The Tyranny of A Bad Idea
By A. D. Freudenheim

4 March 2001

Human history is filled with ripe examples of our species working day and night to prove that one particular idea (or ideal) is the most central and important thing to its very existence - more important than frivolities such as food and shelter, theoretically replaced by the delicious fruit borne of devotion to an ideology. World War II and the Holocaust engineered by Adolf Hitler; the collectivization of farms under Stalin's "Five-Year Plan"; Mao's disruption of the Communist Party bureaucracy in his "Cultural Revolution"; and the reeducation camps and "killing fields" of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge - these are some examples of the horrible things our species can do to itself when it marries the centrality of one bad idea to the willful power of a sociopath. In each of these cases, millions of people died, ostensibly to prove the value of ideology - and more practically, to reinforce the power of the ideology's lead theorist.

The world has another winner in this category this week: Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, where he is hoping to create a "pure" Islamic state. The Mullah has set himself on a solidly devoted path towards devastation and one from which he seems unlikely to waver, with the notion of a pure Islam in mind. In particular this week are two events to be considered: the first concerns Afghani history, while the second involves Afghanistan's future.

Under one interpretation of the legal dictates of Islamic law, all "idolatrous" statues must be removed from Islamic lands, lest innocent Muslims be tempted to pray to them. Therefore, following an edict issued and affirmed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's militia has set out to destroy all such statues (and has probably already destroyed most of them). The edict does not spare the artifacts that are representative of the cross-cultural influences within a country known for its "silk road," the path of traveling traders from all over the region. Included in the objects targeted for destruction are two monumental and ancient statues of Buddha, located in Bamiyan, along with statues in the collection of the art museum of Kabul.

This effort has prompted great outrage, and the Taliban's actions have been denounced by nearly every major government around the world - including the otherwise supportive government in Pakistan. Museum directors and cultural officials, from the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the leadership of UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural preservation organization, have also spoken out against this action, and numerous articles have appeared on the topic.*

What is equally interesting - and definitely worse - is that in other parts of Afghanistan there is rampant starvation. According to news reports from a variety of sources, between seven-hundred thousand and one million Afghanis are in danger of starving, and have become refugees within their own country, leaving their homes in search of food and better shelter. The causes of this internal exodus are not mysterious: the Taliban's war for control of the country, combined with brutally cold weather, have helped create these conditions, forcing farmers to lose precious resources needed to maintain their fields, or simply forcing them off their farms entirely.*

That this massive humanitarian crisis is taking place while the Taliban sinks time, energy, and money into the destruction of "idols," helps place Mullah Mohammad Omar in with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. Just as with these men, the Taliban has set for itself a mixed bag of goals; some of them, such as the destruction of poppy fields and the prevention of opium and heroin production, are well-intentioned; others, such as the effort to rid the country of idols, are misguided. However, the real damage is done by the Taliban's insistence on Islamic purity over everything else. "Pure" Islam has no value if it is used to destroy the population the Taliban naively intends to help. The destruction of statues erected by other religions won't prevent starvation; all it does is combine the destruction of an idol with the desecration of an ideal. A true Islamic state, even as run by the Taliban, should surely be more concerned with the salvation of a human life than with the elimination of a representative one.

*There have been a number of articles on both of these subjects. The
Yahoo! news search engine does a good job of pulling a selection of them.
This link will generate a search using the same criteria I used in researching
this article.
Copyright 2001, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.