Could U.S. Cultural Protection Czar Stop Rampant ISIS Looting?

Smuggled antiquities are the terror group's second-highest source of funding.

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a Syrian policeman patrolling the ancient oasis city of Palmyra. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP Photo via Getty Images.

A new bill, introduced in Washington last week, seeks to curtail the entry of looted Syrian cultural heritage into the US, the Art Newspaper reports. The bill comes in response to news that sales of looted antiquities on the black market has become ISIS’s main funding source, after oil.

A key initiative of the bill would be the creation of a new post, devoted to the protection of endangered cultural patrimony: the cultural property protection czar.

The czar would establish emergency import restrictions, coordinate federal agencies to enforce existing regulations, and provide policy recommendations. He or she would also collaborate with foreign governments, museums, and educational institutions to promote the protection of international cultural property.

“The fight to preserve our common cultural heritage, as well as to deny extremists such as ISIS resources from the sale of blood antiquities, is yet another front on the global war against terror,” the Republican Congressman Chris Smith declared in a press statement last week.

The bill is a rare bipartisan initiative from the otherwise acrimoniously divided US congress. Smith is co-sponsoring the bill alongside the Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel.

The bill is indeed timely. According to a report by the cultural heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire, American imports of Syrian cultural property rose by an astounding 145 percent between 2011 and 2013.

However, the U.S. is not alone in its swift response to the bankrolling of terrorist activities through looted antiquities. Last month, Monika Grütters, Germany’s culture minister, proposed new legislation that will require all cultural goods to have an official export license from their country of origin in order to cross the German border, DW reports. The German law would come into effect in 2016.

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