Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2002/ 23 Teves 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The lessons lurking in the Afghan rubble -- A CULTURE is a terrible thing to waste, as the Afghans have learned at the cost of considerable pain.

And since culture is more than clay statues and ancient archaeological artifacts, there's an important lesson in the rubble of Afghanistan.

When the acting culture minister at the national museum in Kabul showed correspondents into his museum in late November, after U.S. bombs and Northern Alliance troops had crushed the Taliban, all that was left of the museum's treasures were bits and pieces of limestone.

"This was one of the finest pieces," said the minister, pointing to the rubble that only a year earlier had been a rare statue of King Kanishka, a great Kushan warrior and famous patron of the arts. The statue dated from the second century after the birth of Christ.

He described to a correspondent for London's Daily Guardian how five men armed with Kalashnikovs, hammers and axes spent three days in the museum, executing Mullah Mohammed Omar's Islamist edict to destroy "all statues of living beings." It was this edict that led to the destruction of the giant Buddha carved into a mountainside above the village of Bamiyan.

"As I watched," Mir Haider Mutahar, the minister, said, "it felt like they were hitting me, like they were cutting down one of my children. It was one of the worst experiences of my life."

Buddha was a special target of the Taliban. Not even the personal intercession of Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, could save the giant Buddha of Bamiyan. Taliban militiamen drilled holes in several strategic places on the statue, which loomed 165 feet high and dated from the sixth century A.D., and planted several tons of dynamite. The explosions took layer after layer off the statue until there was scant trace of any likeness at all.

During this siege of the nation's art treasures, which took place over several weeks last winter and spring, 59 Buddhas at the national museum were destroyed. The Taliban mullahs mocked an offer by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to pay for moving the statues to "a secular place."

The curators saved some of the treasures at the Kabul museum, hiding them in machinery, in out of the way crevices and amongst the trash in storerooms. One treasure saved was an eighth-century fresco of a Buddha mandala, found a half-century ago in the Bamiyan highlands, which the curators had put away in a storeroom where it was found, wrapped in a shroud, by the religious police. "When they asked to look at it," a curator explained, "we told them it was just among some old pictures of nature. They never saw it and they left the stuff alone."

The systematic destruction of the Afghan culture was steeped in religious fanaticism, but driven by political correctness as well, and therein lies the lesson for others elsewhere. We've got a ministry in waiting for the protection of virtue and prevention of vice in America, and it's alive, well, and already practicing a venomous hatred for all that displeases.

The political correctness running amok in America, if unchecked, could be as destructive as the religious quackery in Afghanistan. Some of America's greatest heroes, with whom every American schoolchild was once familiar, have been thrown out or are about to be. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, only yesterday regarded as Virginia's most beloved sons, icons of generations of Southerners and held in veneration nearly everywhere else as an authentic American hero, are regarded now as villains by the cultural elites, who have spooked a lot of people who know better. Even James Gilmore, the just-retired Republican governor, was afraid to rise to the defense of history when the illiterates of the left demanded that Lee and Jackson be erased from Virginia's heritage.

And not just white Southerners, though dead white men are particular targets. American Indians have forced Christopher Columbus off the calendar in many places. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are under assault from certain blacks for having owned slaves. (Abraham Lincoln will no doubt be under similar assault as soon as the red-hots learn to read and find out what he thought about the idea of social and political equality for blacks.) In California, Hispanics not only won the establishment of Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday, as a state holiday in California, but forced the state to replace a statue of an American hero of the U.S.-Mexican War with a statue of the pagan Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Mark Twain is an annual target of the sensitivity police, along with James Joyce, Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor.

Not all yahoos wear turbans, grow long beards and pray five times a day.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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