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Enter The Taliban

Return of the Hun

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 07, 2001.

The Taliban is the preeminent militant Islamic group in the backstreet that is Afghanistan, and they have enshrined themselves in the Pantheon of Immortals by dynamiting last week ancient giant statues of the Buddha in the Himalayan foothills. There is nothing intelligent to say about such vandalism. The Taliban say that this is dictated by the Koran, and so they have no choice in the matter. The Koran, and for that matter the Bible, looks with cancerous eye upon any graven images of gods. Nobody believes that. The first fourteen hundred years of Islam saw all the artifacts of Egypt and the Hebrews and even the Crusaders survive under Islam. Even the idiot who stored dynamite in the Parthanon saw it explode by mistake, not intent. The Moors destroyed no Spanish churches unused for military endeavor. Further, the Ottoman Turks actually employed Christians as their Army elite, called them Jannisaries, and respected their totems. Christians were much more likely to desecrate religious shrines than Mohammedans. Internal politics within Islam led periodically, as it does everywhere, to rival groups trying to be more Islamic than thou in their pander to the clerics who led them. But as a rule, Islam has been comparable to any other religion in power, which is to say shameful but hardly any worse than another. In the history of the great religions, this desecration does not stand out.

What this incident most closely resembles are the book burnings of the Nazis and our own Southern Baptists fueled by Jack Daniels and a wife with a headache. It recalls the German Army of the Kaiser that burned, for no reason except revenge, the great library of Louvain in Belgium, a nation that defended itself when the Germans invaded. In France as they retreated, the Germans blew up medieval castles, including the one at Courcy which had the biggest tower of the Middle Ages. No reason. This was the army that Kaiser William had previously instructed to behave as the Huns of Attila as they left to put down the Boxer Rebellion in China. The Taliban have a ways to go to equal Prussian Germany, among other groups that felt themselves, and actually were, inferior in civilization.

Truth be told, if the Taliban had burned some Catholic missions and giant statues of Christ, nothing much would happen. The reason would be that Catholicism has its own closet of horrors, often with Muslims the victims, and nobody really feels awful if what goes around eventually comes around on a historic level. Further, the Church is powerful as religions go, and at least the Taliban could be said to have stood up to a giant.

But Buddha? This was drop kicking a wounded hummingbird, destroying the family photos of an old neighbor woman in the hospital. The contemplative Buddha is hard to picture condemning sinners in a judgement day, or ascending to heaven on a war horse. When Buddhists get violent, they often set themselves afire. The world, justified or not, looks on them as the sweet little brother of religions. This destruction was the action of insecure bullies striking out at the only symbols of civilization, however ancient, within reach. They did it for spite, under the guise of national purification, just like Chairman Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to save his religion. The Taliban won their war against the Russians and their rivals but are trained for nothing but destruction. In command, they have nothing further to offer. They can envision nothing except another war. They deserve, in a more perfect world, comeuppance at the hands of their own forcibly veiled women, and their children. The politically correct among you will point out the role that the United States played in arming and training and inspiring such activity during the Cold War. The question is, did the United States create the problem or take advantage of it? The PC will claim the former, but it must be said that the tepid condemnation of the desecration by Islamic leaders does not reassure. We need to face the fact that Islam itself must shoulder the blame; it is ironically and currently a practicing philosophy of childish tantrums and patriarchal militant grudges. Of all the sites of major conflicts around the world, the Middle East, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bosnia, Russia, Islam is at least half the problem. It is an institution unable to get along; its way or the highway. Its religious sites are in the hands of massively corrupt family governments living lives in direct contravention of their professed religion. Its views towards women and children and the adoration of men are of medieval provenance. Its public reverence for the stupid utterances of demented clerics, like the hit put on Salmon Rushdie, or the forgiven use of children in war, defy comment. Islam everywhere, because it refuses to acknowledge distinction between the secular and the spiritual, is at war with itself and its neighbors. As a civilized religion, it has failed, its appearance anywhere in the world means violence. It needs and deserves a Reformation, an update, help. Where are the artists, writers, philosophers who claim inspiration in the religion of Islam as practiced today? Where are the scientists, from a religion that gave us navigation and numerals? For that matter, where is a politician of note, a single Islamic nation not in violent turmoil, or even a general capable of leading an army rather than a coup against a family member? In Islam’s past, it was often tolerant, compassionate, cosmopolitan and a spiritual university of vast intelligence, but where could that description be applied now? Competence in all fields was often preeminent, but not today. It is the second largest religion, nearly a billion people. What Muslim living under a Muslim government holds the world’s admiration for accomplishment not involving violence? At the time of the annual slaughter at the Hajj, we need to ask: are all philosophies and religions of equal value either to their own adherents or to the world at large?