Did Hobby Lobby’s C.E.O. Unknowingly Sponsor Terrorism?


Did Hobby Lobby’s C.E.O. Unknowingly Sponsor Terrorism?

OCTOBER 29, 2015 10:04 AM

Left, ancient clay artifacts from Iraq that were recovered and returned to the Republic of Iraq after a smuggling investigation by the Department of Homeland Security last March. Right, Steve Green the current Hobby Lobby President. By Mandel Ngan (Green), by Mark Wilson (Artifacts), both from Getty Images.
Left, ancient clay artifacts from Iraq that were recovered and returned to the Republic of Iraq after a smuggling investigation by the Department of Homeland Security last March. Right, Steve Green the current Hobby Lobby President. By Mandel Ngan (Green), by Mark Wilson (Artifacts), both from Getty Images.

With nefarious groups raising millions of dollars by looting and selling antiquities, the crafting billionaire and ardent evangelical might have inadvertently financed their activities.


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n Tuesday morning, the Daily Beast reported that Hobby Lobby’s C.E.O. Steve Green, whose company successfully challenged Obamacare’s contraception mandate on the grounds that it violated the owning family’s religious beliefs, was being investigated for the allegedly illicit importation of biblical-era Assyrian and Babylonian artifacts into the United States.

The four-year investigation involves nearly 300 “small clay tablets” from what’s now modern-day Iraq and Syria, bound for the Museum of the Bible, a multi-million-dollar complex in Washington, D.C. and scheduled to open in 2017, largely financed by the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby and is worth an estimated $4.5 billion. But when the family tried to get the collections through U.S. Customs—having declared them, according to the Daily Beast, as “hand-crafted clay tiles” worth a collective $300—their actions triggered an F.B.I. inquiry. To date, the investigation is still ongoing, while a representative from the Museum of the Bible characterized the investigation as a problem spawned from “incomplete paperwork”.

But antiquities experts raise another concern: that by purchasing this art in the first place, the Greens may have unknowingly sponsored military groups and terrorist networks like al-Qaeda, which has sold antiquities for more than a decade.

“Anyone who purchases an antiquity without being 100 percent sure it is a legitimate piece is risking funding organized criminals, armed insurgents, and even terrorist networks, whether they be al-Qaeda or ISIS,” says Tess Davis, the executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, an organization devoted to combatting the illegal trading of artifacts.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, has engaged in the practice as it seized more territory from the Iraqi and Syrian governments and rebel groups, but dramatically scaled their activities: whereas al-Qaeda previously charged an extortion fee to looters, ISIS now controls more than 4,500 archaeological sites and controls the selling process. (In cases of the sites they don’t directly own, they charge looters, who must get a written permit from ISIS, one-fifth of the eventual proceeds of the sale.)

Last February, the United Nations adopted a resolution stating that its members would seek to prevent terrorist groups, including ISIS, from profiting off these sales. According to Col. Matt Bogdanos, a single, four-inch cylinder seal from ancient Babylonia can sell for nearly $250,000 alone, and the U.N. ambassador from Iraq, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, estimated that ISIS earns more than $100 million per year antiquities trading.

Bogdanos is all too familiar with antiquities looting in Iraq: in 2003, he led the U.S. military’s efforts to recover artifacts looted from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad after the fall of Hussein, and continues to work on cases involving stolen antiquities. But as he told VF.com in an interview, the law-enforcement community has been laser-focused on stopping antiquities trafficking for decades: “Just because we don’t issue press releases or because you don’t read about it, doesn’t mean you don’t have a series of [artifact] seizures and a series of convictions.”

The Green family’s shipment was seized in 2011—right around the beginning of the Arab Spring, but well before ISIS gained prominence and turned looting into a cottage industry by taking over archaeological sites and digging them for profit. But prior to that, says Bogdanos, al-Qaeda and the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein also looted antiquities for money, though not at the scale of ISIS—and if any antiquities emerged during the periods they were in power, the money “probably went to them.”

Though he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the Hobby Lobby case, Bogdanos says that in a hypothetical case, “if you have an antiquity that you can trace to Iraq and Syria, the question of where the money went is a fair, legitimate question, as long as you take into account two things.

