by Kate Fitz Gibbon
June 9, 2016 – In May 2016, President Obama signed a bill into law restricting importation of Syrian antiquities. The Antiquities Coalition and other anti-art trade interest groups had pummeled Congress for months with allegations that looted art provided billions of dollars to fund terrorists in order to pass H.R. 1493/S.1887, The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.
Now that Congress has passed the Act, a University of Chicago study, funded in part by the Antiquities Coalition itself, has demolished those same claims. In doing so, the report raises serious questions about the factual basis of other attempts to influence Congress and the public.
The study also completely undercuts the Antiquities Coalition’s “Culture Under Threat Task Force Report,” which argues that everyone from the National Security Council to the Peace Corps should become culture cops in order to fight the menace of the so-called billion dollar antiquities trade.
Fiona Rose-Greenland is principal investigator for the MANTIS project (Modeling the Antiquities Trade in Iraq and Syria) and a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Chicago. Her conclusion:
“ISIS is likely to have earned several million dollars in profit since launching its looting program… That’s a far cry from $7 billion.”
And that’s worldwide. In her May 30, 2016 article “Inside ISIS’ looted antiquities trade,” published in The Conversation, Dr. Rose-Greenland says:
“And yet, patchy data and methodological challenges do not fully explain why $7 billion fell to $4 million in public discussions about the ISIS antiquities trade. What’s really going on here, I think, can be explained in two ways. First, there is an overactive collective imagination about how much art is actually worth… This, in turn, motivates governments and other groups opposed to the Islamic State to describe their actions in attention-grabbing terms. It’s a lot easier to call for action against a $7 billion crime than a $4 million one. While market mystique and over-the-top plot lines are fine for Hollywood films and adventure novels, it’s no way to understand terrorist finance, and without that understanding we are unlikely to arrive at genuine and lasting solutions.”
Dr. Rose-Greenland is correct. Lasting solutions must be based on fact, not fantasy. For over a year, the Committee for Cultural Policy has been telling Congress – and anyone else who would listen – that the numbers provided by organizations supporting H.R. 1493 were absurdly high, there was no multi-billion dollar illegal trade in ancient artifacts, and there was no evidence of any looted Syrian artifacts reaching the US.
As we wrote in November 2015, “It is inexcusable that badly researched, unsupported claims about non-existent US sales supposedly benefiting ISIS should distract Congress, the administration, and the American public from the essential task of stopping the true sources of ISIS’ income.”
The study is ongoing and a published report is not yet available. Visit the MANTIS project website for additional information.
This article has first appeared on the Committee for Cultural Policy website. We re-publish it on CoinsWeekly courtesy of Committee for Cultural Policy.