Fourteen years and two days on
[anniversaried by Lynn C. Rees]
The Internet told me Ahmed Shah Masood was dead.
I was annoyed.
I hated the Taliban: they were the enemy of all mankind. My hate didn’t single them out just for general Third World thuggishness, seventh century flavored oppression, or harboring a declared enemy of my country. No, my hate singled them out for blowing up some 1,500 year old statues.
For 1,000 of those years, Islam lived with the Buddhas of Bamiyan. A millennium of entropy, nature and sporadic iconoclasm had savaged the Buddhas. But there they stood, as they’d stood for a millennium and a half.
Then the iconoclastic ends of March 622 came calling, armed with the iconoclastic means of March 2001. Dynamite, artillery, and rocketry let the Taliban do in three weeks what history failed to do in fifteen centuries.
History is fragile. What survives is idiosyncratic. We inherit only suggestive rubble from the past. From that debris, castles of the imagination without number are summoned. One particularly insistent ghost of conjured history drove Taliban iconoclasm: the vision of the umma, the ideal community created by Muhammad in Medina and Mecca before his death in 632. From an antiseptic remove, far from the compromised Islam of March 2001, this stern phantom looked down from the heights of 15 centuries and commanded the Taliban to remove the idolatrous Buddhas of Bamiyan from history. The phantom umma promised that, piece by piece of shattered idol, the sacralized community of the Prophet would draw nearer and nearer. And so the Buddhas of Bamiyan fell.
History eats itself. Meddling in what survives and what doesn’t is unneeded: accident and negligence will devour more history than intention can aspire to. The Taliban insisted on speeding history along. Not only that, they figured they could not only speed it up but make it flip 180° and run backwards. And so the Taliban declared war on history.
To me, this made the Taliban barbarians. To me, they deserved to be erased from history themselves. The only man who seemed to be actively helping the Taliban exit history was Massood. Massood created an island of sanity in a dark hole of crazy. Now Massood had gone, sped to Allah by the same set of barbarians.
Downstairs I went. I ranted about the tragedy of Ahmed Shah Massood and his death to Mom and the passing brother. They had no idea who Ahmed Shah Massood was. They didn’t know where Afghanistan was. To them, it was a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom they knew nothing. The Massood in Afghanistan might as well have been the Massood in the Moon, fighting to keep one small grubby corner of the lunar surface Taliban-free.
Mom patiently listened as dinner was set. She’d grown used to my ranting on and on and on and on about this or that distant obscurity. She knew that, with time, I’d fulminate my way out of my momentary idée fixe and go back to quietly tending my garden of trivia. The world would go on. Normalcy would flow unvexed into the future.
She was right. Rant mode ran out of steam. I ate dinner. I went back to my lair, where my books and my computers would protect me. I went to sleep. The clock set on September 9th, 2001.
With murder in its heart, unseen in the gathering night, history, dead since 1989, was creeping up the East Coast to be reborn. Two Buddhas and the Lion of Panjshir were only the first to fall. A rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.
September 11th, 2015 at 11:51 pm
Abdul Haq fell shortly thereafter.
September 12th, 2015 at 2:28 am
I was in Bamiyan briefly in the early 1970s, long before the Buddhas were destroyed, and climbed the staircase in the rock walls to stand on the head of the larger Buddha & look out over the beautiful, fertile Bamiyan valley.
I still have my notebook from that trip, which includes a pasted-in pamphlet, “Hsuen-Tsung: A Chinese traveler, describes Bamiyan in 632 A.D.”