“One is: there were intermediaries. There’s no [art] owner in the U.S. that’s giving to ISIS. They’re giving money to the dealer, and the dealer gave money to the person who got it out of Lebanon, [for instance,] and that person gave money to the person who got it out of Syria, and thatperson gave it to ISIS. Money’s money. It went through three or four sets of hands in between.

“Second, just because it’s Babylonian doesn’t mean it came from Iraq,” he said. “A lot of conquerors have been through the area and have done their own looting over millennia.” Citing the case of the Parthenon temple, the remnants of which currently reside in three different countries, Bogdanos says that it’s possible that a shipment of tablets could have been looted hundreds of years ago.

Even if terrorist networks weren’t involved in the sale, there’s also the possibility of organized gangs: “When you’re starting to see these major seizures in the U.S., it tends to be that they’re working with organized gangs in-country to go out and look for specific items,” says Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition.

And at the very least, there is a “bright line” rule, dating back to the 1970 UNESCO convention, that Davis says is generally accepted by the international art community: “You should not deal in antiquities that do not have a provenance before 1970. If they suddenly appear on the market since then, they should be treated as illegitimate.”

According to the Daily Beast, the Green family met with a legal expert in 2010, who explained their need to perform “due diligence with regard to provenance.”

“Hobby Lobby is cooperating with the investigation related to certain biblical artifacts,“ a Green family spokeswoman told VF.com on behalf of the company. “The Museum of the Bible is a separate not-for-profit entity made possible, in part, by the generous charitable contributions of the Green family.“

PDF of the article here

Tomb Raiders and Terrorist Financing: Cutting Off ISIS’ Traffic in “Blood Antiquities” NOLA Conference

By: Tess Davis

As evidence continues to mount that violent extremist organizations are funding themselves through cultural racketeering, the Antiquities Coalition partnered with the Federal Bar Association (FBA) to inform lawyers, judges, and members of the public about this growing threat to our national security — and the world’s cultural heritage.

Al Azm and Bogdanos at NOLA FBA
Dr. Amr Al Azm (left) and Assistant District Attorney of Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos (right).

Tomb Raiders and Terrorist Financing: Cutting Off ISIS’ Traffic in “Blood Antiquities” was held last week at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, in partnership with the FBA’s New Orleans Chapter, which is the nation’s largest with over 1,200 members. A distinguished panel — including archaeologist Dr. Amr Al-Azm, lawyer (and Antiquities Coalition Executive Director) Tess Davis, and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos — exposed the illicit trade, tracing the path of looted masterpieces from the war zones of Mesopotamia to the very heights of the global market. They also explored how United States and international law is seeking to cut off this critical means of terrorist financing, including recent action by the U.S. Congress and United Nations Security Council.

With the rise of ISIS, the world rightfully asked how a militant faction too extreme for Al-Qaeda had transformed itself into the “richest terror group ever”. ISIS now boasts an annual budget worth $2 billion and a war chest of $250 million, which if true far surpasses the Taliban’s, and even that of some states. However, the public reacted with surprise to reports in June 2014 that ISIS jihadists had earned “millions” by looting the region’s archaeological sites, and then selling its ancient treasures to the highest bidder.

It shouldn’t have. Archaeologists, criminologists, law enforcement agents, and military officials — including the speakers at Tomb Raiders and Terrorist Financing — have long warned that the illicit antiquities trade is funding crime and conflict around the world. However, under ISIS’ black flag, this looting and trafficking has become not just a side enterprise, but a massive illegal industry. Just last month, the Federal government confirmed this connection beyond doubt, releasing a trove of newly declassified documents that detail ISIS’ extensive involvement, including the creation of an entire administrative department that oversees the removal antiquities (as well as oil) to fund the “state.” Recognizing that this cultural racketeering is now a “key source of revenue” for ISIS, it is also now offering a $5 million reward for “information leading to the significant disruptions of the sale and/or trade of oil and antiquities by, for, on behalf of, or to benefit” ISIS.”  

