Of false dilemmas and misrepresentations

by Visakha Kawasaki, Kandy, Sri Lanka, The Buddhist Channel, Dec 1, 2007

Lin Zi Yi makes two serious mistakes in his letter “A statue is not the Buddha.”  First  he commits a logical fallacy by setting up a False Dilemma and second he misrepresents Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Lin Zi Yi sets up the false dichotomy by demanding that we choose between Buddha images and humanitarian relief, between carved stone and living beings, as if they were mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive possibilities. This is false because there are many other possibilities to choose from and, of course, we might also select both. If we were to fall for Lin Zi Yi’s argument, we would be stuck with the unhappy premise that those two choices are the only ones possible, and that picking one precludes the other. He seems to be claiming that the magnificent Bamiyan Buddha images and those who wanted to protect them were responsible for the poverty of the people of Afghanistan. He doesn’t admit the possibility that the same people might both revere the images and want to tackle hunger.

Mullah Mohammed Omar is a brutal, despotic leader and his motives for destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas were not to improve the lives of Afghanis but because those images offended against Islam. Omar claimed it was a great honor for Islam to obliterate the Buddhas of Bamiyan, among the oldest Buddhist statues in the world. On Omar’s orders, the Taliban has also destroyed thousands of unique cultural artifacts deemed “polytheistic,” including major museum collections. Radical Islam obviously has a problem with statues, pictures, photographs, and films.

For the record, Omar never allowed humanitarian workers into areas under his control. In fact under Taliban’s rule there was rigid enforcement of strict Sharia Islamic Law so that women doctors and nurses could only treat other women. Females were not permitted to attend schools; women were not allowed to leave home without a burqa. Widows were denied any way to support themselves and their children. Robbery was punished by the amputation of a hand, while rapists and murderers were executed in public. Married adulterers were stoned to death.

Who is callous here? The foreign archeologist or historian or the tyrannical mullah? Who cares about the Afghans dying of hunger? Certainly not Mullah Mohammed Omar, especially if those Afghans are women or girls!

It was a great loss for the whole world when those magnificent Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed on Mullah Omar’s orders. They were created during a period of remarkable peace, tolerance, erudition, and compassion. Mullah Omar must certainly be rejoicing traces of that glorious history are obliterated. How is that a good outcome, Lin Zi Yi?
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