Bamiyan Buddhas

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  • POSTSCRIPT 12/09/01


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    In the middle of Afghanistan stands one of the great idols of the world. Its face was hacked off by the Mongols, but the statue as a whole still stands recessed into the hillside. It is possible to approach the top of the head through a system of tunnels and meditation chambers.

    Buddha is forgotten, and here is the land of Islam. But also the land of Russian troops. These young conscripts are sent to fight against reactionary feudal forces, and have become pawns of a tribal conflict. Should Islam be a dominant ideology ? One of the greatest moslem philosophers of the nineteenth century is called Al Afghani, and he travelled the courts of Europe to put the case for Islam. Bamiyan became a Makkah for the hippies who invaded Afghanistan before the Russians. They came for hashish, and Afghanistan was reknowned for just that. Even at the customs control, if you did not have hashish, then you would be given some to take away with you. The country was also, and still is, one of the poorest places in the world. Totally landlocked, the land is drained by rivers which flow mainly to inland seas. One of the rivers merely goes to salt-flats in the Dasht-E-Lut of Iran. Another, the Oxus, or Amu Daria goes to the Aral sea in the USSR.

    Why was the face of Buddha hacked off ? The reason is that Buddha was known before the Arabian prophet. Asoke was from the region which is peripheral to Afghanistan. You only know this if you go to a place where Bhuddism is the prevalent ideology. Any-one who knows the 'Grace-hotel' knows Asoke road. In Afghanistan the women wear prison like garb, while in Bangkok the prisons are first class hotels serving as places of bondage for the prostitutes. Before Islam was a Graeco-Buddhist culture in Afghanistan. Solzhenitsyn says the Russian buddhists were all purged by Stalin. This leaves Islam in an even more commanding position in central Asia.

    As a national entity, Afghanistan has had a chequered history. Long ago, Alexander the Macedon wasted many years trying to subdue the area. The current borders are a very recent invention, imposed mainly by the Russians, and British. This is why the Najibullah regime seeks political capital from its demand to negotiate the borders with India, rather than Pakistan. The older monarchy was merely a convenience set up to adapt to a world of nation states set up after the Versailles peace conference which divided the spoils of the 1914-18 war.

    The place could have been ruled from Tashkent, Tehran or Delhi if the local people had allowed this. Instead it was given a king, who ran the country like an enormous feudal estate, in competition with uncles and other close relatives. The social rules favour care for the weak, without intervention of the state. The people are generally well behaved to strangers, and those that have taken the time to understand the Afghanis are usually highly impressed with what they see.

    Unfortunately the mountains have always suffered from big-power intervention. The Indians, the Greeks, and the Mongols have always had their influence. In the nineteenth century, the British called their efforts to check tsarist expansion "the great game". English troops were sent to fight there in the "Afghan Wars". The soldiers were just surplus population from either the slums of Victorian England, or the exploited peripheral areas such as Scotland, or Ireland. The main reason for the use of force was for the protection of systematic theft, and the removal of sanctuaries from those who sought to defend themselves against this robbery.

    Any student will be struck by the large number of chronicles written by army officers. The capitalists were of course too busy making money to write much about the people who they were exploiting. In the case of Afghanistan there was not so much to exploit anyway. Opium could more easily be obtained from Turkey, or India, and the profitable end of the home carpet- making industry was already in the hands of merchants rather than producers.

    The moslems of Afghanistan have yet to face the problems following the manufacture of ayais, or artificial intelligences. Is an artificial intelligence an idol ? To the creator, an A.I. certainly absorbs time, money and probably friendships. No-one has got very far with the project, although there are some quite good chess programs around. The connection of an ayai to functional instrumentation has still not been achieved. In fact an ayai is a superior form of idol, and in fact serves as a library, as well as many other things. According to the Turing test, it is capable of conversing with a man just like another man.

    Turing thought long and hard about ayais. He worked for the British government during the war, and his name is well known in other cultures. But does every-one know how haunted was his life ? He committed suicide, after attaining success in his chosen speciality. He gave recipes for the creation of jinns, but only thought jinns, and not jinns cloaked in metal.

    By all extents the jinns of the Koran may be compared to machines, or idols. Are idols objects of commerce or veneration. They are foci of human attention. We who create ayais think of the idols as subject to verbal input, or diagrams from paper. We like to do some fairly precise calculation before going on to make the program work. People try to make sure that the airplane will not crash, because that will lose money and some-one's project budget.

    The Buddhists endow their idols mainly with monetary value. A golden Buddha may be melted down and spent to provide food in times of hardship. A smaller one can be used for many purposes, including prayer. The superstitious will use anything to help them make up their minds. Coins, cards or computers may serve.

