Remember those terrible ISIS videos showing the destruction of idols and museum pieces? I remember feeling sick to my stomach watching them. It’s very strange how powerful that imagery can be – and the anger that it can stoke.
Time has passed, and we’re at a place now where researchers and scholars are beginning to publish on those events.
I recently listened to a good interview with professor and researcher Aaron Tugendhaft on the New Books Network. The topic was his book titled The Idols of ISIS which discusses those events.
The striking point he makes during the interview is that it is not simply the destruction of the idols that was important, but replacing those idols with the image – the video – of those idols being destroyed. This is such an important and often overlooked concept. Someone is always holding the camera, and there is a purpose.
The book sounds fascinating and discusses Saddam’s appropriation of Assyrian iconology to support his political ambitions (a subject I’m endlessly interested in). I couldn’t help but think of the video of Saddam’s statue being taken down in 2003 (the statue is an idol). Taking down the statue was important, but more important was replacing that with the image of it being taken down. We think we are watching a video of something happening – but it is in fact the video itself that is the new thing.
I know this gets kind of meta – but this is an important and easily missed phenomena.
There’s also a portion of the interview that discusses how the ISIS aesthetic was inspired by imagery in video games – Call of Duty is mentioned.
There is an endless deluge of scholars who look at ISIS – and for good reason. It is refreshing to get a take from someone outside of “terrorism” studies.
Lastly, during the interview, the below political cartoon was mentioned. It’s tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it is still infuriating on so many levels.
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