2012-08-14

 

Deliver us from Iconoclasts

The most memorable sight of my recent trip to Holland, was seeing the mutilated faces of the statues in the Cathedral of Saint Martin in Utrecht. The statues, rather than the original static religious portraits they were meant to be, provide a strikingly living record of fundamentalist savagery: the Beeldenstorm.  It is as if we have to witness the faces being mutilated on an infinite repeat loop---a Sisyphus tragedy of Iconoclastic fury. Seeing such mindless destruction made me think of how often, and cyclically, Europeans engage in their self-destruction. If we regard European culture as the Greco/Roman/Judaico/Christian eigenvector of humanity, and leaving the calculus of correctness aside, we can see that the cause of its loss of influence has been mostly endogenous. 

Was it not self-destruction for Spain and Portugal to kill and expel their Jewish brothers and sisters for the sake of Christian purity? The loss of such an integral component of those societies forever doomed the Iberian empires (moving intellectual and monetary power to Holland and Britain). Self-destruction for the sake of theological purity also lead to massive death and destruction in the religious wars that followed the Reformation, as well as the related witch-burning that some regard as an attack on the power of women---another fratricide. Which bring us back to the Iconoclasts, who after the mutilation of all statues and paintings they could get their hands on, went on to burn witches and catholics.

Yet, despite all that self-destruction, Europeans as a whole, from the XV to the XX century remained the strongest cultural and military eingevector in the planet. To finally undermine this hegemony, Europeans had to invent the most potent self-destruction weapon of all: nationalism. In two World Wars, armies of largely genetically identical individuals fought each other until total destruction was achieved, on the premise of perceived and largely invented cultural differences and supremacy---from the final solution to the wiping out of so many major cities and generations. And now, after the very valiant effort of the treaty of Rome and the unprecedented decades of peaceful Europe it achieved (another Pax Romana), are Europeans once again cutting off the nose to spite the face in the current Euro crisis?

As I visited The Netherlands with my family, a country I have traveled to so many times before during these past decades of a peaceful Europe and where I feel at home in so many ways, I could not help but fear these forces of self-destruction. The mutilated images of Saint Martin's Cathedral haunt me. How can such beauty be so savagely attacked on such tiny cultural differences? And yet, the attacks make them all the more beautiful, alive, and worthy of protection.


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