The Islamic State (IS) has recently released videos of its members smashing ancient Mesopotamian artwork and artifacts. Charles Hill argues that this destruction is not merely an act of medieval religious fervor that outrages Western sensibilities, but a manifestation of a distinctly modern war:
If these depredations of Islamism are an atavistic reawakening of the 7th-century Islamic rise in order to command the future, it is necessary to review the devastations generated by the modern age itself all through the 19th and 20th centuries. With the Enlightenment, as Kant and Hegel made clear, history replaced theology and religion as the arena in which the greatest challenges of the human condition would have to be played out.
With religion relegated to the sidelines, ideology was invented as its substitute. Ideology became a totalistic, answer-all-questions, compulsory, atheistic faith. Like most religions, once inaugurated, the ideology begins the world anew: the French Revolution as the year zero or Mao’s Tiananmen architecturally declaring that nothing good happened before 1949. Thus history itself was destroyed or transformed with a scientific certainty, a railroad along which the ideology would inevitably ride. . . .
What we are witnessing today in Islamism’s war on the world’s cultures is not unconnected to this modern revolutionary upheaval. The “history” that replaced religion in the Enlightenment and which was in turn commandeered by ideology has, with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s revolutionary seizure of state power in 1979 and Islamic State’s taking extensive territorial power in 2014-15, amalgamated religion and ideology as a new stage in the war against history. No wonder, therefore, that the radical jihadists revel in their conviction that the ultimate apocalyptic moment has been placed in their hands.