Mediating Islamic State| Iconic Socioclasm: Idol-Breaking and the Dawn of a New Social Order

Christoph Günther


The Islamic State articulates its claim for legitimate authority through texts, audio messages, and still and moving images. In addition, among the practices employed to classify “genuine” Islam and its boundaries, the destruction of cultural properties has received much international attention. The movement has framed these sites as manifestations of idolatry and, consequently, their obliteration as a legitimate means for socioreligious purification. In this article, I argue that the Islamic State’s attacks on these properties are embedded in a comprehensive strategy of spatial, material, ideational, and intellectual purification of the socioreligious landscape. By destroying these sites, the movement targets integral elements of social identities of local and transnational communities and their individual members in order to build a new social framework on their ruins. I suggest understanding these acts as strategic “socioclasm.” Visualizations are part of this strategy and help render the Islamic State an effective force because they support the production of images in the minds of both the movement’s followers and adversaries, hence attesting to the Islamic State’s rise, ideology, and actions.


ISIS, Islamic State, iconoclasm, socioclasm, cultural properties, cultural heritage

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