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Middle East and North Africa


Nigel Roberts's picture

Bamiyan, Afghanistan—December 12

    Nothing lasts forever, not even a good government. After more than three decades of conflict, violence, and extreme poverty, many Afghans hesitate to trust outsiders. Photos ©Ed Girardet.

The statues

The empty frames in the rock face greet you as you land in Bamiyan—home for 1500 years to two great carved Buddhas, until the Taliban pulverized them in 2001. Unlike the inhabitants of Bamiyan, the statues survived several major episodes of invasion and mayhem, most notably Genghis Khan’s 1221 rampage in which every person and every animal is said to have been slaughtered. A number of other invaders tried to obliterate them—in particular the Indian emperor Aurangzeb’s troops, who hacked their faces off in the 18th Century. The will was there, but the requisite technology wasn’t available until more recently.

Tragic as the dynamiting of the statues was, there is another way of looking at this episode of zealotry. In the words of the journalist Matthew Power, “High up in the empty alcove, I was struck by the absurdity of trying to kill the Buddha with tanks and rocket-propelled grenades. I recalled the Buddhist practice of contemplating emptiness, and realized how utterly the Taliban had been defeated.”