Why, when, and where do participants in civil wars engage in intentional cultural destruction (ICD)? Focusing on the case of ISIS in Syria, our article examines how ideological and strategic considerations intersect to shape ICD campaigns. We propose that ideologically motivated combatants rely on ICD as a form of collective violence aimed at reinforcing territorial control, and hypothesize that ICD events are most likely in areas where a group is actively contesting territory. Using an original dataset that combines data on ICD events in Syria with measures of combatant control, we conduct a quantitative analysis of the main factors contributing to the incidence of ISIS-inflicted ICD across Syria’s governorates and over time. We rely on panel regressions to assess the importance of territorial control relative to other prominent factors contributing to ICD, such as the presence of internationally recognized cultural sites and the share of ethno-religious minorities. We find that the dynamics of combatant control play a central role in accounting for the distribution of ISIS-inflicted ICD events in Syria.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.