Center for Strategic Communication

[set in stone 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 Third World thuggishness, seventh century fanboy oppression, or giving aid and comfort to a declared enemy of my country. No, my hate singled them out for blowing up some 1,500 year old pieces of rock.

For 1,000 of those 1,500 years, Islam lived alongside the twin Buddhas of Bamiyan. A millennium of entropy, nature, and sporadic fits of vandalism had ravaged the two Buddhas. But there they stood, as they’d stood for a millennium and a half.

History is fragile: we inherit only suggestive rubble from the past. From that rubble, we summon imagined pasts without number and without foundation. A particularly insistent ghost of conjured history drove Taliban iconoclasm: the shadow of the umma, the idolized but idol-free community of believers supposedly created by Muhammad before his death c. AD 632. From its antiseptic remove, far from the compromised Islam of March 2001, this stern shade loomed down from the heights of 15 centuries and commanded the Taliban to erase those two idolatrous Buddhas of Bamiyan from history. The phantom of the umma promised that, piece by piece of shattered idol, the sanctified community of the Prophet would draw nearer and nearer. The ends of March 622 came calling, now armed with the means of March 2001. Dynamite, artillery, and rocketry let the Taliban do in three weeks what history failed to do in fifteen centuries. And so the Buddhas of Bamiyan fell.

Meddling in what survives and what doesn’t is unnecessary. History eats itself: time, accident, and negligence will devour more history than intention ever aspire to. The Taliban insisted on moving history along. Moreover, they thought they could not only speed it up but make it flip 180 degrees and run backwards. And so the Taliban declared war on history.

To me, this made the Taliban barbarians. To me, they too deserved to be erased from history. 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. And now Massood was gone, sped to Allah by those same barbarians.

Downstairs I went. I ranted about the shame of Ahmed Shah Massood’s death to my Mom. She had no idea who Ahmed Shah Massood was. She didn’t know where Afghanistan was. To her, it was a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom she 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 and on and on and on about this or that distant obscurity. She knew I’d fulminate my way out of my idée fixe of the moment, then return to quietly tending my trivia. The world would go on. Normalcy would again 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. And so the clock set on September 9th, 2001.

With murder in its heart, unseen in the gathering night, history, thought dead since 1989, was creeping up the East Coast to be reborn. And twin towering Buddhas and the Lion of Panjshir were but the first to fall.

A rock feels no pain.
And an island never cries.