Tomb Raiders and Terrorist Financing presented the very latest on what we know about ISIS’ role in antiquities trafficking, as well as its intentional and targeted attacks on cultural, historic, and religious sites, most recently the fabled “Arch of Triumph” at Palmyra. Dr. Amr Al-Azm, who is working closely with the so-called Syrian “Monuments Men,” provided a firsthand account of these heroes’ crucial work to document ISIS’ looting and destruction of heritage, and to save whatever they can from the conflict. Before leaving Syria, Al-Azm was a Professor at the University of Damascus from 1998 to 2006, as well as Director of Science and Conservation Laboratories at the Department of Antiquities and Museums from 1999-2004. He is currently an Associate Professor of Middle East History at Shawnee State University and active member of the Syrian opposition.

Matthew Bogdanos — now an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan — first raised the alarm in 2005 that terrorist organizations (at the time Al Qaeda) were arming their cause through cultural racketeering. Then a colonel in the Marine reserves with five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bogdanos led the recovery team into the Iraqi National Museum after its looting during the early days of the 2003 U.S. Iraq invasion, the story of which is told in his book Thieves of Baghdad with William Patrick. Based on this experience, as well as his work in the DA’s office, Bogdanos explored the challenges of investigating and prosecuting antiquities cases, while also stressing the importance of pursuing them nonetheless.

The panel was organized by Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, who also spoke on how U.S. and international law is responding to the crisis, through U.S. Senate Bill 1887, U.N. Security Resolution 2199, and proposed action in the International Criminal Court. Her perspective was impacted by her own work in post-conflict Indochina, including helping the Royal Government of Cambodia to recover a series of masterpieces looted during their bloody civil war with the Khmer Rouge, service for which she was knighted earlier this year. Davis emphasized that even if the conflict ends tomorrow, Iraq and Syria will still be facing decades of recovery, but that the story of Cambodia provides hope that such recovery is indeed possible.

This is the fourth annual seminar that Davis has conducted with New Orleans FBA President Chris Alfieri, himself a noted art lawyer and preservationist. Past events have covered such varied subjects as protecting cultural heritage from natural disasters, the illicit trade in Cambodian antiquities, and the theft and destruction of art in the Pacific Theater of World War II. However, Tomb Raiders and Terrorist Financing had special relevant to the city’s legal, law enforcement, and military community: As one of the world’s greatest ports, New Orleans serves as the gateway into the United States for much of the country’s trade, both legal and illegal. This includes art and antiquities, but unfortunately, these have not yet been on the regional government’s radar. Hopefully that has now changed.

In closing, throughout the event, a common theme was that international law and institutions are not adequately equipped to respond to the threat ISIS poses to cultural heritage and global security. Innovative but also practical solutions are urgently needed. Following ministerial conferences in Cairo and New York earlier this year, the Antiquities Coalition is now working with its partners the Asia Society, Middle East Institute, and UNESCO to develop concrete recommendations for countering the illicit antiquities trade. For more on this work, click here, and stay tuned to this blog for future updates.
Read Coverage from the New Orleans Times-Picayune Here

International Archaeology Day

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International Archaeology Day

Archaeological Institute of America Washington DC Society

Each year, on the third Saturday of October, the world celebrates International Archaeology Day! For this celebration, archaeological organizations arrange various programming and activities for people of all ages.

This year, students, professionals and members of the public gathered on October 17th for an unusual event at the University of Maryland to mark International Archaeology Day. Co-sponsored by the Washington DC Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and the University of Maryland Department of Classics, and supported by a generous Society Outreach Grant from the AIA, the session was organized as an informal discussion of timely issues in the field of cultural heritage today. Not necessarily ripped from the headlines but certainly much in the news, tscenarios were provided and the participants were asked to consider aspects like the repatriation of valuable artifacts to countries where extremists are engaged in campaigns of large scale destruction, the fate of cultural heritage in unstable regions around the world, looting in places where there is rampant poverty and unemployment, the ethics of the antiquities market and the balance between preservation and much needed economic development.

After a brief introduction by a panel of professionals in the field, groups assembled at round tables for what proved to be a lively debate (see pictures below). Interest in the issues was so intense, especially on the part of students, that they failed to notice the promised pizza delivery. Breaking only to grab a few slices, they returned to their tables to continue to explore the many permutations of saving cultural heritage in an unstable world. The roundtable wrap-up session went into overtime as people shared their questions, concerns and ideas. A quick survey of the participants answered the question posed in the title of the event, for it was clear that everyone there, no matter what field they were in, knew why they cared.

