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Abbasid History Podcast

Apr 17, 2021

In February 2015, the former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released a video showing their destruction of Mesopotamian antiquities at the museum of Mosul. Although perhaps ironic that images are used to show the destruction of images, a video intended to shock can be turned against its makers when analysed thoughtfully.

Our guest this episode, Dr. Aaron Tugendhaft, argues in his latest book "The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet" that iconoclasm at heart is a political manifesto a matter understood by Abbasid philosopher Abū Naṣr al-Farābī (d.951CE).

Dr. Tugendhaft received his PhD from the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University in 2012 and also holds degrees in Art History and Social Thought from the University of Chicago. In 2013, he received the Jonas Greenfield Prize for Younger Semitists from the American Oriental Society. He currently teaches at Bard College Berlin.


00.00 Introduction

02.40 Abū Naṣr al-Farābī (ca. 870–950) thought deeply about the relation
between images and politics. He adapted the insights of ancient political philosophers—especially Plato and Aristotle—to make sense of prophetic religion. How do his political treatises shed light on Abraham's iconoclasm that ISIS claimed to uphold?

06.30 Where ISIS spoke of the need to cleanse the world of idols, their critics refer to a moral and legal imperative to protect cultural heritage. How do we see Al-Farābī's thesis play out in our contemporary context?

10.20 You also mention in your book how once archaeologists commonly removed so-called late levels—that is, medieval and modern Islamic remains—without recording them to get to the ancient layers underneath eliding the Islamic Middle East as though only the West beholds antiquity’s beauty today. What is called the "secular" can also have their idols, right?

13.30 Your book ends creatively employing al-Farābī's thoughts on images and politics in the age of video games. How would the philosopher have advised Trump?

22.55 Your book "The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet" is published by University of Chicago Press. What are other current projects that listeners can anticipate?

Dr. Tugendhaft, Thank you for being a guest on the Abbasid History Podcast!


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