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Afghans destroy Buddhas, but cry foul over cartoons

Afghans are protesting against cartoons and a film comparing the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kempf".

Published on March 14, 2008

As was to be expected, it has sparked outrage amongst Afghans who are starving to death, while others are, as usual, burning effigies. Their demand being that the international community respect their religious beliefs. This being the case, it immediately calls to mind how the world community stood alongside the Buddhists of the world and pleaded with the Taleban not to destroy the two Bamyan Buddhas in 2001.

Even the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - the three countries that officially recognised the Taleban - requested that the monuments be spared. Yet it was to no avail. After a month's bombardment, the statues were destroyed, though the outlines still remain. This was how the Taleban completely disregarded the religious rights of Buddhists, as well as the calls by the international community to cease the destruction of two statues that were built during the 6th century.

Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support to rebuild the statues, and the remnants of them have been included in the 2008 World Monuments watch list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Incidentally, Mawlawi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi, the Taleban governor who was said to have been responsible for the destruction of the monuments, was elected to the Afghan parliament in September 2005 but was gunned down on January 26, 2007 in Kabul on his way to prayers.

Buddhists can empathise with the Afghans vis-a-vis any humiliation to their religion and their beliefs, but it does also require similar empathy from Afghans for the beliefs held by other religious groups. The Taleban cannot undo the historical damage they did in 2001 - unlike a comic or a film that can be shelved following successful protests. This is a good reminder that all of us, while upholding our faith, also need to show tolerance and respect to the faiths and beliefs of others.

Shenali Waduge



Support for drug war shows alarming ignorance

Re: "Drug policy ignores causes of addiction", News, March 12.

Your leader on the "war on drugs" (2003-4) made depressing reading and raised difficult questions about the responsibility of ordinary Thais. It is sobering to remember how popular the "war" was - in a Suan Dusit survey in 2003 in 76 provinces, 75 per cent of respondents fully supported Thaksin's stand on drugs.

There is no doubt that the issue of drug addiction brings on moral panic in many people, who when faced with an intractable and corroding problem that touches their lives, resort to "nuke-em" solutions. But drug addiction is complex and even paradoxical. I remember years ago being told by an addiction psychologist that heroin, while quite addictive (though less so than tobacco) was not physically very harmful. And I remember reading how in the 1980s adulterated heroin (perhaps 1 per cent purity) could not in any way be described as addictive or even remotely narcotic. I feel - unpopular though it is to say it - that methamphetamine in Thailand has been given a very bad press. It is quite closely related to Ecstasy, which is widely used (though illegal) in the UK. In an echo of the comment above on heroin, E was recently described by the British Medical Research Council as physically less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. There are a handful of deaths a year in the UK, mostly in dehydrated ravers. In Britain, E is a designer drug for prosperous young people, yet in Thailand the image of yaa baa is one of despair.

The difference is that in Thailand those who get addicted are the losers - the school drop-outs, the ones whose parents don't care, the poor, the petty criminals. But when they kill themselves or others, or sell drugs to make a living, it is not the drug  to blame but the social conditions they survive in.

And there is one other enormous difference between the UK and Thailand which may throw light on the public support for Thaksin's drug war. In Britain the murder rate is 1 per 1 million people per year; in Thailand the rate is 80. In other words, Thailand is already awash with killings.

Richard Sproat


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