Oh, what fun they’ll have in Europe.
A report on the jihad against the Buddha of Jehanabad, by Caroline Watson in Asia Times (thanks to Twostellas):
“Impermanence or decay is the inherent nature of everything that exists in the universe – whether animate or inanimate.” – Buddhist teaching
PESHAWAR- On December 15, President Pervez Musharraf addressed the nation. Pakistan’s state of emergency is over, he said, and the country can look ahead to free and fair elections in January. Although Musharraf may have had power-clutching motives for declaring the emergency last month, one key reason he has repeatedly given for the move was the emergence of Pakistan’s new pro-Taliban frontline in the Swat Valley.
Following the imposition of the emergency, military operations in the Swat Valley began. Swathes of Pakistan’s troubled North-West Frontier Province were placed under strict curfew. As pro-Taliban militants fought the military, families in the areas which saw the worst clashes, like Shangla, were forced to leave their homes. Swat found itself amid a war of ideas and beliefs, a war for the imposition of hardline sharia (Islamic) law.
This is where the Swat Valley finds itself now. But, long ago, this area was a capital of the Gandhara civilization. A mighty empire, under a dynasty of Buddhist Kushun kings. At that time these lush alpine valleys must have been filled with thousands of statues and examples of Buddhist art, furnished by the rich civilization that reigned.
Now there is only one such statue left – the Buddha of Jehanabad. A beacon of Gandhara heritage, the Buddha of Jehanabad is the only remaining Buddha of its size and quality carved into the rock in the area. Standing at 23 feet, the 7th-century statue is considered the most important carving of its kind. It is unique, the most complete and priceless remains of Gandhara.
Recently, the Buddha of Jehanabad come into conflict with another famous personality of the region: the cleric-turned-militant who has led the campaign in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah – the “Radio Mullah”.
The Buddha of Jehanabad lost. The statue suffered two attacks by militants led by Maulana Fazlullah. The second attack succeeded in seriously defacing it after explosives were detonated on the Buddha’s face.
Quiet outrage has been expressed by a few. Others have grown numb to such acts, for they have happened before: this was a copycat attack, mimicking the destruction in 2001of Afghanistan’s Bamyian Buddhas.
In March 2001, the world recoiled as the Taliban began dynamiting the giant statues and continued for several weeks until the Buddhas were destroyed. As the Taliban ascended to power, they banned all forms of imagery, music and sports, including television. In March 2001 they declared that “all the statues should be destroyed because these statues have been used as idols and deities by the non-believers before”. The Swat Valley’s Buddha of Jehanabad was considered second in importance after the Buddhas of Bamyian.
The defacement of the Buddha has come to symbolize the changing face of Swat. Swat was once a favorite tourist spot – the “Switzerland of South Asia”. Domestic and foreign visitors flocked to the green, peaceful valleys, in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. In winter, they sped down its ski slopes. The region’s cultural heritage, fronted by the Buddha of Jehanabad, was a major attraction and a testament to its long and diverse history.
The Swat Valley was famed for its peace, serenity and beauty. But, today, its public image is dominated by another imposing figure. With a taste for the theatric and an eye on his own supremacy, Maulana Fazlullah is holding Swat in an ever-increasing grip.