The destruction of Buddhas: dissonant heritage, religious or political iconoclasm?

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This article attempts to explore the main impulses that might have led to the destruction of Buddha statues by Taliban in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. Drawing on existing literature, and anecdotal evidence, this article suggests that the main impulses that have led to destruction are rather linked to the overall political context of that time (i.e., political iconoclasm) rather than to pure Islamic iconoclasm or an explicit condition of disharmony in heritage (i.e., dissonant heritage). First, the Taliban did not consider the statues as "their" cultural heritage. The act of destruction, therefore, cannot be subscribed to the Afghan cultural dynamics but rather to the political-religious ideology imported by Taliban from outside of the country. Secondly, it seemed that Mullah Omar was viewing the statues as a revenue source at the beginning and as a political bargain chip at the end. In both circumstances, religion seems not to have played the main role. Lastly, the destruction seems a political iconoclasm-that is, a political exploitation, if not a direct political act. The Taliban and especially their external allies were very well aware of the consequences of the act of destruction. It seems implausible to suggest that there were no religion and/or culture in play when ordering the destruction of the statues. The latter is the least what this article aims for. However, to conclude that the destruction was solely triggered by theological and cultural factors might also be improbable. The author does not, in any way, attempt to rationalize the act of destruction, let alone justify the barbaric act.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-312
Number of pages10
JournalTourism Culture & Communication
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Afghanistan
  • Bamiyan Buddhas
  • consonant heritage
  • dissonant heritage
  • Islamic iconoclasm
  • political iconoclasm
  • religious iconoclasm


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