Center for Strategic Communication

[defrosted by Lynn C. Rees]

Eleven years ago, on September 9, 2001, the Web rudely informed me that Ahmed Shah Masood had been assassinated.

I was annoyed.

I hated the Taliban. To me, they were the enemy of all mankind. My hate didn’t single them out just for their Third World thuggishness, their seventh century flavored oppression, or their harboring of a declared enemy of my country. No, my hate singled them out for blowing up a few statues that had stood for 1,500 years.

For 1,000 of those years, Islam lived alongside the Buddhas of Bamiyan. During that time, weather, entropy, and sporadic iconoclastic enthusiasm had heavily damaged the Buddhas. But, until March 2001, they still stood, as they had stood for one millennium and a half.

Then the Taliban came. They were different. They had the iconoclast ends of March 622 and the means of March 2001 to carry them out. Dynamite, artillery, and rocketry let the Taliban do in three weeks what history had failed to do in fifteen centuries.

History is fragile. What survives down to us is idiosyncratic. We inherit only a few suggestive piles of rubble from the past. From this debris, numberless castles of the imagination have been conjured. One very insistent ghost of conjured history drove the Taliban to destroy the statues: an idealized vision of the community created by Muhammad in Medina and then Mecca from the hegira in 622 to his death in 632. From an antiseptic remove far from the compromised Islam of March 2001, this phantom umma looked down on the Taliban from the heights of 15 centuries and commanded them to erase the Buddhas of Bamiyan from history. The phantom umma promised that, as each piece of shattered idol fell away, the sacralized community of the Prophet would draw nearer and nearer.

And so the Buddhas of Bamiyan fell.

Since history consumes itself anyway, I oppose those who feel that history needs help swallowing. Human meddling in what survives and what doesn’t is unneeded: accident and negligence will always chew up more history than intention can aspire to. But the Taliban insisted on speeding the work of history along. Furthermore, they figured that they could not only speed it up but make it flip 180° and make it run backwards. And so they declared war on history.

To me, this made the Taliban barbarians. To me, they deserved to be removed from history themselves. The only man who seemed to be actively helping the Taliban out of history was Massood. And now Massood had gone to Allah, assisted by these same barbarians.

Downstairs I went. I ranted in the kitchen about the tragedy of Ahmed Shah Massood and his death to Mom and the occasional passing sibling. They didn’t know 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. Massood of Afghanistan might as well have been the Massood in the Moon, fighting to keep one small grubby corner of the lunar surface Space Taliban-free.

Mom patiently listened as dinner was set. Over the years, she’d grown used to my ranting 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 to 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. The sun set on September 9th, 2001. I went to sleep.

Two Buddha statues and the Lion of Panjshir would be only be the first to fall. Unseen in the gathering dark, history, with brutal intent, blatantly ignoring its own death in 1989, crept up the East Coast to be reborn.