"Hyperallergic," an Internet "forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today" has joined the Committee for Cultural Policy in taking on fantastical claims about ISIS funding itself with looted antiquities, albeit from a far different perspective. Tellingly, the post by archaeologist Michael Press -- though well researched-- avoids the elephant in the room. Who was responsible for "weaponizing" antiquities in the first place? The ISIS killing machine was bad enough to justify military intervention, particularly given its terror threats not only in the region but to Europe and the US as well.
Of course, the answer is quite apparent to
those who represent the interests of collectors, museums and the trade.
It is the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, which worked along with
ASOR, the State Department contractor mentioned in the article, and the
Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded archaeological advocacy group with ties to ASOR, the
Archaeological Institute of America, as well as authoritarian Arab regimes.
These groups were quite successful in laundering their dubious narrative not only through mainstream media (NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CBS,
etc.) but through the foreign policy establishment as well (think tanks and Foreign Policy
Magazine). The goal was threefold. First, getting Congress to pass permanent import restrictions
on Syrian cultural goods (which was achieved through these scare
tactics). Second, creating and funding an "Antiquities Czar"
position that would elevate these groups' influence even further
within the US Government. (A goal that was not realized.) Third, convincing Congress to lower the bar for criminal prosecutions based on foreign cultural patrimony laws. (Another goal that was not realized.) Meanwhile, those representing the interests of collectors, museums and the
trade that raised the exact same issues about the credibility of these fantastical
numbers early on have become targets for abuse from some of the very same individuals Press acknowledges for their contributions in exposing the truth.