The Destruction of Cultural Heritage Should be a War Crime

February 27, 2015 9:42 PM

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The Destruction of Cultural Heritage Should be a War Crime

It turns out that the news isn’t as bad as it first appeared. On Thursday, Islamic State posted a five-minute video of men destroying ancient Mesopotamian sculptures in the Mosul Museum, Iraq’s second-largest museum, with sledgehammers and power tools. Their stated reason was that these works of art promoted idolatry. It was a sickening sight—more than one person I know couldn’t bear to watch the footage—and quickly elicited public denunciations from cultural leaders such as Thomas P. Campbell, director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova.

But later that day a University College, London archaeologist told Britain’s Channel 4 News that the metal reinforcing bars visible poking out of some of the fragments lying on the floor indicated that some of the targeted statues were plaster replicas of works that had previously been evacuated to ...

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