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Iconoclasm: Religious and Political Motivations for Destroying Art


Iconoclasm has existed around the world for thousands of years. This chapter traces the etymology and genealogy of religious iconoclasm, then examines why and how ideological programmes are advanced through destruction of cultural property. It explores the use of iconoclasm as an instrument of religious instruction in Egypt; social transformation in China; political appropriation of territory, consolidation of power and resistance to power in Cyprus; destruction of community in the former Yugoslavia; religious ‘purification’ in Mali; protest against monarchist secularism in Iran and Western fetishism in Afghanistan; and conquest and genocide in Syria and Iraq. Particularly as some acts of iconoclasm are nonviolent, iconoclasm may be understood better as transforming signs than as breaking images.


  • Iconoclasm
  • Art destruction in history
  • Politically motivated vandalism

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  1. 1.

    Sasan Aghlani, pers. comm.: 16 April 2016.

  2. 2.

    Asherim were idols for the worship of the fertility goddess Asherah.

  3. 3.

    (1) Sidi Mahamoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit; (2) Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani; (3) Sheikh Sidi Mokhtar Ben Sidi Muhammad Ben Sheikh Alkabir; (4) Alpha Moya; (5) Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar Arragadi; (6) Sheikh Muhammad El Mikki; (7) Sheikh Abdoul Kassim Attouaty; (8) Ahmed Fulane; and (9) Bahaber Babadié

  4. 4.

    (1) Sidi Mahmoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit; (2) Al Akib Ben Mahmoud Ben Omar Mouhamed Aquit Ben Omar Ben Ali Ben Yahia; (3) Cheick Alpha Moya; (4) Cheick Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar Arragadi; (5) Cheick Aboul Kassim Attouaty; (6) Cheick Mouhamad El Micky; (7) Cheick Mouhamed Tamba-Tamba; (8) Cheick Al Imam Saïd; (9) El Imam Ismaïl; (10) Sidi Mouhammad Boukkou; (11) Sidi El Wafi El Araouani; (12) Cheickh Mouhammad Sankoré le Peulh; (13) Cheickh Sidi Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mouhammad Ben Cheickh AlKabir; (14) Mouhammed Acqit; (15) El Hadj Ahmed; and (16) Aboul Abbas Ahmed Baba Ben Ahmed Ben Elhadji Ahmed Ben Omar Ben Mouhammad Aqit.

  5. 5.

    (1) Sidi Yahya.

  6. 6.

    (1) Sidi Yahya; (2) Sankoré; (3) Djingareyber.


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Hardy, S. (2019). Iconoclasm: Religious and Political Motivations for Destroying Art. In: Hufnagel, S., Chappell, D. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-1-137-54404-9

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