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The Idols of ISIS

From Assyria to the Internet

Aaron Tugendhaft



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Chicago University Press
22 October 2020
In 2015, the Islamic State released a video of men smashing sculptures in Iraq's Mosul Museum as part of a mission to cleanse the world of idolatry. This book unpacks three key facets of that event: the status and power of images, the political importance of museums, and the efficacy of videos in furthering an ideological agenda through the internet.

Beginning with the Islamic State's claim that the smashed objects were idols of the age of ignorance, Aaron Tugendhaft questions whether there can be any political life without idolatry. He then explores the various roles Mesopotamian sculpture has played in European imperial competition, the development of artistic modernism, and the formation of Iraqi national identity, showing how this history reverberates in the choice of the Mosul Museum as performance stage. Finally, he compares the Islamic State's production of images to the ways in which images circulated in ancient Assyria and asks how digitization has transformed politics in the age of social media. An elegant and accessibly written introduction to the complexities of such events, The Idols of ISIS is ideal for students and readers seeking a richer cultural perspective than the media usually provides.
Imprint:   Chicago University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 210mm,  Width: 140mm,  Spine: 13mm
Weight:   163g
ISBN:   9780226737560
ISBN 10:   022673756X
Pages:   136
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Unspecified

Aaron Tugendhaft teaches humanities at Bard College Berlin. He is the author of Baal and the Politics of Poetry and co-editor of Idol Anxiety.

Reviews for The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet

There's nothing better than a smart short book. --Bruce Lincoln, author of Apples and Oranges An elegant meditation on the conflict of images and its necessary role in politics. Looking at the lives of Mesopotamian monuments from Ashurbanipal to ISIS, Tugendhaft shows us how the stories they tell about the building and destruction of images are full of surprising similarities and address common philosophical questions. He argues that both iconoclasm and humanist universalism, for example, represent an impossible desire to depoliticise social life by monopolising the world of images. --Faisal Devji, author of Islam after Liberalism With an argumentative arc stretching from idols to museums to videos, this book will be valuable to a variety of readers, including Assyriologists, archaeologists, ancient and contemporary historians, and scholars in media studies. Tugendhaft offers something unique by discussing the destruction of images by ISIS through the lenses of political theory and comparative history. --Eckart Frahm, editor of A Companion to Assyria [Tugendhaft's] rich yet readable book puts ISIS' smashing of ancient sculptures into historical and political context. . . . [it] is extremely relevant to America's current debates about public sculpture, especially with regard to the role of violence in this debate. --Erin L. Thompson Los Angeles Review of Books Blog

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