by Sahar Kassaimah

LOS ANGELES, March 12 (IslamOnline) – The ambassador of the ruling Taliban government, Sayyid Rahmatullah Hashimi, addressed an audience on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles Saturday concerning controversial issues within Afghanistan.

The program was organized by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Muslim Student Union (MSU) of USC under the title of the “Taliban In Afghanistan”.

According to the program’s coordinators, the purpose of the lecture was to provide the audience with a better understanding about Afghanistan from its first sources, and to explain the actual reasons behind the demolition of Buddhist statues.

Speaking Saturday night, Hashimi contradicted media reports saying that the statues have been completely destroyed (which were reported Sunday), and unexpectedly claimed that none of the statues had been destroyed yet, confirming that contrary statements were false.

He pointed towards the role of Western media attempting to deface the image of the Islamic government of the Taliban in Afghanistan, declaring that the West, who do not care about the children of Afghanistan who die every day because of cold, hunger and sanctions, do not have the right to discuss Afghanistan’s history.

He also wondered why everyone was concerned about the statues while no one is paying attention to the present famine in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is under sanctions. Seven hundred children died just last month from malnutrition and the cold weather. However, no one is talking about that, everyone is talking about the statues instead,” said Hashimi.

The speaker said the decision to destroy the statues was taken by the Head Council of Scholars with the Afghani peoples and was approved by the Supreme Court, and not the Taliban government. In addition, he confirmed that Afghanistan does not believe in destroying the statues for religious beliefs.

“We captured those area three years from now, if we want to destroy the statues, why didn’t we do that three years ago?” asked Hashimi.

Hashimi added that this decision was taken after a Swedish monuments expert proposed to fix and rebuild the statues’ heads, which were already destroyed. When the Afghani head council asked them to provide the money to feed the children instead of fixing the statues, they refused and said, “No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children”. Herein, they made the decision to destroy the statues.

“These people do not care about the children who are dying every day in Afghanistan,” said Hashimi. “If they care about our past, they won’t destroy our future,” he added.

However, the reasons Hashimi introduced for the decision of statues’ destruction were not enough to answer many questions raised from the Islamic world.

Hashimi did not mention anything about the reactions of this decision, which some say could lead to hate crimes against the Muslim minorities in some countries, nor about the Muslim scholars around the world who condemned the Taliban actions in destroying the statues.

He also did not address the issue of foreign museums’ offers to buy the Buddhist statues, the money from which could have been used to feed children, nor he address the subject of Islam’s inherent respect for other religions

During the lecture, Hashimi also talked about how the Taliban movement started and how they came to power, and talked about the Taliban’s achievements in Afghanistan during their five years of rule.

The speaker admitted that there were some terrorist acts committed by some people from Afghanistan. However, he pointed out that the U.S. is also to blame for terrorist acts.

“We are accused of [harboring] terrorist[s] in Afghanistan, in the U.S. terrorist means only bin Laden,” he said. “They just want to kill him without any proof or evidence,” he added.

“We don’t understand what is the American definition of terrorism, some people were transferred from heroes to terrorists, exactly like Arafat who was transferred from terrorist to hero.”

The lecture was followed by a question and answer section in which the audience, most of whom were Afghani students, discussed the situation in Afghanistan, focusing on political points, away from the statues issue.

Hashimi also addressed Afghanistan’s production and cultivation of opium, which previously supplied 75% of the world’s opium supply. Hashimi now states that supply is down to zero.

Audience members then quizzed Hashimi, asking him to address a seeming contradiction between what he said and what they know about problems neighboring Iran is currently facing because of Afghani opium exportation.

Other audience members asked Hashimi to provide proof concerning the Taliban’s achievements, especially on the issue of women’s rights, which Hashimi claimed the Taliban supported. In response, the ambassador asked them to go to Afghanistan to see with their own eyes what the Taliban has achieved.

Hashimi stated the Taliban supported education for women, the ability to choose their future, and changed the tradition of exchanging women for gifts.

The lecture ended with an aggressive discussion between pro- and anti-Taliban audience members.

After the discussion, Hashimi refused to meet with reporters.