The Taliban's other outrage

Posted: Thursday, March 08, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Chicago Tribune:

For at least a millennium and a half, the Buddhas of Bamiyan towered over a mountain valley in central Afghanistan. The statues were carved out of sandstone cliffs; the taller one, soaring 175 feet, is the tallest Buddha in the world.

They now have become the latest victims of the puritanical Taliban, which has controlled most of Afghanistan since 1996.

Deliberately and methodically, using artillery and explosives, the Taliban has begun to destroy the statues because they are idols and thus, in the eyes of the Taliban, an affront to Islam. The statues are among thousands of Buddhist relics from pre-Islamic times in Afghanistan that the Taliban is determined to destroy.

The Taliban has turned a deaf ear to all pleas and protests - even from fellow Islamic countries that have decried this "cultural vandalism." Offers to buy the statues, to move them, to build walls to hide them, all have been summarily rejected.

This destruction has drawn worldwide attention - and worldwide outrage. And, yes, it is a tragedy that such priceless art would be destroyed. But there is a far greater outrage, one that, inexplicably, has received less attention in the last week than the Taliban's treatment of statues.

That is the Taliban's treatment of women.

This regime has brutally repressed half its population. Women have been stripped of virtually all rights, denied the opportunity for schooling, the right to work or to freely move about. Women doctors, lawyers and tradespeople cannot practice their craft. The windows of their homes must be covered. They can travel outside the home only in the company of a male relative. They have effectively been blocked from receiving health care.

For violating these rules, they are beaten in public by Taliban soldiers.

The stories, pictures and headlines have trained on the ill-fated Buddhas. Their destruction does defy comprehension. Afghanistan has been a Muslim country for more than 1,300 years. For all that time, the Buddhas and other relics have been a prized part of the nation's heritage.

It can't be lost in concern over the Buddhas, though, that the greatest victims of the Taliban are not made of sandstone. They are flesh and blood.

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