The Martyrdom of Mosques: Imagery and Iconoclasm in Modern Pakistan
The 2001 destruction of the gigantic figures of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan by the Taliban sparked considerable debate over iconoclasm within Islam. Some decried what they saw as a fundamental albeit atavistic feature within the tradition, that is, the destruction of religious images and idols. Others attempted to particularize the events of destruction by pointing out that certainly politics, rather than only adherence to the tradition, had something to do with the Taliban’s decision to carry out their much publicized threat (Flood 2002). More recently, the worldwide uproar over the cartoon representation of the Prophet Muhammad reinforced public perception of Muslim abhorrence of religious imagery. Yet iconoclasm and the abhorrence of imagery are not the same things. Deriving its historical weight from the 7th- and 8th-century destruction of sacred images within the Orthodox Eastern Church when it was feared that such images could lead to pagan idol worship, iconoclasm as a practice suggests an awareness of the various ends to which images may be deployed, whereas an abhorrence of imagery is only one of those possible ends (Besancon 2001). That is to say, iconoclasm, however crude a translation it may be for the impulse within the history of Islam towards the destruction of religious images to prevent their culminating in idol worship (see Hawting 1999), entails a prior intimacy with images in order to sense in particular ones the potential for their inappropriate use. 1 I would say further that iconoclasm aims 373not at the complete eradication of images but rather at their selective deployment and even their re-deployment to new and specified ends. Let me say at the outset that when I use the term ‘image’, I do not have in mind only those visually manifest but also those that take gestural or acoustical form, represent an arrested action, or exist as a premonitory presence at or in the shadows of imagination always about to come into view. 2 In this I take ‘image’ to be somewhat distinct from an ‘idol’ — taking idol to be a statue or carved image that is worshipped as a divine being, although images may transmute into idols or aid in their worship. Thus, already in this brief introduction we have a sense of how the image may lead to any number of possible actions (e.g., worship), perceptions/sensations (e.g., abhorrence), or states of being (e.g., idols).