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There are many things in this world that can transcend the borders of individual nations. Music, religion and language, for instance, all bring distinct people together. Yet no concept or practice has more power to bridge cultural divides than art. The cultures of people around the globe have for centuries been manifested in art form. In the caves of Altamira, Spain, a nomadic people painted on cave walls hoping for protection and success in hunting. Christians have built towering Gothic cathedrals, indicative of the importance of God in their lives. Even Americans, in their short history, have erected architectural masterpieces in Monticello, Independence Hall and the buildings of Washington, D.C. Today, some of the world's most precious and priceless pieces of heritage are most being lost. Over the weekend, Afghanistan's Taliban militia destroyed two Buddhist statues believed to date back to the third century. The 125-foot and 174-foot sandstone figures of Buddha were carved into the side of a cliff overlooking the town of Bamiyan, in the country that was once considered a center of Buddhist pilgrimage and education. The statues are additionally unique in that they incorporate the ideals of both the Asian and European arts -- a rarity. An edict deeming the statues a violation of Islamic law was passed by Mullah Mohammed Omar -- the leader of Afghanistan's fundamentalist Taliban -- and approved by the legislative Shuria council. That edict set in motion the plans for destruction of the cultural symbols. The world community reacted in force with both Eastern and Western governments crying foul, as well as non-governmental organizations such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which offered to salvage the wonders at their own expense. Their cause fell on deaf ears. Armed with missile launchers, the Taliban attacked the two pieces of art. On top of this, they destroyed countless pieces in museums across the country in a showing of brute force. Combined, the extent of the destruction is beyond estimation. The world is appalled, and rightly so, at the decisions by the ignorant leaders of the Taliban regime -- a government, mind you, that is only recognized by only three of the world's countries. The dictates of Omar offend because of his disrespect for universal heritage and culture. These pieces of art do not exist devoid of meaning to the modern viewer, but rather carry a centuries-old weight that express the sentiments, understandings and mores of the time in which they were created. Although from a different religion, Omar should have considered the fact that the land over which he rules -- many feel without mandate -- was not always the land that he sees before him. Bamiyan was once a flowering commercial center linking two continents and these two figures were a tribute to that past. Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the decision to destroy the sculptures by the Shuria council was not initially unanimous, but only passed because certain members of the body were upset that the United Nations was calling for Afghanistan to turn over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. The council even disregarded pleas from other Islamic governments, including Pakistan, a country it counts among its extremely short list of allies. When Iran proposed that it remove or pay for the removal of the figures, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil indicated that Afghanistan "is not in the business of selling its cultural or architectural heritages." Apparently, it prefers to destroy them. Modern society approximates nothing that existed centuries ago. Mankind has learned lessons from its ancestors -- many of them from past artwork -- and will hopefully not need to encounter those same situations in the future. This is not cause, however, for us to destroy the images of the past. Especially when we disagree with what they stand for. The world will remember this weekend's episodes as one of its worst feats. And it springs forth from the fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of art. Do not mistake this message for a critique of the teachings of Islam, or other religions, against the use of idols. Some of the world's most precious keepsakes are not found in museums, nor in places where they have the recognition as such. But if the actions of the Taliban do not offend you inherently as a human being, imagine the combined destruction of the White House, the Western Wall and the banks of the Seine. Maybe then you will come to understand the true loss the world has faced.

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