ISIS, Monuments, and History

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 12:00 PM
Thurgood Marshall North (Marriott Wardman Park)
David J. Wasserstein, Vanderbilt University
ISIS videos showing sledgehammer attacks on Palmyra and on antiquities in the museums of Syria and Iraq have multiple purposes and audiences. But their central aim is to further a cause, ideologically and on the ground. In reproducing, as they see it, actions of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century, ISIS fighters are seeking to clear a space, physically and in religious terms, for their understanding of the Islamic past. That understanding seeks to destroy an infidel or insufficiently faithful past and hasten the coming of the final hour as a key to building a new kind of future, one that is literally out of time.

While unique in using modern media to advertise what it does, ISIS policy in this area is not unique to Islam, nor is it unique in the history of Islam. It fits in to the larger context of messianic apocalyptic movements, and should be understood in that context.

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