Facilitators included: Justine Benanty (Co-Founder of “The ArchaeoVenturers Project”), Alex Nagel (Research Associate, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution), Katie A. Paul (Chief of Staff, researcher, The Antiquities Coalition), Sandra Scham (Vice President, DC-AIA), and Matthew Suriano (Assistant Professor of New Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of Maryland).

“Cultural Heritage — Why Do We Care?” is co-sponsored by the Department of Classics at the University of Maryland; 
additional funding was obtained through AIA’s Society Outreach Grant.
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The 5-Year Anniversary of the Capitol Archaeological Institute and the Journey to the Antiquities Coalition

CAI launch on 7 October 2010
(Left to Right) Dr. Eric H Cline, CAI Director; Steven Knapp, GWU President; Deborah Lehr, CAI and Antiquities Coalition Chairman; Dr. Zahi Hawass, former Minister of Antiquities of Egypt after signing official launch of the Capitol Archaeological Institute on October 7, 2010.

By: Katie A. Paul

Five years ago this month, a collection of DC professionals and heritage experts began a journey out of a passion for archaeology that led to a global initiative. On October 7, 2010, The George Washington University Capitol Archaeological Institute (CAI) was launched under the directorship of Dr. Eric H. Cline, a Biblical archaeologist and Professor of Classics and Anthropology at GWU. The official launch event featured special guest Dr. Zahi Hawass, the former Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt and the world’s most recognized Egyptologist. That Egypt was the focus of the CAI’s first event was prescient.

Less than four months after the launch of the CAI, theJanuary 2011 Egyptian Revolution began and brought with it a new era of hope for the Egyptian people but also an era of darkness for the nation’s cultural heritage. The looting of the Cairo Museum after the start of the Revolution, combined with mass plunder of major archaeological sites, left the heritage community in a state of shock and seeking solutions on how to address this attack against heritage beyond statements of condemnation.

Deborah Lehr and Katie Paul
Deborah Lehr (left) and Katie A. Paul (right)

The immediate threat to some of the world’s most famous heritage and the need for an active response struck a cord with the CAI’s Chairman, Deborah Lehr and then-graduate student, Katie A. Paul, the first Director of Programs at the CAI. Given their backgrounds, Lehr in the government overseeing major initiatives, and Paul’s as a community activist, both sought solutions to a problem that being a better archaeologist could not solve. They reached out to like-minded organizers seeking a more active responsive. And thus a new initiative to protect Egyptian antiquities was born.

In March 2011, the Capitol Archaeological Institute released a Call to Action to Protect Egyptian Antiquities that received signatures from dozens of museums, arts, and antiquities leaders and experts from around the world. Based on that interest, a month later, the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (ICPEA) was formed. The ICPEA, led by the CAI, formed a coalition of professionals and organizations including the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research. This collection of experts worked closely with the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC under Deputy Chief of Mission Yasser El Naggar to seek solutions to the looting epidemic that was quickly spreading across Egypt given the post-Revolution breakdown in the governance structure.

Working with experts in satellite analysis and cultural heritage, the ICPEA gathered evidence of a widespread looting issue unlike anything seen in the country previously. And in May 2011, Lehr led an ICPEA mission at the invitation of the Egyptian government to present its findings, as well as a set of proposed solutions.

Google Earth image of looters pits at Apamea, Syria - Credit Trafficking Culture
Google Earth image of looters pits at Apamea, Syria in 2012. Credit: Trafficking Culture

In the following months, as reports surfaced of widespread looting across the Middle East and North African (MENA) region, it became clear transnational networks of criminals were trafficking in illicit antiquities and therefore the response needed to be extended beyond Egypt’s borders. It was a regional problem that required a regional solution.

Egypt’s position as a leader in the MENA region, and as a gateway between the Middle East and Africa, made its role a critical part in the fight against the illicit trafficking of antiquities by criminal elements or cultural racketeering. With the efforts of the ICPEA quickly broadening beyond Egypt, the Antiquities Coalition (AC) was launched in January 2014 by Chair and Founder Deborah Lehr as an independent not-for-profit, designed to take a solutions-oriented approach to the ongoing looting and destruction of cultural heritage in nations in crisis.

