July/Aug 2017 • Vol. XXXIX No. 4 FictionJuly 1, 2017 |

Idols of the Cave

You're on trial facing a court-martial, years in prison, and maybe execution because villagers in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley told the government that the Taliban had returned and forced them out of the caves where they had been living. There were three thousand honeycombing caves that had been hacked out of sandstone two millennia ago by Buddhist monks who believed in the inescapable interconnectedness and nonduality of all things. They ran alongside holes where two huge statues of the Buddha used to stand in the dun-colored sandstone Bamiyan cliffs before the Taliban blasted them with tank fire and dynamite. The governor of Bamiyan said those caves were one of his country's cultural treasures. "We have caves," he said, "that even the Devil doesn't know about." So to rid the area of insurgents, you couldn't use your standard tactic of dropping five thousand pounds of bunker-buster bombs to seal entrances and ventilation shafts. Leave it to the military to never make things easy. Y

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Charles Johnson, a 1998 MacArthur Fellow, is the S. Wilson and Grace M. Pollock Endowed Professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle. His fiction includes Faith and the Good Thing, Dreamer, and Middle Passage (winner of the National Book Award). He is also the author of the short story collections The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Soulcatcher and Other Stories. His nonfiction books include Turning the Wheel, Being and Race, and recently Mine Eyes Have Seen, with photography by Bob Adelman. He is also a screenwriter and professional cartoonist and served as fiction editor of Seattle Review for twenty years

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You're on trial facing a court-martial, years in prison, and maybe execution because villagers in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley told the government that the Taliban had returned and forced them out […]

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