Statues and monuments are an integral part of history. It is the future generations which bemoan their destruction and the loss of history, albeit painful. The misplaced notion that their obliteration will erase the impact of their milieu is fallacious. The desecration of 1700 year old Buddha statues by the Taliban in Afghanistan is just one exemplar of this ill-conceived notion.
Main picture: The removal of Rhodes statue from its plinth at UCT
Vandalism by ISIS in Mosul
A contemporary example of this barbarism was the wrecking of 3000 year old artefacts by the Islamic group known as ISIS. Priceless antiquities fell to the blows of these thugs. In their quest for religious purity, one vandal proclaimed that the items were being destroyed as they promoted idolatry. One of the items dating back to the 9th century B.C., depicted a winged-bull Assyrian protective deity, ‘The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him,’ the unidentified attackers proclaimed.
Isis first invaded the Central Library of Mosul in January. Residents confirm that the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books – including children’s stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science – into six pickup trucks.
They left only Islamic texts. Included amongst those books destroyed were hundreds dating back a 5000 years.
‘These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned,’ a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press.
ISIS even went so far as to institute the death penalty for any residents who had books from the library.
The Taliban and Buddhist Statues in Afghanistan
In 2001, the Taliban regime took the decision to destroy the iconic 1700 year old Buddhist statues in the Hindu Kush mountains of central Afghanistan. Amongst the Buddhas destroyed were the world’s two largest standing Buddhas, one of them 165ft high.
Their initial attempt at destroying the sandstone statues of Buddha was by using anti-aircraft and tank fire. After its failure, the Taliban brought a lorryload of dynamite from Kabul. After drilling holes into the torsos of the two statues they then placed dynamite charges inside the holes to blow them up.”
There has been an international outcry since Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, issued a special edict on Feb 26 ordering the destruction of all non-Islamic statues.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, had pleaded with the Taliban’s foreign minister, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, in Islamabad yesterday to save Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. He was told that all other “moveable statues” – including more than a dozen smaller Buddha statues in the Kabul Museum – had also been destroyed.
Islamic scholar’s texts at Timbuktu
Needless to say, this is not the first instance of fundamentalist Islamic groups destroying precious artifacts and similar items. Ironically ancient astronomical text drawn up by 10th century Islamic scholars at Timbuktu were the casualty of a raid on these priceless parchments.
A Monty Python perspective
Courtesy of a Life of Brian and the unknown author of the comment. The Life of Brian is a religious frace set in biblical times. It has been rated by cognoscenti as possibly the greatest movie ever.
Ask anyone, ‘How many Roman statues can be found in England?’
The answer will be ‘Lots!’
Now Google it – there are none!
There are no Roman statues in England
And you have to ask yourselves why?
Because the locals were so very angry
And demanded that history die.
Frustrated historians have pondered this
And returned manuscript back to the shelf
But to me it’s all so obvious why
As I watch history repeating itself.
Now I quote Monty Pythons ‘Life of Brian’
Specifically a part of scene ten: A sh*t stirrer was trying to incense his mates
But it seemed common sense prevailed then!
Reg: They’ve bled us white, the bastards.
They’ve taken everything we had,
and not just from us, from our fathers,
and from our fathers’ fathers.
Loretta: And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
Loretta: And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
Reg: Yeah. All right, Stan.
Don’t labour the point.
And what have they ever given us in return?!
Xerxes: The aqueduct?
Xerxes: The aqueduct.
Reg: Yeah, yeah.
They did give us that.
Uh, that’s true. Yeah.
Commando#3: And the sanitation.
Loretta: Oh, yeah, the sanitation,
Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
Reg: Yeah. All right.
I’ll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
Mattias: And the roads.
Reg: Well, yeah.
Obviously the roads.
I mean, the roads go without saying, don’t they?
But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads —
Commandos: Huh? Hey? Huh…
Commando #2: Education
Reg: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
Commando #1: And the wine.
Commandos: Oh, yes. Yeah.
Francis: Yeah. Yeah, that’s something we’d really miss,
Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
Commando: Public baths.
Loretta: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
Francis: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order.
Let’s face it.
They’re the only ones who could in a place like this.
Commandos: Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh.
Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Xerxes: Brought peace.
Stopped us fighting amongst ourselves.
There are no Roman statues in England
The proletariat had their say
And did their best to delete a history
That made the civilised England today.
Personally I found this vignette prescient. It is akin to Jan van Riebeeck landing on vacant land at the Cape of Good Hope & then introducing sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health only to be condemned centuries later for his actions.
A concluding view
Ironically it was the Britons who illustrated the harm caused when they rejected Roman civilisation from 410AD onwards. When the Romans departed from Britannia, the Roman name for Britain, British civic and intellectual life declined into centuries of a British Dark Ages. The maintenance of roads and aqueducts was abandoned resulting in the retrogression of British life in all its manifestations.
The world has not decried the recent wanton destruction of history by ISIS, the Taliban and allied groups with sufficient vigor. To feel threatened even by a 165 foot high statue of Buddha is indicative of their insecurity, narrow-mindedness and uncivilised behaviour. The plundering of such precious relics must be deplored by all right-minded people. The Taliban in Afghanistan even refused the offer by foreign governments to remove these antiquities at their own cost to no avail.
For that mindless behaviour, the world is indeed a poorer place intellectually and morally.