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The ritualization of heritage destruction under the Islamic State

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2018, 00:00 authored by Benjamin IsakhanBenjamin Isakhan, Sofya Shahab
This article develops the conceptual framework of the ritualization of heritage destruction to analyse and interpret the targeting of pre-monotheistic heritage sites and artefacts by the Islamic State. It draws upon anthropological studies of initiation rituals in violent male cults alongside literature on heritage destruction to conduct a systematic analysis of key Islamic State propaganda outlets. The analysis reveals that the heritage destruction wrought by the Islamic State functions as part of a broader process of ritualization that is instrumental in forming bonds between members and ensuring their allegiance. Such rituals serve multiple purposes: they physically and ideologically separate new recruits from existing social norms and laws; they breed a deference to leadership
and create a unified identity towards the potentiality of violence; and they situate heritage destruction itself within a complex symbolic kaleidoscope of prescribed actions and specific attire, invoking connections to an imagined past and repeating the actions of their forbearers. The article concludes by noting that such analysis of the ritualization of heritage destruction is not only vital to understanding how groups such as the Islamic State successfully transform ordinary young men into a violent jihadist communitas, but also in further understanding, and responding to, such attacks on heritage sites.



Journal of social archaeology






212 - 233


Sage Publications


London, Eng.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2018, The Authors