Donate

Islamist Iconoclasm and Its Imperial Aims

April 8 2015

The recent destruction by Islamic State (IS) of ancient artworks and the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have led to sloppy-minded comparisons with the iconoclasm of 8th-century Byzantium and other similar movements. These comparisons, writes Edward Rothstein, are mere exercises in moral relativism, and overlook an important distinction:

Religiously based iconoclasm has largely been internal to a religion, reflecting a conflict about its core beliefs. It erupts within the eastern church or between versions of Christianity (or in confrontations between Shiites and Sunnis). But in contemporary Islamist iconoclasm, the attacks are primarily aimed externally. The shootings at Charlie Hebdo, for example, were actually motivated by iconoclasm: retribution for creating images deemed sacrilegious. But attacks were directed not at Muslim violators, but against secular society’s image-creators. The 2006 rioting by Muslims, also motivated by iconoclasm, was set off by Danish cartoons portraying Muhammad; calls were made to destroy the images and their creators. And now, IS is smashing images from other cultures and religions, just as the Taliban destroyed the monumental 6th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.

None of these attacks are caused by disagreements over a faith’s doctrine; they do not reflect disputes within Islam. Instead, the assertion is that Islam should have authority over any religion’s or culture’s presentation of images. This has nothing to do with an offense supposedly caused by lack of “sensitivity,” as is so often suggested. The attacks are an assertion that a prohibition against representations of Muhammad—or of any figure deemed “idolatrous”—has to be accepted even by those outside Islam. And this demand is made even when it conflicts with a nation’s laws and customs. It is a religious demand. It is also imperial.

As for the current destruction of sacred sites, it resembles the frenzy of a conquering army. But who are the conquered? Churches of ancient Christian communities are not being desecrated because they represent the authority of a nation being invaded. They are attacked, like the Bamiyan Buddhas, because they exist.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Charlie Hebdo, History & Ideas, Idolatry, ISIS, Orthodox Christianity, Radical Islam

 

In Dealing with Iran, the U.S. Can Learn from Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan arrived at the White House in 1981, the consensus was that, with regard to the Soviet Union, two responsible policy choices presented themselves: détente, or a return to the Truman-era policy of containment. Reagan, however, insisted that the USSR’s influence could not just be checked but rolled back, and without massive bloodshed. A decade later, the Soviet empire collapsed entirely. In crafting a policy toward the Islamic Republic today, David Ignatius urges the current president to draw on Reagan’s success:

A serious strategy to roll back Iran would begin with Syria. The U.S. would maintain the strong military position it has established east of the Euphrates and enhance its garrison at Tanf and other points in southern Syria. Trump’s public comments suggest, however, that he wants to pull these troops out, the sooner the better. This would all but assure continued Iranian power in Syria.

Iraq is another key pressure point. The victory of militant Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr in [last week’s] elections should worry Tehran as much as Washington. Sadr has quietly developed good relations with Saudi Arabia, and his movement may offer the best chance of maintaining an Arab Iraq as opposed to a Persian-dominated one. But again, that’s assuming that Washington is serious about backing the Saudis in checking Iran’s regional ambitions. . . .

The Arabs, [however], want the U.S. (or Israel) to do the fighting this time. That’s a bad idea for America, for many reasons, but the biggest is that there’s no U.S. political support for a war against Iran. . . .

Rolling back an aggressive rival seems impossible, until someone dares to try it.

Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Foreign policy