Recognizing the cross-disciplinary reach of the issues contributing to illicit antiquities trafficking, the Antiquities Coalition team brings together a cross section of expertise from business and government (Chair and Founder, Deborah Lehr), to media (Co-Founder, Peter Herdrich), to law (Executive Director, Tess Davis) and anthropology (Chief of Staff, Katie A. Paul) to develop and implement innovative and workable solutions to the threats posed to our shared cultural heritage. The AC coordinates a diverse group of experts in a variety of fields including policy, anti-terror studies, heritage and beyond to examine the ongoing developments to heritage threats and the tactics that can be used to stop them.

Egypt MOU signing ceremony with AC - 2014
Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Mohammed Ibrahim (left) finalizes Public-Private Partnership with Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition, Deborah Lehr (right).

In March 2014, the ICPEA, under the new umbrella organization the Antiquities Coalition, formed a Public-Private Partnership with the Egyptian government and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with then Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim.

Since its inception, the Antiquities Coalition has partnered with a variety of organizations to develop solutions, such as the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI), as well as organizations to bring together world leaders in the fight against cultural racketeering and cultural cleansing including the Middle East Institute (MEI), the Asia Society, and UNESCO.

Culture Under Threat conference in Cairo
Leaders from 10 Arab League countries joined the Antiquities Coalition, MEI, and UNESCO in Cairo May 13-14, 2015 at the Culture Under Threat Cairo Conference to discuss solutions to cultural racketeering in the MENA region.

With the issue of cultural heritage now at the forefront of discussion in the highest levels of government, the fight to protect and preserve heritage continues with the Call to Action to Protect the World’s Cultural Heritage, issued at the close of the #CultureUnderThreat Forum held on September 24, 2015 in New York.

From a Call to Action on Egypt’s heritage to one on world heritage, the now global efforts of the Antiquities Coalition and its partners are the result of a small group of passionate archaeologists and experts who gathered five years ago at GWU under the leadership of the Capitol Archaeological Institute.

Join us in signing the Call to Action to Protect the World’s Cultural Heritage as we continue the fight to save our history!

How is ISIS funding itself with ‘blood antiquities’? Thursday event explains


How is ISIS funding itself with ‘blood antiquities’? Thursday event explains

In this June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group, slogans as they carry the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad. ISIS placed eighth on Google's list of 2014's fastest-rising global search requests, the company said Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. (STR/AP Photo)
In this June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group, slogans as they carry the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad. ISIS placed eighth on Google’s list of 2014’s fastest-rising global search requests, the company said Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. (STR/AP Photo)
By Jed Lipinski, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on October 14, 2015 at 5:30 PM
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is known for using ransoms to fund its campaign of death and destruction. But a lesser-known tactic has reportedly reaped tens of millions of dollars for the terrorist organization: the looting and sale of ancient artifacts, often called “blood antiquities.”

ISIS militants may be earning as much as $100 million-a-year from the sale of smuggled artifacts, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce has said. Some of these historic pieces are already entering U.S. ports, according to the FBI, which recently offered a $5 million reward for information that might curb sales.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that would restrict U.S. imports of archaeological material from Syria. UNESCO and other international organizations have signed a joint initiative to halt the supply of and demand for blood antiquities.

But what can others do to help? That’s the subject of a conference Thursday morning (Oct. 15) at the U.S. District Courthouse, hosted by the Antiques Coalition and the New Orleans chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

The event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., is designed to bring area prosecutors, law enforcement officers and the public up to speed on how ISIS may be selling illicit antiques in the states.

Featured speakers include Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the assistant district attorney in Manhattan and author of “The Thieves of Baghdad”; Tess Davis, executive director of the Antiquities Coalition; Amr Al Azm, former director of Syria’s Department of National Antiquities and Museums; and David Marcello, executive director of Tulane University Law School’s Public Law Center.

The conference takes place at 500 Poydras St. in Room C-501. Click here for more details.