    (c) Tony Goddard Bangkok 1987


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    The Afghani Taliban continue their attrition against these stone idols. As usual its stones against stones, or maybe rockets against sand. Using ancient monuments for target practice is typical military behaviour. Even natural formations such as rock towers are not immune from the depredations of young soldiers.

    In fact the Taliban are targeting the local tourist trade, although there is plenty of stone and sand in Afghanistan for carving new Buddhas into the hillside. Anyway what's the difference between The Black Stone and an idol ? The Black Stone is more compact and easier to fake.

    Taliban, Taliban

    Bash The Buddhas of Bamiyan

    Tamil Tiger truck bomb, forsooth

    Demolish the Temple of the Tooth.


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    A cliff face, and excavation is enough.

    The community of monks might be the ecology protesters.

    England has protests against quarrying but some of mankind's first high rise living experiences are in cliff faces. A south facing cliff of course.

    Will the next giant Buddhas be carved in the mountains above Tehran? The publicity from the Taliban's destruction has affected many. The temples were community banks as much as idols to nebulous spirits.

    Thailand certainly has pictures of monks giving bars of gold to help out a cash strapped government. Placing gold in the temples may be a very recent tradition, but there is evidence that ancient Chinese governments were already very concerned about the financial implications of Buddhist temples and their monks.

    Buddha temples could help to revive the English Tourist industry. Many british Buddhists are rich and middle class people. They could be invited to contribute money for such ventures. In the Souk of Sanctity this could be weighed as a good cause.


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    Of course Bamiyan was more than just a statue. There were meditation cells close by and in the cliff face itself. Just like the place where British patriots like Wolf Tone could meditate the liberation of Ireland from opression by the central money siphon machine. Such recourse to meditation can be seen as a revolt by the periphery against the center. Is it any wonder that the Chinese govenments saw the monks as a threat ?

    The situation has its obvious parallels in Christian Europe. English power only really started when the kings could equal the power of religion.

    Bamiyan had a couple of recessed statues. Tourists could walk up to the heads of the idols through chambers that had been dug into the cliff face. When I visited the place in 1970 there was no restriction on entry to the monument. People could stand on the top of the idol's head and smoke hasheesh. Many of the tourists were low on funds after the long overland journey through Europe and Western Asia, so they did not necessarily have much money. They aroused the curiosity of many locals, and some tourists got robbed, just as often by other tourists as by the Afghanis.

    There were never a lot of tourists in the place because the whole valley seems to have been a battlefield for two the last two decades of the twentieth century. Afghanistan is still feared and despised as the last refuge of the heavily demonised Saudi entrepreneur Osama Bin Laden.

    Osama Bin Laden has himself acquired cult status amongst a powerful faction of officials in the superstate which is trying to run the world for the benefit of powerful corporations. Islam's powerful anti-capitalist message can be just as effectively silenced by the whispers of the consumer society as by rockets and terrorist bomb explosions. The 'management fee' replaces formal interest payments because it can be taken up front and then the money can be lent to cronies never to be seen again by the poorer customers of the bank. Interest in God and Money cannot serve a person who calls themselves muslim, or for that matter even any living form.

    The current rulers of Afghanistan are like many before: those who wish to set up a praetorian state with God as the commander in chief of a victorious army. Ziauddin Sardar makes it quite clear that the Islamic prophet's message was spiritual rather than military. Attempting to emulate military success of say the Israelis or the Indians is a path frought with danger for all of the world: final victory for the Supreme Fascist perhaps. We have two contenders for an earthly role of SF. The USA Government on one hand, and Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban on the other. Certainly Osama Bin Laden has declared war on American Capitalism, just like the Unabomber did. Both are profoundly upset by the way that modern technologies have shaped the world and made the Consumer Society the weird partner to the Islamic god.

    It is said that Oliver Cromwell urged on his troops with Psalms from the Bible. He must have had some qualms about making a religious work into a book of War Songs, but it appears that all those religions described as 'Religions of The Book' are prone to giving people the type of excessive zeal that leads to massacres, mass slavery or genocide. They were all proved quite wrong when the Mongols, many of whom had never heard of 'The Book' were able to seize land and plunder at will.

    The road from Kabul to Bamiyan was quite mountainous, and tourists were allowed to sit on the luggage racks on top of the bus. Women with small children and the occassional farm animal would occupy the interior. The bus regularly stopped for the people to pray, and almost all the Afghanis prayed except for one young man who was more interested in talking to the tourists. I had wanted to learn Persian but the Afghani language seemed rather different, and it seemed very bad not to be able to even read the script of the local languages.

    Despite the terrible illiteracy of the mass of the people the country has produced some well known philosophers of recent times. Al Afghani was a keen promoter of Islam in the West during the nineteenth century, and later Idries Shah popularised a lot of Sufi tales. The royal family of old Afghanistan lived in style, although they ruled a country where death by torture was a standard punishment for rebellion or threatening the existing order... That's not so dissimilar to England at the time of Cromwell.

