“Next to oil, looting is the best-paying sector for Isis…” admits Michael Danti of the U. S. State Department Syrian Heritage initiative. (“Syria’s Monuments Men” by Bryan Schatz, Mother Jones, May/June 2015, pg. 12.) What the terrorists don’t destroy, they allow looters to carry off for a fee or a khums, as it’s called under “a Shariah provision that requires individuals to pay the state a percentage of the value of any treasure taken from the ground.” (Ibid, pg. 12.) In one province alone this policy has garnered Isis in Syria $36 million dollars. (Ibid, pg 12.)
According to Danti, these artifacts are purchased by dealers who can afford to sit on their treasure for years until the provenance is forgotten. By selling valued artifacts, Isis achieves two objectives. It raises money to buy weapons and it demoralizes a country by robbing it of its cultural heritage. Working against their objectives are Syria’s Monuments Men who, for the past two years, have been risking their lives to salvage treasures in their war torn country. The Obama administration has helped by banning the sale of Syrian art objects.
Despite the best intentions of honorable people, saving Syria’s treasures seems to be a losing game. Still, a perverse good derives from the looters’ work. In their hunger for profits, they are saving antiquities that might be destroyed by the war. Eventually, these treasures will find their way into one of the major museums in the world. Should peace ever come to Syria, a new battle will begin over who owns these cultural pieces. (Blog 2/26/15.)
In the worst of times, the evil that men do may have good outcomes. As I noted in yesterday’s blog, life is not lived in shades of black and white. Ours is a complex world.