IN AN act that provoked worldwide outrage, the fundamentalist Taliban rulers of Afghanistan in March 2001 destroyed the monumental statues of Buddha that had been carved into the rock cliffs of Bamiyan 1,600 years ago. The shocking destruction was not an isolated event.
As part of the same campaign, the Taliban sent hordes of militants into the Kabul Museum to smash every statue, no matter how small, that depicted a human figure or any other creature. With its strict interpretation of Islam, the Taliban believed that the artistic representation of a living thing was idolatry and therefore blasphemous.
The marauding raid seemed to signal the last gasp of the museum. "You have to remember," says Fredrik Hiebert, an archaeologist with the National Geographic Society, "that the museum was devastated in three ways. First, it was struck by missiles after a militia made the museum its headquarters in the civil wars [that followed the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from the country]. Then it was looted; trucks could be seen carting objects away. And then came the Taliban."
The Iraq national museum gets all the press, but this was probably far worse.