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The Taliban Promise to Preserve Afghan Art and Culture

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

On August 15th, 2021 the Taliban took control over the presidential palace in Afghanistan. This came almost twenty years after they last had control over parts of Afghanistan and only days after the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Taliban is a Deobandi Islamist religious-political movement and military organization in Afghanistan (“Taliban”), and are most notably known for harboring the orchestrator of the September 11th terrorist attacks. As the Taliban establishes its power once again, onlookers and victims might have to watch as history repeats itself.

When the Taliban was last in power they bombed, burned, and plundered anything of cultural significance. “That violent history was on display for five years when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until the U.S. invasion” (Finnegan). Anything that did not abide by their rules was destroyed, including ancient art, ruins, and manuscripts. Artists, musicians, and poets were killed. Most notable was the destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, otherwise known as the Bamiyan Massacre. This was an attack on Afghanistan's history and culture. The Taliban fired grenades at the smaller statue, bombing the mountains above the Buddhas injuring the rock and statues. The destruction of ancient art, such as the Giant Buddhas, was seen by the Taliban as the achievement of Sharia law (“Destruction of Art in Afghanistan”).

Recently, the Taliban have taken a different approach to present themselves to the rest of the world. They claim to be “committed to the peace process, even going as far as allowing women to maintain a few rights” (Hollingsworth). However, some statements made recently contradict this. Taliban commander Waheedullah Hashimi said in an interview, “There will be no democratic system at all...We will not discuss what type of political system we should apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is Sharia law and that is it” (Jeong and Hassan). Looking at what the Taliban have accomplished while being in power for such a short period of time recently, one cannot help but be skeptical of this newfound approach but hope still remains.

Now that the Taliban have taken back control over Afghanistan, what will happen to what is left of their art and culture is still up in the air. That being said, a spokesperson from the state department told ABC News that they "acknowledge the Taliban's stated commitment to protecting Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage, but as with all statements from the Taliban, we will be watching closely to see whether they match actions to words” (Finnegan).

What will be left of Afghanistan’s art and culture still remains a mystery. "When you kill history, when you kill language, when you kill leaders, when you kill intellectuals, when you kill the religious and spiritual leaders of a society, you can do whatever you want with the people who no longer have a past" (Finnegan).



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