The Religion & Culture Web Forum
From Artaxerxes to Abu Ghraib: On Religion and the Pornography of Imperial Violence
By Bruce Lincoln
Caroline E. Haskell Professor of the History of Religions
University of Chicago Divinity School
Amy Kaplan, University of Pennsylvania
In the January essay, Bruce Lincoln examines the role that Zoroastrian religion and its ritual and symbolic representations played in supporting the ancient Achaemenid Persian empire. His study suggests parallels between violence in the Achaemenian empire and at Abu Ghraib:
Of infinitely greater importance than adjudicating any of the particulars [of guilt or innocence the historical case] is to observe what happens when a powerful state develops the capacity to persuade itself, its citizens or subjects, and perhaps also others, that the world is divided between the forces of good and evil; further, that its leaders have been divinely ordained to lead the good in battle. As an occasional fantasy, this is bad enough. As a core belief, sustained in and by a well-wrought body of discourse, broadcast widely through all available media and genres, it becomes infinitely more dangerous. This is so, whether it is done cynically or if the propagators are themselves fervent believers. An important part of this process is the state's ability (and its proclivity) to stage impressive spectacles that confirmto its own satisfaction and benefitits own delusions of grandeur.