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  •  The artifacts are basically hostages.  The question is, is it ever alright to pay for the release of a hostage.   

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  • This article is highly misleading and quotes other articles whose sources it clearly hasn't checked. The only primary source evidence for how much money ISIS has made from looting antiquities in Syria is the documentary evidence seized by US Special Forces during the Abu Sayyaf raid in May 2015. That puts the total raised from May 2014-May 2015 at somewhere under $4m, and that figure also covers the extraction of metals and minerals.

    The World Customs Organisation's latest report says that no reliable figures exist but that looting revenues come way down the list from illicit drugs and arms sales. It also notes that whatever revenues were being made by ISIS from looting antiquities must be falling because of their lack of access to sites. 

    Regarding the 134% jump in declared antiques imported from Syria in 2013, quoted here: firstly, not all of these came from Syria; they included Syrian artefacts that came from other countries too. Secondly, many of those would have belonged to Syrians fleeing the fighting, just as refugees take their valuables with them. Here we are four years on: how many of these items have been seized as looted or stolen? How many prosecutions have there been on the back of this or on any other investigation in the US? The answer, so far, seems to be zero.

    In September 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a $5m fund to reward anyone helping to interrupt funding for ISIS via oil, antiquities and other sources. How much of that reward money has been claimed or paid out? This question has now been asked numerous times, yet not one single announcement has ever been made.

    At the Asia Society symposium in New York on September 16 last year, Mark Taplin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the State Department's Bureau of Educational Culture, was directly asked about how many prosecutions had taken place. He could not cite a single one but said that investigations were "definitely going on... and we'll see how they develop". Since then, silence.

    The $36m figure mentioned comes from an unnamed source in a Guardian article and refers to all looting in the province, as well as other sources of income, not just the value of antiquities looting. It is utterly unsubstantiated. Likewise, the $100m estimate for the value of looted antiquities benefiting ISIS is entirely guesswork. Other guesses have put the same figure at anywhere between $10m and $7bn. All are utterly spurious and without foundation. The FBI has recently revised its figures for all global art crime – not just that involving antiquities – down from $6bn-$8bn to $4bn-$6bn yet still gives no source for this guesstimate.

    Interpol, the leading international law enforcement agency, cites the following on its FAQ page under Works of Art Crime section of its website:

    Is it true that trafficking in cultural property is the third most common form of trafficking, after drug trafficking and arms trafficking?

    "We do not possess any figures which would enable us to claim that trafficking in cultural property is the third or fourth most common form of trafficking, although this is frequently mentioned at international conferences and in the media.

    In fact, it is very difficult to gain an exact idea of how many items of cultural property are stolen throughout the world and it is unlikely that there will ever be any accurate statistics. National statistics are often based on the circumstances of the theft (petty theft, theft by breaking and entering or armed robbery), rather than the type of object stolen.

    An enhanced information exchange could assist INTERPOL in determining the importance as well as the trends and patterns of this type of crime."

    So much rubbish and hype has been written on the subject of looted antiquities that attention and resources have been diverted from where they are really needed – in protecting archaeological sites on the ground – to attempting to tackle problems that simply don't exist. Of course we need to control borders and watch out for looted material arriving, but if it is doing so in the flood that all these media reports claim, why have there been no proseuctions at all on this front? That includes in the US, UK and mainland Europe. Huge publicity given to the seizure of South East Asian looted material in the US – note the Nancy Wiener and Subash Kapoor cases – indicates that similar seizures and arrests linked to Syrian and Iraqi material would be given equal media coverage... and yet nothing at all. 

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    • I realize this is now (mid-July 2017), rather later than the original posts, but I would like to bring up the Hobby Lobby case. I think the market HL was looking at are the same people who would decry "terrorist funding via looted art sales." How was this possible? My guess is one needs to look back to the relic selling in the early Medieval/Crusader era, when soldiers (knights) bought or "requisitioned" things that subsequently appeared in Europe. There have been a few cases of looting (but maybe "not fully provenanced buys" might be a more accurate term) from Iraq since 2003, but numbers and values have been quite low. It is difficult to sell a recognized, looted masterpiece (note that the fellow who stole the Mona Lisa kept it under his bed for many years), particularly in the age of the internet. But then one gets big numbers about ISIS or IS benefitting. It is not impossible, as Hobby Lobby shows with their likely overpriced purchase of likely minor things from Middle Eastern "dealers", but "another sucker" doesn't mean the money ISN'T going to the Islamic State. How could HL, a "Christian" company supporting "traditional" views be so foolish? IS wasn't destroying these things, only the big stuff that attracted attention, so why was HL so "hot-to-trot" on this minor stuff? And what else was going on that we haven't heard about yet? What did the owners of HL buy? If you think there wasn't some sort of special deal for the purchasers, I think you have misunderstood Middle Eastern economic practices. Yes, Wiener and Kapoor were buying Indian art, but this is where there is a government that pursues purchasers of "national treasures" (whether these were or not might be debatable). I am pretty sure that the HL purchases were of also minor things, but it is the trail of ownership (and where the money goes) that is most important. In this case, it appears that Hobby Lobby was seriously deficient, and worse than anyone else. How did that happen to a "Christian" business?

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