Art antiquities represent significant cultural symbols that were preserved from the past. These antique items serve to store historical information about certain cultures that may still exist in the present times or existed formerly in the past. Preservation of antique things can help to be sure that future generations will be able to understand and appreciate different prehistoric cultures and the important messages carried by them through history. To preserve cultural objects physically it is very important to authenticate these objects and other archaeological artifacts. Moreover, to make sure that some specific objects are protected it is necessary to keep them in specially selected locations such as museums. As a result, such items become readily available for everyone, so the information about ancient cultures is appreciated as more understandable. Nowadays the preservation of antiquities in public places has not achieved its intended target. Places, where the artifacts were supposed to be protected from the outside dangers and damaging, have been subjected to physical attacks regardless of the country. Unfortunately, an unprecedented form of looting of antiquities has occurred mostly in the unstable countries with high crime rates, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria commonly known as ISIS. The increase in looting activities and the destruction of cultural and historic sites continues mainly because of the political instability and war present in these countries, and it is difficult to separate the two issues. The looting and destruction of antiquities propagated by ISIS were purposely created as a method of increasing their financial strength during the war period and not as a struggle against cultural identity or religion.
The conflicts between the government and ISIS have resulted in significant losses of not only people but also houses and museums. A recently released video showed the damage that the fight had caused in Damascus. The walls of the museums that once preserved the essential historic and cultural elements, were destroyed together with the artifacts. After such terrible destructions, ISIS took control of that building looting the antiquities and selling them for the highest prices. Rebels used that money for financing their military operations, and at the same time, taking control of the fallen cultural sites they were trying to show their power to the opponents. This is not the only city that has witnessed such kind of destructive activities, for example, Palmyra faced a similar fate. Another example is the Egyptian mummy, as well as other artifacts of Islamic origin, once were destroyed or sold off. If the terrorist organization intended to preserve the culture, it would have never destroyed any other object related to it. Additionally, after the terrorist groups have taken over the certain cultural place, such as those in Palmyra, they have been turned and repurposed to serve for other actions. A good example is the usage of such places as the centers for prisoners execution. This form of destruction shows the real intentions of these terrorists. The occupation of museums and other historically important places makes it difficult for other countries to attack and eliminate groups such as ISIS since assaulting them would mean further destruction of the cultural heritage. According to the reports from RAND Corporation, looting and selling of antiquities remain to be the third income generator for ISIS right after the oil business and natural gas distribution as well as their cash reserves. Stolen antique objects are sold everywhere across Europe and the United States for millions of dollars and the money is used to recruit professional assassins to fight for them in the war. These fighters are more ruthless than the ordinary soldiers or rebels and when they are not paid, the only alternative is to sell the antiquities present in the country. The elimination of ISIS leaders does not reduce the activities of the group as they always regroup and focus on pillaging more and more to sustain their activities.
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The Congress of the United States hopes to pass a law that restricts the distribution of cultural heritage of any country mainly if it was stolen after the year 2011. This move aims to reduce the number of people buying looted antiquities and to cut the financial support of this terrorist group. The UN Security Council passed similar regulations calling for coordinated efforts against the illicit trade of antiquities coming from Syria. The main aim is to affect two main issues. First, this will significantly reduce the destructions and plundering of the historic places, as it will be difficult to sell them in other parts of the world and secondly, the group will starve financially. The passing of the UN resolution and the plan created by the United States Congress may reduce the level of devastation of cultural heritage by ISIS.
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Another claim propagated by ISIS on why some of the cultural artifacts have to be destroyed is the notion that they represent idols that contradict their religion. It is important to note that the Islamic religion does not support the destruction of antiquities belonging to other traditions. A good example from history is when one of the Muslim Caliphs, Umar captured Egypt. No Egyptian antiquity was destroyed during this period. Furthermore, churches in Jerusalem were not destroyed and the monks were left to stay there. Nowadays narratives propagated by some of the ISIS followers in most videos posted online state that the Prophet Muhammad was against such idols and symbols. However, this information cannot collaborate with any other source. Contradicting to their propaganda one of the destroyed antique places known as the Assyrian Lamassu is quite similar to what Prophet Muhammad rode while moving to Jerusalem from Mecca during one of his night journeys. This shows the level of insincerity in the destruction of antiquities that also proves the main reason, which in this case is politically motivated and has nothing to do with their religion.
The ramifications of looting and destructions of antiquities are very grave. Historical objects are the important symbol of cultural heritage passed on from one generation to another. Without some of these symbols and artifacts, people would not be able to understand the history of the world fully. Most antiquities presented in Palmyra were classified as UNESCO heritage that means they are representing a specific period of history and culture. The most prominent example, in this case, is the Roman culture that existed centuries ago. Without their culture and documented sources, this culture was more likely to be lost. The future generation that comes a hundred years from now may have no information about the Romans. Some of the artifacts have not been fully studied since some were recently discovered. In case they are destroyed, there will be serious gaps in information related to certain ancient cultures. Discovered artifacts provide clues that need must be filled together with the previous studies’ information.
Ancient artifacts are important factors in sustaining global cultural heritage as they are the fundaments of the modern world. . Most of the current cultures were copied from old nations while others occurred as a result of mixing certain cultures. Ideally, it means that some of the practices in current are rooted in ancient times. By investigating different cultures, people will be able to understand certain behaviors and differences between specific nations. Moreover, people will be also able to appreciate and understand what separates the world cultures from each other. Sometimes, the same culture and traditions can be practiced by people on different continents and sometimes ancient artifacts are the only link between the cultures all over the globe. Once they are destroyed, the connection between different cultures may be lost. That is why it is important to preserve and study ancient artifacts since they provide relevant information about the modern world.
In conclusion, it is important that the international community comes together and stops the looting and destruction of antiquities as they provide relevant information about the cultural heritage of different groups that existed in ancient times. It is also important that the war in countries such as Syria and Iraq is stopped since it provides a platform for looting and destruction of different antique objects and places at an alarming rate. The United States should be at the forefront to stop the plundering and to preserve peace. At the same time, Iraq and Syria nations are also responsible for preserving their history and culture. The preservation of their antiquities will save the cultural heritage and useful historical information. At the same time, future generations will have a platform to learn more about their past. If this particular fight is to be won, then such actions have to be introduced everywhere.