Friday, July 14, 2006

Playing Politics with Cultural Artifacts

I wanted to pass along this very troubling article from yesterday's LATimes, which discusses a case with tremendous implications for the field of cultural preservation. A federal court has ordered the seizure and sale of a collection of cuneiform tablets (estimated to number between 5,000-10,000) on loan from the government of Iran to the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. The proceeds from that sale would be used to compensate American victims of a 1997 bombing in Israel, who successfully sued Iran for backing the Hamas militants who carried out the attack.

Another federal court hearing on the seizure will be held on Monday; Iran argues that the seizure is not allowable on sovereign immunity grounds. The Justice Department has filed briefs in the case "claiming that the country's national interest would be better-served if the dispute were settled through diplomacy instead of legal action," and the University of Chicago and Field Museum have also intervened on behalf of Iran.

"Museum officials said they worried that turning over the on-loan artifacts could create a chilling effect, and were concerned that nations would curtail their willingness to share priceless objects - and that American artifacts could be at risk of being seized while touring overseas." I have to say that I agree. This ought to be settled in another way, preferably diplomatically - to seize and sell these significant historical artifacts would set a dangerous and unfortunate precedent.