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Afghanistan: At the Crossroads of Ancient Civilisations

By Dan Cruickshank
The Taliban

'...all things modern and western were suspect, and all representations of living beings were perceived as idolatrous...'

Destruction and loss of cultural objects and historic architecture through looting and vandalism was followed by ideological destruction during the six-year regime of the Taliban. When the Taliban came to power in 1996 the surviving cultural fragments of Afghanistan were protected - or at least tolerated. But by 2000 the approach of the Taliban ruling factions changed. The more primitive Wahabist attitudes - where all things modern and western were suspect, and all representations of living beings were perceived as idolatrous - became dominant and provoked an orgy of destruction.

Taliban soldiers
Taliban soldiers ©
The large Buddhist and Hindu images that had survived in the Kabul Museum because they were too large to loot, were smashed. Paintings of animals and people in the Kabul National Gallery were torn to pieces, the mighty Buddhas at Bamiyan were blown-up, and the 1,500-year-old frescoes in the surrounding caves destroyed or pillaged. The 1,000-year-old Buddhist Manir-i-Chakari was toppled.

'It became clear that the Taliban, in their last days, were not only destroying images of living things... but also attacking history and memory.'

It became clear that the Taliban, in their last days, were not only destroying images of living things - an act that was an abuse of Koran texts - but also attacking history and memory. They wanted to eradicate Afghanistan's culturally rich past, and take the country back to a notional year zero, in an attempt to create their ideal of an Islamic state. All was to be elemental and primitive, and Allah was to be worshipped in a very prescribed manner. All art and sport were banished, education and technology were limited, and women were suppressed.

Published: 2002-09-01



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