PDF of the article here

Heritage in the Headlines During UNGA

Iraqi FM at Asia Society and AC event
(Left to right): Kevin Rudd, Former Prime Minister of Australia and current Head of the Asia Society Policy Institute, and H.E. Dr. Ibrahim al Jaafari, Foreign Minister of Iraq.

It was a headline week for the protection of cultural heritage.

When leaders from more than 160 countries gathered in New York City last week for the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), a main topic of discussion for the attending heads of state was how to combat the growing strength of violent extremist groups in the Middle East.

Critical to this effort is cutting off all possible sources of funding that support terrorist organizations such as ISIS. While Al Qaeda depended on donations from rich benefactors, ISIS has robbed, extorted, and kidnapped its way to becoming one of the wealthiest terrorist networks in history. The looting and trafficking of antiquities has played a key part in this economic strategy, while the destruction of cultural, historic, and religious sites has had the added “benefit” of further terrorizing the civilian population.

This past week, UNGA served as a platform for bringing together the key players from leading countries, international organizations, and law enforcement agencies, as well as the arts and archaeological communities, in a series of conferences to seek innovative solutions to halt the trafficking of “blood antiquities.” Never before has there been this level of political will from the global community in seeking real answers to this cultural, economic, and security crisis. The world is now on notice that buying or selling blood antiquities — especially when the proceeds can support terrorist causes — will no longer be tolerated.

On September 24, with our partners the Asia Society, Middle East Institute, and UNESCO, the Antiquities Coalition was proud to host a solutions-oriented forum with the Foreign Ministers of Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Australia, in addition to senior delegations from Cambodia, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. This unprecedented gathering brought together policymakers and leading experts to develop and implement recommendations for halting this black trade. From this event, we are now spearheading the #CultureUnderThreat Task Force, comprised of law enforcement agents, business leaders, anti-terrorism experts, as well representatives from the arts and antiquities communities. This group will work to raise awareness about the linkages between the cultural racketeering and terrorist financing, close down markets to blood antiquities, and provide in country support to those who are risking their lives to protect our shared heritage. The task force will publish a set of recommendations before the end of the year and work with key stakeholders to realize their implementation.

Three days later on September 27, the United Nations also launched a new initiative, chaired by the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Italy, with strong support from UNESCO, the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, and Interpol. This initiative aims to strengthen the political determination of member countries to take the necessary steps to shut down the illicit trade. The five partners have committed to a multifaceted campaign focusing on three aspects:

  • Preventing the destruction and illicit trafficking of cultural property
  • Interdicting the transit and transfer of cultural property
  • Cutting off financing of organized crime and terrorism

The Antiquities Coalition is honored to be working with Italy, Jordan, and the United Nations on this important effort.

As a special guest, Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), joined the proceedings by video to announce the arrest of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a senior member of the Ansar Dine, a terrorist group with connections to Al-Qaeda. He is charged with the intentional destruction of religious and/or historical monuments in Mali. This case sets a precedent as the first time that destruction of heritage is being treated as a crime of war by the ICC.

This event was followed on September 29 by another major program, in which the State Department, brought together law enforcement officials from the FBI, UNODC, and the Department of Homeland Security at the Metropolitan Museum. For the first time, U.S. law enforcement provided extensive (and recently declassified) evidence of how ISIS is benefitting from the trafficking of antiquities. The extremist organization is actively promoting plunder for profit by granting permits for new digs and taxing the sales, as well as raiding archaeological sites, museums and warehouses. These officials confirmed that the United States is one of the largest markets for these blood antiquities.

Even more importantly, they put the arts community on notice that the federal government is cracking down on illicit sales, and will take severe action against those that are knowingly supporting terrorism through the purchase of blood antiquities.

Heads of state also reconfirmed their commitment to fighting against the intentional destruction and trafficking of heritage. As part of the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, members reiterated their support for cutting off sources of funding for extremist groups. The development of an informal Public-Private Partnership to protect antiquities in Syria and Iraq was also announced, although details are limited on the partnership at this stage.

Lastly, no greater authority than Pope Francis, the unparalleled star of the past week, noted in his speech before the United Nations,

“…regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East North Africa and other African countries where Christians together with other cultural or ethnic groups and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship their cultural and religious heritage their houses and property and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives or by enslavement.”

