Monday, May 4, 2015

SYRIA CRISIS: How Smuggling May Help Academics

In 1997, a Taliban commander by the name Abdul Wahed proclaimed that the enormous Buddha statues of Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan would be demolished. This was even before he could call his mission of entering the valley a reality. However, the terrorist organization finally enacted their ominous promise. In 2001, dynamites and anti-aircraft missiles fired their might towards the silent statues, the witnesses of many centuries of human activity and culture, and demolished them. Today, after fourteen years, even this act of extreme intolerance has become history. It seems very much politically correct to call it a history, right?

Fourteen years later, the free world has something to ponder over about those acts that I just addressed extreme intolerance. Were those acts of demolition actually the results of intolerance?

Back in 2001, the Taliban leader, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar released his edict against all un-Islamic idols and images. Because of being un-Islamic, it was a necessity to cleanse the region of any such 'malice'. The argument had a strong fundamentalist ideological base.

Fast-forward fourteen years. Similar to the rise of the Taliban, another terrorist organization evolves-the ISIS. News have come out that illegal smuggling of antiques have been in vogue recently in the conflict stricken areas of Syria. According to a recent newspaper report, ancient manuscripts and other items have already reached many European countries. Although it may sound a Eurocentric view, these antiques are better kept safe, smuggled or otherwise, rather than being dynamited by some religious fundamentalist group.

Historical artifacts are often of immense academic value. However, to remove antiques and artifacts of any historical significance from their context may be deemed a sin in the academia this act may at least help preserve the relics of time and space. In order to link the past with the present the physicality of time is important. To establish human relationship with time it is important to study the results of that interaction, which is available to us now in the form of ancient documents, crafts and relics of human culture from a past time.

Perhaps, piracy and smuggling must be understood with a wider meaning in the twenty-first century. The same way online book piracy helps to make available banned books in various parts of the world, including in India, where a recently banned book on Hindus is available online in pdf-book format, smuggling ancient artifacts and antiques serves a historical purpose. Perhaps, the renaissance men too were condemned of smuggling their books and manuscripts into Europe. At the cost of this "movement of objects of history" out of a demolition zone, human history underwent remarkable changes.
Image Courtesy: www.lib.utexas.edu

At the onset of the current upheaval in Syria and in the Middle East, it is safe to assume that the artifacts and historical art traded across the boarders would certainly turn immensely beneficial for those who study them and connect the dots in the growth and evolution of culture.

Sadly, though, the ISIS and other terrorist organizations operating in the region also get their cut of the income drawn from the illegal selling of historical treasures. It's a slippery slope when we keep ourselves entirely blind towards what happened to the Buddhas of Bamiyan. I was a teenager back in 2001. When I watched the event in TV, I had the feeling that something was terribly wrong. When art is aimed for extremist agendas, the horror of destruction is transformed into the destruction of sensibilities. Fourteen years later, when I read the news of illicit smuggling from out of Syria, I consider it an advantage over the past.

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