What is the cost of saving art?

In 2001, the Taliban destroyed two 1,500 year old stone Buddhas in Bamiyan. Five years later, UNESCO is proposing to rebuild the statues at an estimated cost of $30 million each. In case you are not familiar with this story, you can read more in an article featured in the Washington Post earlier this week. Several thoughts and emotions ran through my mind as I read this article. First and foremost, I was disgusted at the violent destruction that took place in the Bamiyan valley. It is beyond my comprehension to understand how humans can completely disregard the sanctity of a site and crush the culture and religion of a group of people. But there are far worse crimes against humanity happening all over the world, and so I continued to search for more articles on the stone statues.

My disgust quickly turned to despair. There are two sides to every story, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, then leader of the Taliban, has his own reasons for destroying the statues. He claims to have ordered the destruction of the statues after he was refused foreign aid for food and medical attention. Instead, money was offered solely for the conservation of the statues. You can read more about the Taliban side in an article posted by the Asia Society on Asia Source.

We may never know or understand why the statues were destroyed, however I think the bigger issue is figuring out where the people of Afghanistan go from here. I wonder if spending $30 million dollars to try to put the pieces of a statue back together is the smartest and most favorable decision. My opinion is that the money would be better spent on food, agricultural tools and medical facilities. Rather than funnel millions of dollars into the preservation of an object, why not prepare the people of the Bamiyan valley for a more stable future? I understand the need to preserve art, particularly that which reflects cultures long gone. At this point, however, the residents in the Bamiyan valley are also on the verge of disappearing. And I think preserving their lives is more important than putting back the pieces of a statue.