Political will to take action is one of the critical elements to successfully halt the trafficking of blood antiquities. A significant step forward has been taken this week in raising the profile on this heinous crime – as well as some initial steps towards cracking down on those who allow it to continue. The Antiquities Coalition is inspired by this week’s progress, but there is still a significant challenge ahead of us in bringing a halt to this activity. We encourage all of you to join us in this fight in any way that you can. And please don’t buy blood antiquities.

Please sign our Call to Action

Pop-Cultural Heritage: The Daily Show, ISIS, and Looted Antiquities


Pop-Cultural Heritage: The Daily Show, ISIS, and Looted Antiquities
By: Katie A. Paul – 1 October 2015

Trevor Noah Screen shot

Popular culture is no stranger to archaeology. The subject has made its way into some of America’s favorite movies, TV shows and video games. But archaeology has most often been referenced in popular culture as a novelty, and much of that is a result of its most famous pop-culture icon, Indiana Jones. Although times have changed since Harrison Ford made the fedora famous, the portrayal of archaeologists in popular culture and the work that they do has not. But archaeology has evolved since the days of ‘Indy’ chasing Nazis and with it the nature of heritage crimes. With the growing instability in the Middle East and beyond culture is under threat now more than ever. Enter: The Daily Show.

NCIS screen shot with caption

Saving culture under threat doesn’t require whips or involve running from boulders (let’s be honest, real archaeology never did), and donning the fedora is optional but not necessary. What is necessary for protecting heritage is an intimate understanding of the complex social, political and economic circumstances of countries in crisis. As global politics becomes increasingly complex the general public is less likely to follow the continuous stream of conflict news, let alone the way it is affecting their history and heritage.

The Daily Show on Comedy Central has built its reputation on comedy that informs and engages. The impact that The Daily Show and satirical talk shows have on the public’s knowledge of current events should not be underestimated. In fact, a study conducted in 2014 revealed that viewers of American satirical talk shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are not only more informed than the average consumer of televised news, but are among the most informed and knowledgeable viewers on politically related topics.

As the former host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart was-well known for his charismatic ability to break down even the most convoluted of Middle East issues in terms that those who are lucky enough to have escaped the juggernaut of current-events-junkyism could understand. Although there has been a changing of the guard at The Daily Show’s, its impact on the public’s knowledge of the complicated Middle East has not. On Tuesday evening, new host Trevor Noah dove head first into the atrocities of ISIS. He brought attention to the issue of conflict antiquities that until now, has only been a topic of interest among the archaeological community and more recently, the press. ISIS loyalists have engaged in extensive cultural racketeering, systematically looting antiquities as a means of funding their terror campaign. Recent reports from the State Department regarding the US raid on ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf’s compound reveal clear evidence of a well-established antiquities trafficking network. What is equally troubling, or at least what should be troubling to the American public, is that one of the largest consumer markets for illicit antiquities is the United States. The American antiquities market is funding the very terror group the US government is seeking to eradicate.


But despite the constant stream of conflict-related news coming out of the Middle East, it’s still unlikely that the public would take notice of the details of ISIS financing in their daily digital digest. The average online shopper is largely unaware of the surging illicit antiquities market ISIS has syphoned for financing before browsing on eBay or scrolling through Twitter and Facebook (all sites where looted antiquities often appear for sale).

On Tuesday (September 29th), The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah introduced his public to ‘blood antiquities’ and shed light on the absurdity of the US consumer market for these trafficked artifacts QVC-style. He blasted the hypocrisy of ISIS funding their efforts through the sale of the very “idolatrous” artifacts they condemn. Noah was able to bring attention to culture under threat the way only a Daily Show host can: highlighting conflict and hypocrisy through pop-culture and humor. With the show’s long-standing track record of informing viewers and influencing real policy, Trevor Noah may have just opened a Pandora’s box of challenges for the art market. The acknowledgement of archaeology in popular culture has come a long way from the adventure fantasies of Indiana Jones. But one thing about heritage hasn’t changed:


