Iconoclasm and moral hypocrisy
Modern-day iconoclasts are removing objects and symbols of Western civilization as part of moralistic campaigns. By doing so, they are falsifying history and attacking the very foundation of democracy.
Iconoclast is a Greek word for a person destroying a picture. Its use goes back to Byzantine Emperor Leo III (717-741), who banned religious images. Today’s iconoclasts are fanatics destroying objects of historical heritage for political or religious reasons.
In March 2001, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar ordered the blowing up of two monumental 6th-century statues of Buddha in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley. This barbaric act of religious zealotry shocked the world and was rightly condemned. Today, however, many would refrain from criticizing such gestures for fear of offending the religious sensitivities of Islamists. The Bamiyan Buddhas’ destruction is unforgivable. The statues, sculpted in 507 and 544, predated Islam. At the time, Buddhism was the prevailing religion in the area.
In 1966, Mao Zedong launched a brutal and radical mass-scale operation in China to reshape the country’s perception of history. During a decade known as the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party murdered hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed countless historical monuments and works of art. Iconoclasm, an expression of fanaticism, also exists today. Europeans and Americans tend to associate the phenomenon with the uncivilized past and faraway radical movements such as the Taliban or Maoists.
Such a ‘history’ can be considered a form of intellectual iconoclasm
Many in the West forget that past events and cultural heritage must be understood within their historical framework, not judged by the norms, standards and beliefs of today. Unfortunately, our approach to the past has become increasingly judgmental: it mixes a hypocritical “benefit of hindsight” attitude with moral arrogance in assessing the events and personalities of bygone eras. Such a “history” becomes a political tool. It can be considered a form of intellectual iconoclasm.
A significant number of Western historians no longer analyze the past in its historical context. They would rather judge it using moral standards set by themselves. The intellectual base for this practice eerily resembles that applied by the Taliban in the bombing of the Buddha statues. For example, Europe’s historical secularism has been overinflated, prompting excessive criticism of the continent’s Christian heritage. The opposition to including a reference to God in the European constitution was iconoclastic in its radicalism. The more Europe denies its Christian past, the more radical groups will entrench themselves. Xenophobia can quickly become the norm and laicism could degenerate into fundamentalism and intolerance.
Eradicating heritage, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with it, tends to polarize societies. The so-called “cancel culture,” born from social media’s practice of banning nonconformists, is supported by lots of organizations and spreading in Western societies. The past is doctored or censored according to today’s view of what is proper and what is not.
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Iconoclasm and moral hypocrisy