Blast through the Past: Terrorist Attacks on Art and Antiquities as a Reconquest of the Modern Jihadi Identity
Terrorist destructions of art and antiquities could be the result of extreme Salafist ideology, with contextual and strategic concerns ancillary in the targeting process. Previously, politico-military, theological, and economic approaches were used to explain terrorists targeting cultural property. This article examined the ideological and historical context, and explores the strategic appeal for terrorists targeting heritage. The four case studies include the Islamic Group’s attack on the Temple of Hatshepsut, Al Qaeda’s bombing of the Askariya Shrine, Ansar Dine’s assault on Timbuktu, and the Islamic State’s partial destruction of Palmyra. Findings suggest that jihadists are engaging in a subconscious reconquest of the contemporary Salafi identity, through opportunistic (yet deliberate) dominance performances. These performances take advantage of the strategic appeal of heritage sites, while sending symbolically loaded messages to target audiences. Through re-enacting the Abrahamic rejection of idols, jihadists reimagine and propagate themselves as heirs to ancient conquest traditions. This tradition–involving the rejection, defacement, and destruction of works of art and antiquities–is rooted in a chaotic attempt at reconstructing identity. To that end, art works and antiquities are being targeted by jihadists who are engaged in reimagining the highly idealised, Al Wala jihadi, and benefiting from the subsequent influence and attention.