The Real Value of the ISIS Antiquities Trade

04 Dec 2015 8:03 AM | Anonymous

The Real Value of the ISIS Antiquities Trade 

One day this fall, at the Metropolitan, home to the largest art collection in the western hemisphere, the museum’s director, Tom Campbell, welcomed a group of archeologists, collectors, dealers, numismatists, and counterterrorism officials. “The network of organizations represented here today are among the great guardians of ancient civilization,” he said. They had gathered to hear a range of speakers, from the Deputy Secretary of State to a regulatory executive at eBay, discuss the looting and destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. Campbell began with a summary of the last thirty-five hundred years of iconoclasm. Then, for nearly thirty seconds, he bowed his head in silence to honor Khaled al-Asaad, a Syrian archeologist born in 1934, whom ISIS fighters publicly beheaded for refusing to disclose the locations of Palmyra’s hidden antiquities.

What ISIS hates, it destroys, and ancient artifacts are no exception. To erase pre-Islamic history, it has employed sledgehammers and drills at a museum in Mosul, explosives at Palmyra, and all of these weapons, plus jackhammers, power saws, and bulldozers, at Nimrud. In one video, a fighter explains that ISIS must smash “these statues and idols, these artifacts,” because the Prophet Muhammad destroyed such things after conquering Mecca, nearly fourteen hundred years ago. “They became worthless to us even if they are worth billions of dollars,” he adds. So, at the Met, many were puzzled when Andrew Keller, a soft-spoken senior official at the State Department, unveiled newly declassified documents proving that ISIS maintains a marginally profitable “antiquities division.”
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