Friday, February 27, 2015

The Silence of the Ayatollah

Iran's Supreme Leader claims ISIL created by 'wicked British'

Western plot to weaken the Middle East by creating sectarian divisions has spawned the Islamist threat, says Iran

Britain stands accused of creating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) as a tool to undermine and destroy anti-Western governments, Iran's Supreme Leader has declared. Slamming the "wicked British", Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his first major speech in a month to claim Isil was being used against Iran and other Middle Eastern regimes.

In a blow to hopes that the Supreme Leader had softened his suspicion of Britain, Ayatollah Khamenei said the West wanted to promote sectarian divisions in the region. "The evil Britain has created the [Isil] and al Qaeda to confront the Islamic republic and the Islamic awakening," he said. "America, Zionism, and especially the veteran expert of spreading divisions – the wicked government of Britain – have sharply increased their efforts of creating divisions between the Sunnis and Shia." The speech, marking a Shia Muslim religious holiday, was posted on his website, where he has also published video footage showing his recovery from recent surgery.

The comments came as Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was quoted demanding Iran pull back from conflicts and civil wars in Sunni-dominated countries. "Our reservations are about Iran's policy in the region, not about Iran as a country or people," the foreign minister said at a joint press conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "In many conflicts, Iran is part of the problem, not the solution," Prince Saud said, charging that Shia-dominated Iran had forces in Syria "fighting Syrians".


For his part, Khamenei accused the US and Britain of using the action against Isil to divide and control neighbouring states. "A careful and analytic look at the developments reveals that the US and its allies, in efforts that are falsely termed countering [Isil], seek to create division and enmity among the Muslims rather to destroy the root causes of that (terrorist) current," Khamenei said. "Shias and Sunnis must know that any action or remark, including insulting one another, leads to increased sensitivities and ignite flames. This will certainly benefit the common enemy of all Muslims."



It seems incredible that the leader of a civilized nation could attempt to place the blame for the barbaric depredations of ISIL and its antecedent, Al Quaeda, upon the US and Britain. The blame for what ISIL is doing falls upon ISIL. The individuals committing these horrifying atrocities should be condemned outright for their actions. Why did not Iran's Supreme Leader simply say that these evil butchers would surely spend eternity in Jahannam (the Islamic concept of Hell)?

“Recently, some Vatican officials have asked Muslim scholars to condemn the brutal attacks of the extremist group ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) against Christians and the religious minorities in northern Iraq. I urge all the Muslims around the world to condemn such inhumane crimes,” said Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi in his message to Pope Francis. He added that extremist groups, regardless of their religion and nationalities, are the biggest menace to humanity.

Since the ISIL terrorists took control of many regions in the north of Iraq in June, Shiite clerics in Iran and Iraq have in numerous occasions condemned their acts of terrorism and warned that the terrorist group is committing its crimes in the name of Islam and that their heinous actions pose serious threats to the true image of the Muslim world. Iraq’s top cleric, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Sistani, condemned burning alive of a Jordanian pilot by the ISIL terrorists - urging all regional nations as well as the international community to fight the terrorist group.

The religious leadership of Islam has not yet taken a sufficiently unified, outraged stance against ISIL atrocities to effectively repudiate and hopefully deter these crimes, which ISIL seeks to portray as being "in the name of Islam."

Is it really necessary to point out that allowing these terrorists to continue to portray their horrible crimes as being "in the name of Islam" creates danger that non-Muslims may come to believe that Islam is their enemy? Is that not what ISIL really wants, to ignite a religious Armageddon?

ISIL exists because Iraq is a Failed State

The tragedy at the Mosul Museum, the wider (and far more important) tragedy of what is presently happening to Assyrian Christians, the barbaric rampages of ISIL and other disasters in this part of the world have all been caused by inability of the Iraqi government to meet its sovereign responsibilities. Iraq is a clear example of the extreme unwisdom of artificially defining a nation as a geographic entity, without considering ethnic and religious divisions between its inhabitants.

The present Iraqi government exists to protect and advance the interests of Shiite Muslims who are the majority in the southern part of Iraq.

The area in Northern Iraq presently claimed as part of the ISIL "state" is militarily dominated not by jihadist fighters, but by Sunni militias led by former officers of the Hussein regime.

The Sunni tribes who make up much of the population of Northern Iraq have legitimate and very serious grievances against the Shiite government. They appear to prefer the cruel, barbarous iconoclasm of ISIL (which is not directed at them) to systematic oppression by the Shiite government.

It appears very questionable whether a Shiite dominated central government in Iraq can ever gain effective control of the northern areas presently claimed by ISIL. "Iraq" has effectively been partitioned into the Sunni North, part of Kurdistan and the Shiite South.

Who cares about the Mosul Museum? The sad answer is that neither the Shiite government of Iraq, nor the Sunni tribes of Northern Iraq, nor the Kurdish peshmerga (the only effective opposition to ISIL within Iraq) care very much. They have much larger (and more important) problems to deal with than destruction of Assyrian antiquities and the cultural heritage of Assyrian Christians.

