ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Religious Sentiment and National Sovereignty

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas raises a fundamental issue - of national sovereignty. It may be argued, after all, that since the Buddhas were situated in Afghanistan, its rulers have the right to do as they wished with them. Clearly, the outrage felt by the world at the fate of the Bamiyan Buddhas implies a widespread belief that these monuments are part of a cultural heritage of humankind as a whole. Should the notion of national sovereignty be abandoned altogether?

The worldwide dismay and outrage caused by Taliban’s edict of February 26 ordering the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas raise a host of questions of a very fundamental nature. While such extreme defiance of world opinion is characteristic of Taliban, this kind of behaviour – and the reasoning which justifies it – is by no means unique.Indeed, it has been extremely common in south Asia. I would therefore like to take two specific issues raised by this episode and look at the wider questions they pose. The first is that of religious sentiment and what it can or cannot justify; the second is that of national sovereignty.

The justification offered for what most of us would see as an act of religious intolerance and pure vandalism is that these ‘graven images’ offend the religious sentiments of Taliban. Their supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar dismissed criticisms of the plan, saying that Afghan Muslims should be proud of smashing the statues. “It is a shame for those Afghans who criticise this decree.” He was quoted as saying, “I ask Afghans and the world’s Muslims to use their sound wisdom...Do you prefer to be a breaker of idols or a seller of idols? Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels?”

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