    Unfortunately the Afghanis do not speak popular languages, but that is no real drawback: the Dutch and the Slovenians are reasonably successful, and they have hung onto their dialects by being aware of the different cultures around them, and they don't need to import English teachers because they can do the job quite well themselves. They can fund the teaching of english lessons from taxation. They can also fund the children being free of work while they are of school age. This is hard to do in poor countries, and Afghanistan seemed very poor and very dirty compared with neighbouring Iran.

    Teheran was a city with grandoise spending plans. Iran was being run by an autocrat from a British founded dynasty .. the Pahlavis. The British had given the first job to the current shah's father, Reza, and Iran was a sort of Anglo-American condominium with a chosen hereditary monarch at the top. They had tried the same tricks with the Hashemite and Saud dynasties in 1918 after the dissolving of the older Otthoman empire.

    Anglo-American meddling in the Middle East has not faltered since the dawn of the Oil-Age in the early 1900s and as Sheikh Yamani is supposed to have said, the Stone-Age did not end because we ran out of stones. Unfortunately people in Afghanistan are fighting about wealth before it is even found.

    Of course Anglo-American meddling is not confined to appeasing the moguls of the oil industry. One of the most pleasing totems to our age of idolatory is 'The War on Drugs'. This could equally be named 'The Crusade Against Drugs' where world statesmen can form temporary alliences with religious leaders to save the youth from the curse of 'Drugs'.

    Of course the big Farma companies want to control drugs and the knowledge of drugs. Just like the Oil Cartels wish to control the geographical world so the big pharmaceutical industries will go on to try and control the production and supply of the most powerful drugs: survival drugs perhaps.

    In their own crazed inwards directed fury the Taliban ban Chess playing, Television, and Music as business which may divert people from the proper attention to God and Prayer, so the USA wants to ban drugs in case people learn too much of the knowledge of good and evil perhaps. They demonise drugs so much that they are willing to deploy attack helicopters over Columbia, and later on GM destroyer plants to eradicate opium plantations in Central Asia ... an area already under great ecological stress with a horrendous drought and intensively freezing winters. Men in suits actually meet in high rise buildings to determine whether a British research lab can build a plant to act as a competitor to popular drug plants and then release it into the world with the intention that it will do harm to cultivated crops. This is a new form of biological warfare to be waged as part of the grandoise crusade against drugs.

    What's more the War on Drugs is fought without quarter: it's still like the old search for internal enemies because most crusaders run out of money even before they leave their own land. Internal crusades against enemies were always good to boost morale in a state where the church got a cut of the military budgets.

    POSTSCRIPT 12/09/01

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    The spectacular attacks on New York and Washington sound like material from a Hollywood spectacular such as 'True Lies'. At least four airliners were hijacked at about 9:00 on 11 September 2001. They had been carefully chosen: all were headed on long Westbound flights with full fuel tanks. They were all diverted and the news broke when one of the planes hit a tower of the World Trade Center in Manhatten Island. The upper floors started blazing and there were several newsreel cameras trained on the building when a second airliner crashed into the other tower throwing out a fireball.

    About twenty minutes later a third airliner, having taken off from Dulles International Airport, crashed into the Pentagon, the center of American military power.

    Within a couple of hours the World Capitalism's number one iconic building was reduced to rubble and those working in the administrative center of the American military machine suffered the loss of at least a hundred lives. There were also reports of a car bomb outside the State Department. A fourth airliner crashed in open country in Pennsylvania; many suggested it was intended to crash into the Camp David base.

    The USA government appeared in a state of shock for several hours. George Bush, the president had been visiting Florida, and Colin Powell, the Secretary of State was on a visit to Peru. Apparently the Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld was able to stay at his desk, right in the stricken Pentagon. He helped stretcher out the wounded;but president Bush first got flown to a nuclear bunker in Nebraska before returning to address the nation from The White House. Earlier in the day all government buildings in Washington had been evacuated.

    An American tragedy has become the First World Spectacle for the new millenium. Everyone knows that the televised celebrations of the official millenium were doctored with different brand names superimposed on the footage; and so the association of Osama Bin Laden with the current super terrorist attacks has already become part of the branding of the incident. But there is enough material of collapsing buildings and terrified people, government officials running around like chickens with their heads cut off and so on to fill everyones' minds for some time.


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    In Malaysia the owners of the Petronas Towers are willing to sponsor BASE parachute stunts. In New York, stuntsmen often ended in the hands of the NYPD, because WASP America is a very uptight society. Zero tolerance and all that.

    Clearly the World Trade Center needs to be rebuilt as quickly as possible. Get the Petronas plans as a starting point. Check out if further reinforcement is needed, but try to avoid the site being a car parking lot for decades.

