Monday, November 22, 2004

Custodians of Culture

James Robbins in NRO writes this heartwarming story about the re-establishment of civil society in Afghanistan.

Excerpts follow:

In my library I have a guide to the Kabul museum dating from the 1970s ... richly illustrated with pictures of Afghan art and artifacts dating back thousands of years.

These works of art had been preserved for centuries, but the 20th century, as was its wont, put an end to them. They disappeared around the time the Red Army arrived, presumably looted in the chaos of those times, or in the years following the withdrawal when the country was wracked with factional fighting.

Yet, recently something remarkable happened. The Afghan artifacts reappeared.

The story of the survival of the artifacts begins with the Afghan tradition of the talwildar, the key-holder, a person who assumes responsibility to safeguard valuables ... Many of the original key-holders and witnesses died or disappeared, but their relatives assumed the responsibility. Any box of these art treasures would have brought a fortune if smuggled out to the west; yet through war, poverty, chaos and oppression the key-holders and their successors discharged their duties to their country and their honor, waiting for a time when they felt it was safe enough for the boxes to reemerge.

Under the circumstances they had to live through, it is astonishing. One wonders how American society would fare given the same test.

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