*This article originally appeared on Huffington Post on October 1, 2015


PDF of article here

Culture Under Threat and Digital Libraries

Digital code via creative commons

“Terrorists are afraid of history; history delegitimizes them,” Nasser Judeh, deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs of Jordan, said, quoting his son, a graduate student studying ancient Middle Eastern art. It was one of many memorable insights and observations at the well-attended symposium, “Culture under Threat: The Security, Economic, and Cultural Impact of Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing,” held in New York City. Adjunct to the United Nations General Assembly, the symposium was cosponsored by the Asia Society, UNESCO, the Antiquities Coalition, and the Middle East Institute, and hosted high-level ministers from the Middle East and Northern Africa whose nations have been roiled by cultural terrorism: the theft and illicit sale of cultural artifacts, many of extraordinary artistic and monetary value. The cash generated by the smuggling and illegal sales is used by terrorist group such as ISIS to purchase weapons and ammunition, and to pay for recruiting more mercenaries. Our cultural heritage is thus exploited for murder.

In addition to His Excellency Judeh were Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs; Julie Bishop, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs; Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Iraq’s minister for foreign affairs; Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, permanent representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the U.N.; Chan Tani, Cambodia’s secretary of state; and Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, among others. Presiding over much of the morning’s discussions was Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. The seniority of the national representatives was itself testimony to the urgency of the meeting and its topic. Director-General Bokova articulated early in the proceedings the importance of the term “cultural cleansing.” ISIS and other terrorist groups methodically and strategically attempt to wipe out the cultural legacy of the Middle East, analogous to ethnic cleansings and the Holocaust of the twentieth century.  Stone tablets, beautiful mosaic tiles, 5,000 year-old clay figurines, rare books and manuscripts, and built structures including churches, synagogues, and selected mosques are demolished or find their way piecemeal to upscale antiquities dealers in London, New York, or Hong Kong.

The ministers recounted some of the harrowing events in their region, and presented a more sweeping degree of destruction and theft than is commonly realized. Matthew Bogdanos, the assistant district attorney in Manhattan in charge of pursuing illicit antiquities sales and trafficking, spoke eloquently about the complexity of the “supply chain” of stolen art and the many international regulations that make prosecution difficult. One of the goals of the symposium was thus to raise awareness of this threat, to work together to confront the violation of our collective cultural legacy, and to staunch the loss.

The second half of the morning’s deliberations was opened to the invited guests drawn from a wide spectrum of organizations and perspectives; their comments and observations made for a nuanced, sophisticated conversation. This session was framed by the rubric “Innovative Solutions.” Recommendations included resurrecting the Allied Monuments Men corps that helped secure looted art in World War II; creating a brigade of Archeologists Without Borders, modeled on Médecins Sans Frontières; designation of a nongovernmental organization to prepare risk assessments and emergency heritage planning for interested nations in the Middle East; deploying much stronger military force in threatened cultural sites; establishing an international relief fund; and various high- tech tracking and monitoring projects.

I argued for the formation of an international effort to develop a Digital Library for the Middle East, which would include high-resolution images, rich metadata, and tracking software for border control and inventory audits. A digital library at this scale would help reveal the region’s cultural heritage as a means to inhibit the looting of objects that are currently unknown or untracked, and over time also encourage scholarship and interest in this rich, foundational culture for future generations once the crisis has passed. National and international funding agencies have expressed interest in the concept of a Digital Library for the Middle East, and CLIR and the Antiquities Coalition are pursuing those leads.

Representatives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institute, World Monuments Fund, and J. Paul Getty Trust; faculty members in international affairs, comparative literature, and classics; archeologists; staff from Christie’s Auction House; a former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts: all combined to create a multifaceted interpretation of the crisis and to offer a spectrum of organizational and individual support to address it.

It was most gratifying to represent CLIR at this seminal event. As the meeting unfolded I thought about what the CLIR and DLF constituency can contribute to annul this regional upheaval and violent, ideological cleansing. We do not have guns, we do not wear blue helmets, and the gavel of an international court is beyond our reach. What we do have is an extraordinary depth of expertise in digital technologies and an appreciation of the inherent democracy of a well-designed digital library; we have an abiding commitment to the preservation of and access to our cultural legacy; and we share a belief in the integrity of history as a defining principle of our humanity.

 Charles Henry is the President of the Council on Library and Information resources (CLIR).

This article is cross posted from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Blog Post “Culture Under Threat and Digital Libraries”

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