    At the same time open a world wide competition for the uses of the new World Trade Center. Allow and encourage school children world wide to submit their ideas. See the entry of China to WTO as an event to celebrate, and consult governments. Internationalise and set up a new target for terrorists, but broaden the base of those allowed to work in such temples of capitalism: civilised work hours and no dress codes. Also broaden the definition of capitalism to allow for the free movement of labour. The only way to defeat these terrorists is to take the war right into their hearts. In the case that these people are fundamentalists of any description then taking the war to their hearts means ending their abusive brainwashing of their kids. That does not necessarily mean closing the schools, but perhaps giving the schools the internet not only to learn but more importantly, enabling them to make their ideas known to the outside world. This business is called 'peer review' in the scientific community.

    The people of New York also need to be consulted.

    Frederick Pohl described all of these scenarios in his Science Fiction. His speculations bridged cultures to such an extent that he was given access by the Russians to write a book about their great failure in the Chernobyl Catastrophe. He described the success of the USA in imposing capitalism on Xinjiang or Sudan. The advance guard was the media men. Pohl did not quite see the internet. The periphery is in fact gaining its foothold but who really wants junk e-mails from African countries looking for partners in financial scams. The internet needs to give people the sort of skepticism so that they won't behave like those servants in tales of Hassan I Sabah. When Hassan told his men to jump, then they jumped to their death from the ramparts of his legendary castle in the mountains of Iran. Hassan brainwashed his adherants and for a long time it was convenient to blame Hashish. But that's not true: Falun Gong, Aum Shinryiko, Jack Jones, The Solar Temple and all the rest of the religious cults seek to inspire fanatical loyalty often going to self harm. The IRA and the Tamil Tigers can also get fanatical loyalty, sometimes from very talented science students and engineers turned bomb makers. Sounds just like the USA ? Ulam and Oppenheimer scientists turned bomb makers ? But at least we know Oppenheimer was not brainwashed. He had been a consistent supporter of progressive causes before he was enlisted to the Manhatten project.

    Trade is trade. Goods, finance, services, labour and tourism. And information and knowledge.


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    President Mitterand, dying of prostate cancer, visited Sarajevo in 1994 at the height of the siege of that city by Serb militias. He did so because the assassin's gunshot in 1914 had started the Twentieth Century 'Age of Extremes'. Even in 2001 the Balkan conflicts are not resolved. Back in 1999 the West conducted a forty day bombing campaign in Serbia.

    All cities where there are skyscrapers are potential victims of the type of terrorism which demolished the World Trade Center. Bangkok, Riyadh, Shanghai, and even Teheran are in the firing line against this type of indiscriminate man made catastrophe.

    The oil for this terrorism is money to pay for hire cars, fake documents and training. Bombay suffered a series of bomb explosions in the 1990s and a local mafia organisation was blamed. No better start could be made in counter-terrorism than by checking the morality of the super rich. Just as Lionel Jospin is reviving the idea of the Tobin tax, so intergovernmental organisations need to be set up to examine money flows in greater detail. The IGOs should also tolerate drug trafficking by legalising most drugs to deprive criminals and terrorists from the lucrative source of funds provided by government prohibition.


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    Osama Bin Laden's organisation is supposed to be called Al Qaeda. The Arabic root triple is Qaf, Ein, Dal, for sitting. It's translated as base, but the meaing is like 'seat' as in 'Seat of Government'. In fact it's more like seat of un-government since Al-Qaeda is a Non Government Organisation, or NGO.

    In the game of Weiqi, the most popular word for 'base' is Shimari. The player sets two stones on a corner, as a base. But it really means enclosure. Weiqi is a game for control, but control of the periphery is usually more immportant than control of the center. Boorman's book, titled 'The Protracted War' described the Viet-Nam war in terms of the game of Wei-qi. The 'Tet Offensive' was cheered on by radicals and leftists world wide, and yet this was a completely suicidal venture. The Viet-Namese were Buddhists or Confucianists rather than Muslims. The North Vietnamese were described as 'Communists' or sometimes See-Tees (CTs) for 'Communist Terrorists'.

    Maoist guerilla stratagy consists of controlling the periphery before determining the center. In fact the center is really little more than waste ground divided equally between the two adversaries. New York, like any other big capitalist city is Center. Bamiyan was once center, and it will be again no doubt.

    Periphery is important. Geographically it often corresponds to watarshed areas: Tibet, Shan States, Kashmir, Caucuses, Hindu Kush, Kurdistan, Andes & Central America, Tyrol and the Pyrenees have all seen conflict.

    People of 'The Center' are subject to more brainwashing and banality because they are part of the 'Global Village', but forgotten proxy wars are being faught all over the periphery. The widening gap between rich and poor is dangerous, and people have been warning us about these dangers for decades.

    (C) Tony Goddard, Sheffield 2001