The destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan

An assertion by Finbarr (2002) regarding the destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan in 2001 by the Taliban government, gives the main reason for the destruction as a perpetration of Islamic iconoclasm. This assertion can be seen to align with other incidences in the past that have portrayed the Islamic religion as hostile to the anthropomorphic art. This is exemplified by the amputation of the Buddha’s legs in the seventh century as noted by Finbarr. However, there is room for disagreement in that the matter may be simpler than a religious motivation. The issue was likely a matter of value, artistic value that the carvings represented. They represent low value from the perspective of aesthetic beauty. In fact, Spivey (2002) reiterates this by giving the views of the traveler Robert Byron. The traveler from the view of Spivey, views the colossal Buddhas as devoid of any aesthetic value and artistic worth and its destruction would not be a loss.

It is important to note however, that there is value that is formed if one views the Buddhas as shrines instead of a bare artistic representation. This is a view that Nigel holds as he tries to correct the conceptions that are formed by Byron. In contrast, Finbarr acclaims the issue to be one of race as he notes that the Islamic iconism is more than religious oriented but has the element of hatred towards the form of arts that are done by the Semitic races. Moreover, Finbarr reiterates there is a cultural continuity that is exhibited by the destruction. The Islamists may be taking into continuity the events of the past where the Christians are known to have destroyed monuments such as the icons of Byzantium in the ninetieth century.

While elaborating another reason why the Buddhas at Bamiyan were obliterated, Finbarr (2002) attributes that to a response to the figuration that the images represented. On this point, Spivey (2002) can be seen to offer support as he gives the possible reasons why the images were created. He associates the colossal nature of the carvings to the Mediterranean influence under which the images are likely to have been constructed. The colossal images are a result of the worshippers getting impressed by the supernatural size since they represent deeper devotion. In addition, they are an expression of splendor in the vastness. Given this, the assertions made by Finbarr can be termed credible.

If the destruction of the Buddhas was a political statement that was directed to the western world by the fact the media coverage was not restricted, as suggested Spivey, then this concurs with the earlier purposes that the Bamiyan town served in the early ages. Spivey also makes a record of a traveler who provides a journal of his escapades. In this record, it is noted that the rulers had made a shrine for political confirmation where they made offerings, but were now demanding everything back in addition to the acceptance from the gods. Most likely, the obliteration of the images could not have been a political statement or show of power since there were other forums that the government had shown its power and lack of respect for non-Muslim cultures by giving safe harbor to perpetrators of terrorism. Although insignificant, support to the notion of political power portrayal can be obtained from the fact that the obliteration was timely in the wake of mounting international pressure.

At this point of the paper, it is important to note that the most possible cause for the obliteration of the image is likely to be religious and thus integrates elements of Islamic iconism. This the most supported views from both Spivey and Finbarr. For instance Finbarr (2002) explains the opposition to figuration that exists in Islam whereby there is to be destruction of all representations or image that cast shadows. However, one cannot separate the religious reasoning from the fact that the obliteration was designed to win more favor from the citizens especially the radicals in advent of mounting international segregation.


Finbarr, B. F. (2002, December). Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum. The Art Bulletin. College Art Association. 84(4), 641-659

Spivey, N. (2002). Shrines of the Infidels. Apollo international magazine of arts. July Issue. North Hollywood

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