Just a short post today directing your attention to a very recent article in Near Eastern Archaeology by Ömür Harmansah on the destruction of antiquities by ISIS.
I met Ömür many years ago during my first season in the field at the site of Isthmia. Little did I realize that he would develop into one of the most thoughtful and critical thinkers about the ancient Near East.
His article argues that out preoccupation with ISIS’s destruction of antiquities has distracted us from a productive awareness of the group’s use of social and new media. In particular, Ömür focused on ISIS as a producer of carefully designed images designed to leverage our outrage to achieve wide distribution. Archaeologists have tended to look “through” the images (my term, not Ömür’s) and to focus on the details of destruction rather than to see the image produced by ISIS as part of the larger strategy.
By focusing on the ISIS media strategy Ömür understands the group as less some “anachronistic religious phenomenon” bent on a kind of naive, or even timeless, iconoclasm and more as a product of our own hyperreal media age. He suggests that the savvy use of media reveals the super-modern roots of ISIS which (ironically, perhaps) relies on the same assemblage of capitalist media technologies (YouTube, Facebook, Twitters, the Interwebs, et c.) as many more familiar (and less threatening) institutions. What happens, then, when we realize that “the medium is the message” and to regard the new media campaign in ISIS’s reign of terror as another front in a war that extends from the towns of Syria and Iraq to our mobile phones and computers? The difference is, of course, that unlike the physical battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the same Western powers, who quibble over the appropriate way to combat ISIS, own the media battlefields.