by Robert Fisk
Published: 08 September 2007
What is it about graven images? Why are we humanoids so prone to destroy our own faces, smash our own human history, erase the memory of language? I’ve covered the rape of Bosnian and Serb and Croatian culture in ex-Yugoslavia – the deliberate demolition of churches, libraries, graveyards, even the wonderful Ottoman Mostar Bridge – and I’ve heard the excuses. “There’s no place for these old things,” the Croat gunner reportedly said as he fired his artillery battery towards that graceful Ottoman arch over the Neretva. The videotape of its collapse was itself an image of cultural genocide – until the Taliban exploded the giant Buddhas of Bamian.
And yet there I was earlier this week, staring at another massive Buddha – this time in the Tajiki capital of Dushanbe, only a few hundred miles from the Afghan border. So gently was it sleeping, giant head on spread right hand, that I tiptoed down its almost 40ft length, talking in whispers in case I woke this creature with its Modigliani features, its firmly closed eyes and ski-slope nose. Saved from the ravages of iconoclasts, I thought, until I realised that this karma-inducing god had itself been assaulted.