Friday, July 07, 2017

"Christian" Hobby Lobby May Have Funded Al Qaeda and ISIS

The so-called “Christian” company Hobby Lobby, infamous for denying women employees access to birth control, has been caught red-handed smuggling ancient artifacts out of the Middle East:
The packages that made their way from Israel and the United Arab Emirates to retail outlets owned by Hobby Lobby, the seller of arts and craft supplies, were clearly marked as tile samples.

But according to a civil complaint filed on Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, they held something far rarer and more valuable: ancient clay cuneiform tablets that had been smuggled into the United States from Iraq
Ever since George W. Bush invaded Iraq, it has been known that Al Qaeda (and more recently ISIS) have been profiting from illicit trade in cultural artifacts. This has been widely reported for at least a decade, such as in this article from Fox News in 2008:
The smuggling of stolen antiquities from Iraq's rich cultural heritage is allegedly helping finance Iraqi extremist groups, according to the U.S. investigator who led the initial probe into the looting of Baghdad's National Museum.

Last month, Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos claimed both Sunni insurgents such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and Shiite militias were receiving funding from the trafficking.
Or this article from 2014:
The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — the Islamic extremist group that swept through Northern Iraq last month — is now considered to be the wealthiest terrorist organization in the world, with $2.2 billion in assets. While bank heists have recently gained the group millions, they have also raked in massive profits from a less conventional source: the billion-dollar black market in ancient artifacts. 
Or this article about ISIS smuggling artifacts out of Iraq through Israel from Haaretz in 2016:
About six months ago, Interpol and UNESCO announced a worldwide operation to seize antiquities looted from Iraq. Israel participated in this effort, and IAA inspectors searched antiquities shops in Jerusalem’s Old City and elsewhere.

Hundreds of items were seized in these searches, including clay tablets with cuneiform writing, figurines and incantation bowls (inscribed with curses or oaths that were used in certain rituals). The courts recently approved their confiscation by the state, and Klein said the goal is eventually to return them to the Iraqi government via an international agency.
The New York Times headline reads “Hobby Lobby Agrees to Forfeit 5,500 Artifacts Smuggled Out of Iraq” and it doesn't mention that extremist terrorist groups are the most likely source of illicit artifacts. That's because they can't document a direct line from the terrorists to Israel to Hobby Lobby, and they're a reputable news organization that doesn't traffic in speculation.

Fox News didn't mention the terrorist connection either, instead making this misleading claim to whitewash the crime:
Beginning in the summer of 2010, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green allegedly expressed interest in buying thousands of artifacts — including tablets written in cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing — from Israeli antiquities dealers based in the United Arab Emirates.
But even if Hobby Lobby bought from Israeli brokers, the Israelis almost certainly got them from Al Qaeda in Iraq or some other extremist group, as indicated in the Haaretz story and as Fox News themselves noted in 2008. But you can be sure they would mention extremists if George Soros had bought the stolen artifacts.

The Fox News article concludes with this:
"Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book," [Hobby Lobby president Steve] Green said.
In other words, committing crimes and financing terrorists is fine if you're a Christian.

But the thing is, cuneiform tablets are not Christian artifacts -- most predate Christianity by thousands of years. Most of them are records of business transactions or granary inventories: Christians typically want them to search for places or names of biblical figures in an attempt to "prove" the stories in the Old Testament are "real."

Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million dollars and must forfeit the artifacts. But this was just a civil case, even though a New York gallery owner was arrested and charged for trafficking in stolen antiquities just last December. A smuggler in New Mexico faces a 20-year prison sentence for taking artifacts out of Pakistan. But he was a Muslim named Ijaz Khan.

You can see the bias in Fox News reporting in the following headline: "Dem rep calls for criminal prosecution of Hobby Lobby boss over smuggled ancient tablets". This is false.

Democrat Joaquin Castro had issued the following tweet: "Extraordinary. Hobby Lobby's president illegally smuggled 144 artifacts into the U.S. and yet no hint of criminal prosecution."

Castro didn't call for prosecution: he knows there isn't a chance in hell that Trump-controlled ICE will prosecute their big donors. But a headline that reads "Dem rep expresses exasperation that wealthy right-wing business owners can break the law with impunity and get away with a slap on the wrist" just doesn't play well on Fox News.

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