On The Taliban
The recent controversy over the Taliban's decision to destroy ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan is the latest example of the tensions that exist between those who interpret scripture and the lives of the prophets in different ways. It also represents another example of how geopolitical maneuvering provides for strange and fleeting alliances that often have to be unwound with the help of propaganda and self-righteous accusations.
On the former point, those who are familiar with both the Bible and Holy Qur'an should not be shocked to see how the Taliban is justifying its actions. To begin with, in the Torah, in the Old Testament, it was God Himself who ordered the physical destruction of idols, if one interprets the verses literally. For example, in Exodus chapter 23 verses 23-24 it reads:
"For my Angel shall go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, to live there. And I will destroy those people before you.
You must not worship the gods of these other nations, nor sacrifice to them in any way, and you must not follow the evil example of these heathen people; you must utterly conquer them and break down their shameful idols."
Surely, any Jewish or Christian person who appears baffled at what the Taliban is doing should attempt to explain these verses first.
Then there is the story in Islam of how Abraham and his son Ishmael broke the idols that were revered as divine, thousands of years ago, in Arabia, and that such a decision and action was influential in rooting out polytheism in that part of the world.
And then, there are numerous stories of how Muhammad of 1,400 years ago and his chief companions showed the utmost respect for religious symbols and houses of worship. And Allah, in the Holy Qur'an, does indeed instruct Muslims to show respect for houses of worship - wherever Allah's name is remembered.
However, Muslims are hard-pressed to find any historical accounts of how Muhammad of 1,400 years ago dealt with and handled Buddhists. Most of Muhammad's inter-faith activities, according to the recorded history was with Christians and Muslims and "idol-worshipping" Arabs.
It is obvious that in the world of religion "infidels", "polytheists", "idol-worshippers" are quite often in the eye of the beholder, as is the appropriate measure of tolerance that such categories deserve. Quite simply, the bottom line, in this area approaches the following questions:
If people disbelieve in your religion, how do you live with them? Is it ever appropriate to fight them? If so, when and under what circumstances? Will God ultimately live with those who disbelieve in Him? Does the Kingdom of God include disbelievers and people of different religions? And is there any evidence in scripture that at a certain point the Supreme Being will judge and kill those who don't agree with Him?
These are questions that an untold number have attempted to answer - hundreds and thousands of years before the emergence of the Taliban.
For many, it would be nice to believe that the Taliban's behavior is another example of the negative influence of Islam. But such a claim is really not based in fact, not only are the Taliban virtually isolated in the Islamic world for what they have decided to do, but numerous incidents can be found over the last 1,000 years where believers of all faiths have defaced and destroyed the most sacred of symbols and houses of worships of other religions. The practice was hardly invented in 2001.
Which brings us to our second point, which is the geopolitical alliances, and considerations that are really at the root of the rise of the Taliban, their actions and their demonization today.
Though they claim to be largely concerned with the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, when one listens to the arguments of the Taliban it never is long before you hear their resentment for being left out in the cold after being originally supported by the United States when Afghanistan was fighting Russia in the late 70s and 80s.
Their resentment is intense and one gets the impression that their anger at being isolated by America after the Cold War has as much to do with some of their actions as does the Holy Qur'an.
This comes across loud and clear in the recent interview that the UN representative of the Taliban gave to the Final Call.
The Taliban is bitter over how they were used by the United States and they are angry over the fact that all of the charges made against the Taliban today in reference to their treatment of women, charges of drug-selling and human rights violations were never an issue for America when they were backing Afghan rebels who were opposing the Soviet Union.
It does appear to be a bit of self-righteous hypocrisy. And we certainly don't remember many of these liberal human rights groups that oppose the Taliban today offering so much as a peep, years ago, when Afghanistan and its non-Taliban related leadership was on the side of America.
On the other hand, for a group of people who revere the Holy Qur'an and Islam so much, what is the Taliban doing taking money and military support from the United States in the first place?
We notice this peculiarity quite often in the Muslim world, where America is criticized by a powerfully concocted rhetoric and in many cases, legitimate moral and theological arguments, only to find these same Islamic "radicals" in line with their hat in hand looking for a hand out or favor from the "imperialists" that they are complaining about.
And the Taliban actually was so bold as to reject the pleas from the Muslim world and some of its most respected scholars to not destroy the Buddhas. The Taliban said that these Muslims were arguing against them on the grounds that it would be bad public relations and politics for the Islamic world if the Taliban carried out its acts. But, the Taliban says, they were never shown by their Islamic Brothers and Sisters,where, in Islam, their acts were unjustified.
We found this to be ironic considering that the Taliban used geopolitical and not theological arguments when it was part of a larger Afghanistan-effort backed by the US. Surely, there are numerous verses in the Qur'an that would have warned them about uniting with a non-Islamic country to fight another non-Islamic country.
And, one could ask the Taliban where in the Holy Qur'an is the justification for their fight against Iran - another Islamic country?
Or one could wonder how the Taliban justifies, from the Holy Qur'an, its mixing of Afghan culture with a supposedly pure Islamic state. The Taliban readily admits its respect for the non-Islamic aspects of Afghan culture. One can only wonder what aspects of Afghan culture are polytheistic in nature and even involve idols.
While what the Taliban is doing has plenty of precedent in the world of religion, one wonders why destroying statutes of another religion have become a higher priority than building an Islamic state - culturally, politically and economically.
For all of the talk of love for the Holy Qur'an among many Muslims we have yet to see the unity or particularly, the Islamic political and economic system that is mandated by that same book. Rhetoric and symbolic actions are one thing - crafting a government that embodies all of the aspects of the Holy Qur'an seems to be another.
More is involved in establishing an Islamic state than articulating a dislike for America, Israel, and other religions.
It is sad that largely out of ignorance, so many Muslims and non-Muslims miss this point.
It seems that numerous contradictions abound in this Taliban debate and that idols are made of more than just stone.
Sunday, March 18, 2001