload is well taken, but is it better or worse than 550 channels of Gary Condit, or OJ Simpson, or Monica Lewinsky? No right or wrong here; I'm just wondering. I'd hate to say that there are "too many" news channels... It must be the lack of variety.

What I hate is that they're rehashing the same taped correspondents' segments about three times an hour. They've only got about 30 minutes' of news each day, but they feel obliged to run it continually.
posted by coelecanth at 12:43 AM on November 24, 2001

The real story for me is how American* government (though, arguably, not necessarily by extension the American people) didn't seem terribly upset about all this priceless-art-destruction until after September 11th, when it became just another justification for running those scoundrels outta town and replacing them with a different set of scoundrels.

*For "American" substitute "Canadian", "Australian" etc, if you please.

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:44 AM on November 24, 2001

Can I replace it with "The United States of Time-Warner/AT&T/Raytheon/Halburton/Boeing/United/Exxon/Mobile/General Electric/Lockheed-Martin, Inc"?
posted by Optamystic at 4:24 AM on November 24, 2001

stavros? What are you talking about? There was outrage around the world, including the Muslim world. There were multiple appeals by many nations, including Muslim nations, to spare the Buddhas in particular (I don't think anyone outside Afghanistan realized just how widespread the destruction of ancient art was). Those appeals weren't heeded. There just wasn't anything else that could be done short of war, the Taliban was already a pariah regime, and no one was going to go to war over statuary.

Hm. Maybe there's a lesson here? Sort of like Giuliani strategy of going after the turnstile jumpers in NYC, and the 'broken window' theory of crime prevention. Maybe we should go to war over statuary.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:14 AM on November 24, 2001

Sort of like Giuliani strategy

Okay, I hope I'm not the only one who sees the irony of invoking the name of Giuliani and artistic freedom in the same sentence, but I know what you meant, Slithy.
posted by MrBaliHai at 5:50 AM on November 24, 2001

Many of the world's treasures of art and archaeology are located in areas where a shift of the political winds to the right, or a wild hair in a loopy dictator, could endanger them. Iran, Iraq and Egypt are at the top, but not the only places on the list. India has seen historic mosques destroyed. China lost a ton of stuff in the "Cultural Revolution".

I guess the big question is: When does stopping acts of destruction become the interest of everyone? If Islamic extremists took power in Egypt and started dismantling the Pyramids, what would you do? What would you want to see your government do? Would you support the same action to protect the Taj Mahal from Hindu extremists? What about some temple in the center of China that you had never heard of?

posted by gimonca at 11:11 AM on November 24, 2001

If Islamic extremists took power in Egypt and started dismantling the Pyramids, what would you do? What would you want to see your government do?

Probably nothing. I cannot justify wasting American lives over a pyramid. I don't understand the urge to destroy, but the life of someone I don't know from Kansas is worth more to me than a pile of stone on the other side of the world.
posted by thirteen at 11:25 AM on November 24, 2001

I can't think of any artwork that I would kill or be killed for. That's preposterous. Killing humans to preserve inanimate objects is inconceivable, no matter how lovely the object. Not that the loss of these works of art isn't a tragedy, but the comments above mention government intervention, and, as we all know, when governments intervene, folks get killed. That's much to high a price to pay or require for the preservation of a particular painting or sculpture.

Besides, if you look at art in general as the expression of the inextinguishable and unconquerable human spirit, rather than getting hung up on the value of the individual pieces, you'll see that it's impossible to destroy art. People will always find a way to express themselves, even in the most dire of circumstances. And the things that they create will be beautiful, and subversive, and wonderful, just like some of the stuff that got destroyed was. In other words, I would say to the Taliban and all others of their ilk: "Crush all you want, we'll make more".
posted by Optamystic at 11:27 AM on November 24, 2001

Boy, this thread sure reached fever pitch in one or two comments.

The destruction of art & archaeology is disturbing (though not without precedent, as noted; in fact one previous even granted its name to the ages). I grew up around museums (my dad professionally directed a couple of historical societies), and find this personally very disturbing -- and just as "Taliban bad" and "USA good" are independent concepts, so "Taliban bad to people" and "Taliban bad to art" are independent, and both worthy of scrutiny. There are going to be thousands of stories to be told coming out of Afghanistan about what life was like; this happens to be one of interest to people with a personal investment in art, archaeology, museums, Afghan culture, and the like. Why shouldn't it be told? Why childishly snark about it being brought up? Certainly it isn't of itself worthy of military action. The international community has shown in the past that bad government is rarely, in and of itself, worthy of intervention; and even given the 9/11 attacks we know that many here at MeFi remained opposed to military action. I don't think anyone was even suggesting the equation "Taliban destroying art == US soldiers attack", so that's a very spurious kind of argument to bring up.

In short this was a story that was indeed widely ignored; the hillside Buddhas did get television airtime on some of the networks, but the overall campaign of destruction was barely noted alongside it. Now we're in a period where all eyes are focused on Afghanistan, which makes this an opportune time for the story to be told -- or looking at it through the telescope backwards, there are reporters in Kabul looking for stories and finding them. Tossing mud for what is essentially a banal trend of journalism seems pointless.
posted by dhartung at 12:01 PM on November 24, 2001

Their acts of barbarism against women and people

Sorry, MAYORBOB, but I consider myself a person, as do most other women... distinguishing women from people is quite a Talibanesque thing to do, really.
posted by phoenix enflamed at 12:56 PM on November 24, 2001

Point take, phoenix enflamed. Needs the term "in general" to go right after women.
posted by MAYORBOB at 1:31 PM on November 24, 2001

Many were aware of this a long time ago. In Switzerland, the Afghanistan Museum has been receiving rescued artifacts for a decade. UNESCO has been helping move art to Switzerland.

But there is nothing like a little smuggling to preserve endangered relics safely in greedy non-Taliban hands. Perhaps the British Museum has room beside the Elgin Marbles, once in similar danger, when the Turks were removing lead from the Parthenon to make bullets.
posted by Geo at 4:39 PM on November 24, 2001

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