The world has always been a very politically moved place. And we have already known and learned that politics play a major role in not only the policies of UNESCO and the World Heritage Convention, but also in the countries that decide the policy and nominate sites as well. The politics of these are important in understanding why one would even consider destroying such monuments or representations of our heritage. The most notable example is the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas in a region of the Hindu Kush Mountains in central Afghanistan.
First to understand this complex issue and why they were destroyed, we must first look into the history of the Bamiyan Valley itself. For centuries, Bamiyan lay at the heart of trade along the Silk Road, the main trading route between China and the Roman Empire. Buddhism reached Afghanistan in the 300s BC and the temple engraved upon the mountainside and the Buddha on the mountain face were constructed in the early 5th century. For nearly 500 years, it was a haven for Buddhist practioners. The dozens of caves that pocketed Bamiyan’s Mountains cliffs were also home to Buddhist monks, who also provided shelter for traveling merchants, monks, and pilgrims. After Buddhism diminished within Afghanistan due to the spread of Islam, the temple was mostly left abandoned. Over the course of several centuries many conquerors and leaders of the region tried in vain to destroy the immense statues yet could not. Such as in the 11th century by the Mughal Empire and in the 18 and 19th centuries as well all by powers who laid claim to the valley.
The buddhas final demise came however at the turn of the new millennium. The Taliban had made claim to the rule of the country and had set about setting their harsh and radically extreme forms of Islam throughout the country, Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, issued a issued the order that all non-Islamic statues and sanctuaries in Afghanistan should be destroyed. To the Muslim leaders of neighboring countries, the destruction of the Buddha were deemed unnecessary and did not follow the true beliefs of their religion, but the Mullah answered: ‘How could we justify, at the time of the Last Judgement, having left these impurities on Afghan soil?’, keeping to their radical movement, not only were the statues targeted but also any other non-Islamic “idols” and artifacts. The statues were however left to a committee to decide. In the end it was determined that they would be destroyed using explosives and dynamite. There was major uproar from the international community, who called such action as an intentional destruction of what is seen as unfit heritage in this new Afghan culture.
There is however an underlying reason in why the Buddhas were destroyed. For more than a year leading up to the incident the Taliban had been requesting humanitarian aid for their country, which in the past 20 years alone had been ravaged by drought, earthquakes, and war. And they had been constantly refused, so as the Taliban had seen it as the UN and other country would give millions of dollars to save what they deemed as un-Islamic statues, but no aid whatsoever to help the starving and struggling people of the land. So we can assert that the move may have actually been a political one, seeing that they would receive no aid from the international community the Taliban wished to voice their distress in a way that they felt was necessary. Causing such a rippling effect in the international community probably allowed them some leverage, yet ultimately failed and therefore destroyed the statues.
The destruction of world heritage is wrong and there was no reason that the site should have been targeted for destruction. No matter the motive, all these sites have in tandem represent culture and that alone never usually harms anyone. The Taliban I believe only wanted to manipulate and eradicate any part of culture they had seen as un-Islamic, but failed to realize that what they see as unfit to have and represent in the history and culture of Afghanistan as well, and they should not be excluded from being represented as well.