As we like to point out every now and then, the primary mission of The Oklahoman’s editorial page is to protect the paper’s friends (a.k.a. The Oklahoma City conservative political establishment) and ruthlessly attack its enemies (a.k.a. Not Oklahoma City conservative political establishment). Yes, that’s something you can probably say about any local media outlet, and probably explains why we still haven’t covered the PED scandal rocking the upcoming Night Trips Pole Olympics, but it’s worth pointing out.
Knowing the paper’s biases and mission like we do, I was curious to see how the mysterious Oklahoman editorial board would handle the news of their wealthy, conservative pals at Hobby Lobby being fined $3-million for attempting to smuggle ancient Middle East artifacts into the country.
Naturally, the paper lauded Hobby Lobby’s “commendable effort” to preserve historical artifacts, blamed government regulations and laws, and even suggested we change international antiquities laws.
IN their commendable effort to preserve Bible artifacts, officials with Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby recently ran afoul of regulations regarding the import of historic items.
The antiquities market in the Middle East is notoriously opaque, and it’s difficult for even the most scrupulous individuals to determine how a seller came into possession of items. No one doubts that the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, acted in good faith.
Yeah, that’s it. “No one doubts” the Green family acted in good faith. Who cares that an expert told Hobby Lobby in 2010 that the artifacts they acquired were probably stolen from Iraq, or that Hobby Lobby intentionally mislabeled valuable artifacts as clay tile samples in an effort to skirt customs and international trade laws, it was all just an innocent mistake. They’re good Christian people, and would never intentionally break the law or loot some other country’s valuable treasures.
Here’s some more:
A bigger question generated by this incident, raised recently by Pennsylvania attorney Kyle Sammin, is whether existing regulations regarding antiquities still serve the public good.
Writing at The Federalist, Sammin argues, “Western governments ought to consider whether the Middle East is the best place for irreplaceable antiquities when leaving them there keeps them in the firing line of the next version of the Taliban or al-Qaeda to sweep those countries. Given jihadists’ tendency to burn, smash, or dynamite anything that doesn’t comport with their narrow view of Islam, most artifacts are almost certainly safer in the Smithsonian or the British Museum than they are in Baghdad or Mosul. Western nations should change their laws to encourage this trade, not block it.”
That’s a great idea, which is why I think we should take all the valuable items at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History and give them to Texas for safe keeping. The last thing we’d want is our priceless Oklahoma treasures to be destroyed in an oil and gas industry sponsored man-made earthquake.
But seriously, I bet the average Iraqi citizen would totally be fine with this. Would you rather keep valuable historic artifacts in your own country and risk having them stolen or destroyed by your own people, or would you rather give them to Western invaders who have destroyed your country and way of life for safekeeping? Easy answer, right?
Current U.S. policies, arising in part from a 1970 United Nations convention, are designed to keep artifacts in their country of origin for the most part. The idea behind those policies is understandable: People with the strongest cultural connections to artifacts should have the opportunity to preserve them in their own museums and institutions.
Yet as Sammin notes, this policy has allowed priceless artifacts to be destroyed in many instances in recent years.
The most famous example occurred in 2001 when the Taliban used explosives to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas, massive statues built into a hillside that had been in Afghanistan since the sixth or seventh century.
Wow. What a relevant point. If it wasn’t for those pesky damn regulations, we could have moved the gigantic Buddha statues that were carved into a hillside into a museum for protection! That would make Indiana Jones proud! Also, does anyone know if the touring Mt. Rushmore exhibit will be stopping in Oklahoma City this Fall? I don’t have time to visit the Dakotas, and it would be nice to finally see the monument in person.
Sammin notes those statues could not have been exported, because of their size, but their destruction highlighted the extremist attitudes some groups hold towards such historic items.
In 2012, Sammin points out, an al-Qaida-linked group targeted Timbuktu, which is home to libraries of unique centuries-old manuscripts. The group vowed to destroy the items, and managed to burn some manuscripts before the Malian government retook the city. The destroyed items had survived for centuries prior to the 2012 incident and the oldest may have dated to 1204.
“Unlike the Bamiyan Buddhas, these works could have been removed to be studied and digitally imaged in safer environs,” Sammin wrote. “Leaving them in Mali was culturally sensitive, but ultimately counterproductive.”
Yep, leaving artifacts in their country of origin was counterproductive. If only Hobby Lobby could have smuggled them into the country to display in their private artifact collection, maybe the rest of the world could have truly appreciated them.