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Theoterrorism As Statecraft.

Many throughout the world were horrified when, on March 1, 2001, the Islamic Taliban militia in Afghanistan began smashing ancient religious artifacts and, on March 2, used anti-aircraft fire, rockets, and cannon, tank, and mortar shells to blast the two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan, near Kabul. These actions weren't the beginning of some new fanaticism but, rather, the latest event in nearly a decade of destruction. Demolition has clearly caught on in South Asia. And the Hindutwa--the fanatical Hindu counterpart of the Taliban--must be proud to have pioneered the vogue.

For it was the Hindutwa which set out in 1992 on a national tour of ethnic cleansing in India. This resulted in the murder of over a thousand people, mostly Muslims, and culminated on December 6 with the razing to the ground of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, northern India. There were cries from all sectors within India for the mosque to be rebuilt alongside a temple to Ram--to restore India's vision of itself as a religiously tolerant, secular state--however, it was never to be. Indeed, since then hundreds of idols destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh by Muslim extremists must be deemed a tribute to the Hindutwa's innovative campaign. So, once again, with the latest actions of the Taliban, religion is asserting its identity with terror.

The destruction at Bamiyan, however grievous and painful, isn't something the Taliban perpetrated in a fit of rage. It is state policy and integral to the total project of Talibanism that has drastically changed the face of society in Afghanistan (exactly as the Hindutwa has done, ridding India of "foreign" mosques and churches and restoring the country to the pristine vista of cultural emptiness). These events are neither abrupt nor aberrational if we keep in view the whole pattern of Taliban tyranny that has made Afghanistan an annex of hell.

Public memory being lamentably short and particularly ignorant, thanks in large part to the commercial media, the causes and contexts of these recent events either go unreported or fade quickly from consciousness. What we are allowed to view is just the consequences: no history, no past.

But the Taliban is merely paying a long-due tribute to imperialists by continuing the campaign of dispossessing nations of their history through perennial "interventions." In this scenario, the Talibs appear, quite credibly and properly, as the bad guys--but strange as it may sound, not necessarily in the Western metropolises, some ritualistic incantations to the contrary notwithstanding.

The United States, you see, rid its putative conscience and national memory--as it has long been inured to do--when it "intervened" in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet "invasion" during the Cold War. And then, after having helped put the Talibs in the saddle to induce them to ravage and purify the land by slaughtering the infidels, the United States left, content and happy with "a job well done" vis-a-vis the Soviets. This was not the only example of purificatory--that is, "humanitarian"--carnage assisted by the superpower.

In 1998, by blowing off the face of the Buddha when they had captured Bamiyan, the Talibs loudly declared their manifesto to the world. Yet no conscience in the West was stirred and, following its example, developing nations also acquiesced. In any case, they counted for nothing even if they had had the temerity to demur. The Cold War, presumably long over, continued to explain away every imperialist crime all over the planet.

Again, quite consistently, the Talibs declared candidly their decision to blast all statues in Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, and the Kabul museum, minimizing their societal value by declaring them "just stone" or "clay." (But then the Hindutwa called the Babri mosque an "unused structure." Give the dog a bad name, and no one mourns when you kill it.) However barbaric, this destruction was quite logical in terms of the avowed Talib agenda, known to those who helped them into power.

The United States had hoped the Talibs would remain eternally pliant puppets in obligation. And, in fact, they did. They merely believed that the land had to be purged of pagan relics, and they presumed the Christian West would concur. In the Talibs' drive to establish their own brand of Islam, they simply did what they were trained and sworn to do.

For the moment, let us pretend we don't know there were instructors, patrons, and prelates aiding, abetting, and cheering the "humanitarian" enterprise. Some of the righteous and pietistic denunciations of this "divine demolition," issuing from the mouths of leading Hindu and even Muslim religious leaders, sound theatrically hypocritical. They call it "cultural vandalism," "sacrilege," "barbaric and anti-civilizational," "regression into medieval barbarism," "obscurantist regression," and "religious intolerance, dangerous to the world" and then grandiosely declare the Bamiyan Buddhas the "civilizational inheritance of all humankind." One Hindu in particular--Indian Prime Minister VajPayee--outdid himself when he said on March 4, 2001: "Rulers of Afghanistan are not true Muslims. They are consumed by insanity, bent upon increasing tensions in the subcontinent."

As I read this, I couldn't help being exhilarated by the sentiments so well couched. But were they authentic? Every word oozed with hypocrisy.

It was amazing to see seasoned vandals of Ayodhya crying holy horror at their kin's exploits! As if this weren't stagey enough, Ashok Singhal, a great votary of Dharma, a functionary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), hectored that he would retaliate. VajPayee and Singhal jell well. Theirs is a very impressive "division of labor." One moans, the other hectors--in a well laid out musical script of sorts, integral and peculiar to the Hindutwa. Yet all are geared to the same end: a cacophony of violence and viciousness. They are all good performers. All demagogues are.

Did these holy warriors pause before keening that they did similar vandalism in Ayodhya in 1992, encouraged by the "great venture" to destroy umpteen churches, mosques, and artifacts all over India, implanting an anarchy known as Hindutwa, pretending to be purged of any admixture of "foreign" elements? Their demolition campaign enveloping the land in blood and devastation should surely be denounced in the same words.

Their unholy and unrelenting quest for "purity'--their "rectifying historical wrongs"--is the original of the idiom the Taliban now uses. Like the Talibs committed to breaking all idols, the Hindutwa is pledged to destroy all Indian churches and 3,000 mosques. They share in common this extensive project.

It may be desirable for Singhal to speak out against the destruction at Bamiyan. But if he is planning retaliation via pogroms against the Muslims of India, then he needs urgent medical help or immediate internment. The Hindutwa compulsion to parlay the destroyed Buddhas into its election campaign by fanning the fires of frenetic communalism is too tempting to pass--and too dangerous to ignore. Why should the VHP be knight errant for Buddhism when it destroyed the newly built Jain assembly hall in Badrinath, a pilgrim center in northern India? This newfound love for the Buddha, whose Indian disciples are under siege by the pseudo-Hindu Nazis, is patently suspect and palpably phony.

Partisans of the assassins of Gandhi (the twentieth-century Buddha), despite their pompous posturing--regnant in New Delhi now, thanks to "secular and democratic" allies--have little respect for a Buddha statue 2,500 years old. Instead, they have quite a few things strikingly in common with the Talibs: insensate violence, congenital hatred, abysmal lack of humanity, awful lack of culture, and a fanatical drive to erase history. They inwardly celebrate the abominable exploits of their cousins in Kabul. The finis written by the Talibs to Buddhism should be only "a wrong rectified," in their eyes. The Taliban has only concluded the demolition which the Hindutwa had "bravely and patriotically" launched. Bravery and patriotism, as defined by Talibs and their cousins make lexicographers of all languages weep.

Of course, theoterrorism poses no immediate threat to the West. The United States will be appeased. It will stay in power. Strategic interests of an imperial power can't be sacrificed at the altar of so-called crimes against humanity that the Talibs were found competent and ardent enough to commit.

I. K. Shukla is a professor of English and cofounder of the California-based Coalition for an Egalitarian and Pluralistic India.
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Author:Shukla, I. K.
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:May 1, 2001
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