I imagine you’ve all read (or seen or heard) about ISIS destroying ancient Assyrian statues and frescoes in northern Iraq.
I keep wondering—exactly who/what are these people; fanatics, zealots, power-mad, psychopathic murderers, deluded fools, etc. etc.? Of course, in the end, it doesn’t really matter who or what they are; like mad dogs, there is no reasoning with them, they have to be destroyed. Seems like even sworn enemies in the Middle East are agreeing on that.
Some questions and thought about this…
1) There are restrictions among the Jews and the Muslims against “idols” and “graven images” of other gods or even the big guy himself (Yahweh/Allah). The second of the Ten Commandments forbids worshipping idols or other gods and in the Koran, it is considered an unforgivable sin to construct or worship idols. Abraham—the “father” of both religions, famously takes a stick to statues in a “pagan” temple. The word iconoclast means literally a person who smashes icons. The roots of the Jewish religion are iconoclastic.
Sometimes, things in the world become too rigid, rusty or stale and an iconoclastic approach is necessary. It clears the air, gives a new idea or awareness about the world room to breathe and grow. Sometimes, it’s merely pure destruction for no reason or a collection of the worst reasons.
The concept of forbidding idols or graven images, as I understand it, is that God, as the Jews and later the Muslims understand him (or it), is an all-pervading, all powerful essence/force. It requires real faith to believe in an invisible, all-encompassing power. Therefore, to set up statues and make pictures of God makes him (or it) too human and small—too common to create awe or inspiration. (And if you’re small-minded or strictly following the “word” of God from the bible or the Koran, you find such images offensive and unacceptable; thus the recent religious murders in Europe).
To me, this forbidding of imitations or physical manifestations of God also seems like pure competition—like a huge corporation suing any smaller businesses that want to use any of its trademarks or secret formulas or algorithms…
If there is to be only one God, then any competition must be crushed, erased; obliterated. (think Microsoft).
2) Remember, the last group of crazy zealots to do a similar thing was the Taliban—they destroyed huge, ancient Buddhists statues with gunfire. Is it politically incorrect to suggest that (again, considering the recent assassinations in Europe) this is currently mostly an Islamic phenomenon?
3) I think ISIS, or at least a great many of its gang members are like out-of-control teenagers. They have an unerring instinct of what will most provoke and outrage grown-ups. And it’s an assertion of the teenager’s emerging power and identity to destroy anything that know or imagine their elders hold dear or cherish for any reason. Also—speaking of gangs—they are usually formed out of people who are outcasts in a particular place or society (or at least see themselves that way).
4) When I had my show on Sirius I used to get calls from listeners who took the bible (old and new testaments) literally. Whatever it said in there; the world created in six days, stoning women for committing adultery, slavery, parting of oceans, virgin births, raising the dead, etc. All true because it’s In The Book (which was written by God or his prophets or disciples—not a bunch of dusty, wrinkled scribes living in caves or PR men who wrote a hundred years after the fact).
I once interviewed the public relations director of The Creation Museum in Ohio. One of their dioramas shows baby dinosaurs having a fun romp with happy little children. I asked the man—who had a master’s degree in astronomy from the state university in Colorado, if he really believed that. “Absolutely”, he said, “it’s in the bible”. I don’t know what else I expected him to say. After all, he was the public face of the museum.
He also told me, kindly and regretfully, that I was going to hell (actual, burning, eternal hell) because I didn’t accept Jesus as the son of God and the way to salvation. Who knows, maybe he’s right.
My impression—having to spoken to a lot of people who told me it’s all true because it’s in the bible or the Koran—was that this literalness was often a sign of an unthinking, inflexible mind; a consciousness with a very low level of imagination.
But not everyone who believes in such literalness is thick and stupid… I think that these ISIS vandals and other groups like the Taliban are acting out of fear. They have a terrible compulsion to have everything be “pure”; to be the same everywhere—no flexibility, no deviation, no surprises, no changes. Of course, trying to control your feelings or the outside world is impossible, but it doesn’t stop the fearful and angry from trying to do it.
One of the people the Times interviewed for its article was Deborah Lehr, chairwoman of The Antiquities Coalition in Washington. This is what she said, “Every person on the planet should pause after yesterday’s violent attack on humanity’s heritage and understand ISIS’s intent is not only to control the future of humankind but also to erase and rewrite its past.”
See, that’s all part of this Nazi-like book burning (which, by the way, the Taliban and ISIS have done); PURITY—the need, stemming from great fear—and subsequent rage—to have everything conform and be as the “leader” or God says it should be.
It’s one thing to attempt this futile exercise inside your own head, (creating your own isolated hell) but it’s another thing to direct it outward and murder huge numbers of people and destroy universal cultural and artistic symbols.
5) Do we know what the people who created these ancient statues were thinking or feeling? No.
Did they really believe these statues and icons were actually God or Gods?
I doubt it.
I think they knew they were just symbols—stone, wood and bejeweled physical manifestations of their own awe and wonderment; their connection to the earth, the water, the sky, to animals, trees, plants and whatever great force created it.
If they placed sacrifices or gifts before these idols, it was for what (or who) the idols represented, not the idols themselves.
To me, and this is the great irony here, I think the only ones really believe these old statues are actually gods are the very people who are destroying them as “offensive” to God. This is really the most primitive kind of thinking—if it is thinking at all.
It’s ISIS and the Taliban (and some Christian Fundamentalists and ultra-orthodox Jews) who don’t understand that these things are symbols or concepts of “God”. A three thousand year old, immobile statue is no threat to anyone who has real faith in their version of God; it’s only a threat to someone who doubts their faith and can’t tolerate the doubt.
6) These statues, frescoes and artifacts are the common expression (past and present) of all human beings’ collective unconscious sense of what is wonderful and awesome and incomprehensible about nature and eternity. Might as well prohibit and destroy all music and sculpture and painting and writing—that way there will be no deviation from “the truth”. The Nazis and the Soviets tried this.
There will always be Nazis of one kind or another. They can’t be reasoned with. If they could, they wouldn’t do what they are doing in the first place. They can’t be re-educated either. They are a threat to civilization (as imperfect and flawed as that is) and, sadly (because in fighting them you run the risk of becoming like them) they have to be eliminated like cancer cells in a human body.
If you have no history, you are in a rootless, chaotic place. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, how can you know where you are or figure out where you’re going?