Paying for Modern Wars by Looting the Past

The Syrian Government, the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, and others are looting antiquities (e.g. “blood antiquities”) to fund their war efforts in Iraq and Syria. It has become such a standard practice that the sale of illegal antiquities is now being formally taxed by ISIS, and is one of their most reliable revenue streams.

While this is troubling, perhaps it is more troubling, as Prof. Mulder at the University of Texas at Austin points out, that the profiteers are selling their stolen goods to westerners. She writes:

“Calling groups like ISIL “barbarians” makes for a fine sense of wartime superiority, but asking who they’re selling to is less pleasant. For many hand-wringing officials, that market is flourishing uncomfortably close to home. Germany has become the “El Dorado of the illegal cultural artifacts trade”, with Munich serving as Europe’s transit hub. Meanwhile, US imports of Syrian antiquities have risen by 133 percent.”

For those who think that western collectors should purchase these items so they can protect them, Prof. Mulder notes:

“… such sales only serve to encourage looting and drive prices higher on the illicit market. Collectors who imagine they are saving the artifacts from a worse fate delude themselves: Objects summarily ripped from the ground disappear into private collections and lose their ability to speak as material voices of history, robbed of the context that careful excavation by archaeologists and curation by museums can provide. The collecting pays for the looting. And in this case, it also pays for the killing.”

See The Blood Antiquities Funding ISIL

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