Last week, I published a new article in Truthdig, examining the dangers of ISIS's recent destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in light of the history of information warfare. It's not my normal beat, but the idea came to me as I was laying in bed, and I couldn't sleep until I'd started writing it. Here's the beginning of the article. Click through to read the whole thing.
With a bloody record of beheadings, crucifixions, child conscription, sexual assault and innumerable other appalling atrocities to its name, it’s little wonder that the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has earned a reputation in the Western media as “savage” and even “medieval.”
Although most of the so-called civilized nations—like the United States—have their own laundry lists of human rights violations to contend with, there is indeed something distinctly unmodern about Islamic State’s methods, something more visceral and immediate and therefore more terrifying than equally deadly U.S. drone attacks. Yet it would be a grave error to mistake its unmodernity for premodernity and to portray the group’s martial strategy as tragically or—worse—laughably retrograde. If anything, the group is creating paradigm shifts in the way wars are fought as well as in the way we view our distant past. Though its methods of killing may date back to the Bronze Age, its approach to information is positively post-postmodern.
In fact, the group’s willingness to destroy irreplaceable archaeological sites—like the ruins of ancient Palmyra—demonstrates a highly sophisticated approach to information warfare, which is far more dangerous than anything we have seen from al-Qaida, let alone from the Middle Ages.