It isn't fair or accurate to blame the barbarous rampages of publicity-hungry ISIL jihadists on Shiite or Sunni Iraqis or the Kurds. Iraq has never really been a unified nation, and only overwhelming force (such as that used by Saddam Hussein) has ever succeeded in suppressing its ethnic and religious divisions and ensuing conflicts. The only way to stop these conflicts would be to accept the reality that Iraq has effectively been partitioned, and that Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites have established separate states. That however is not politically correct.

Important foreign interests, including those of the United States and Saudi Arabia, would be adversely impacted by acceptance of a Shiite Iraqi rump state which would effectively aggrandize Iran. Turkey and Iran would oppose emergence of a Kurdish ethnic state. The realities of Mideast power politics will almost certainly prevent a stable political solution from developing until long after the ISIL crisis comes to an end. Meanwhile, the only factor capable of exerting any constructive influence toward curbing the jihadist barbarities of ISIL will be the moral force of religious authorities.

That is why it is essential that every Islamic religious leader should denounce ISIL as a destructive, evil perversion of Islam that all true Muslims should abhor.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The New Barbarians: Islam Perverted

Islamic State video shows militants smashing ancient artifacts in Iraq

It is hard to imagine what these "jihadist" terrorists expect to accomplish by publicizing acts of barbarism such as these.

It is even harder to imagine how "socially disaffected" Muslim youths in Western society can believe that there is any justification in the Quran for destruction and defacement of ancient monuments, bookburning, murders of Middle Eastern Christians and similar crimes against humanity committed, seemingly on a daily basis, by these murderous thugs.

Today President Obama is being criticized for refusing to use the word "Islamic" in describing the barbaric crimes of the so-called Islamic State. Neither President Obama nor this observer believe that there is anything truly "Islamic" about them. Their crimes are in fact gross violations of the principles of Islam.

It is now time for the religious leadership of Islam to make this crystal clear. Every Islamic religious leader, from the Ayatollahs in Iran to the Muftis and Imams in Arabia, should unequivocally denounce the Islamic State movement ("Daesh" to Arabic speakers) as a destructive, evil perversion of Islam that all true Muslims should abhor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Science of Numismatics

While re-shelving books in the spacious new office of Classical Coins, I came across three titles which caught my eye, reminding me that numismatics is much more than a mere hobby, and that collecting ancient coins (and dealing in them) is in reality participation in a long-established science which has made many important contributions to mankind's heritage.

The first of these titles is "Numismatics: An Ancient Science" by Elvira Clain-Stefanelli, former executive director and curator of the Smithsonian Institution's National Numismatic Collection. Originally published as Paper 32 in "Bulletin 229: Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology" by the Smithsonian Institution, it is widely available as an inexpensive 100 page paperback reprint.

Clain-Stefanelli explores and chronicles the origins, evolution and development of coin collecting, starting with the introduction of the term "numismatics" and progressing to Greek art collections (cf. the Cales kylix illustrating a Syracusan dekadrachm), then to the presentation of antique Greek coins as gifts by the Emperor Augustus on festive occasions. She describes the re-emergence of coin collecting during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, and its subsequent development into the distributed science that we know and cherish today. Every collector of ancient coins should acquire and study this fine historical survey.

The second of these titles is "Numismatic Archaeology / Archaeological Numismatics," the proceedings of a conference held in Athens in 1995 to honor Dr. Mando Oeconomodies, published as Oxbow Monograph 75. Now out of print, it is widely available on the used book market. Fifteen papers are included, two in Modern Greek, three in French, one in German and nine in English. They describe the intersection between numismatics and archaeology, ranging from stratigraphic dating to a bronze die thought to have been used in production of the earliest Athenian coinage. As an ensemble, these papers clearly and authoritatively indicate the manner in which systematic study of ancient coins by qualified experts specializing in numismatics has revealed extensive insights into important aspects of daily life, commerce and contemporary political developments during antiquity, extending far beyond mere stratigraphic dating. This illuminating volume is excellent value for the advanced collector interested in exploring the many aspects of numismatic study that progress beyond acquisition and curation of desirable specimens.

The third of these titles is "A Black Sea Hoard of the Late Fifth Century BC" by C. M. Kraay and P. R. S. Moorey, originally published in the Numismatic Chronicle (Volume 141 - 1981) and available as a paperback reprint. It describes a hoard acquired for the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford in 1970, consisting of 78 coins (many fragmentary), 28 ingots and fragments thereof, and a quantity of miscellaneous hacksilber. It is notable for the manner in which the authors tracked down (with the assistance of other numismatists, especially the numismatic firm A. H. Baldwin and Sons) additional specimens thought to have come from the original find, drawing significant inferences regarding coin circulation and commerce in this area of Asia Minor during the last years of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). It is also notable for presenting coins as being only a fraction of currency at that time, hacksilber (silver scrap weighed out during transactions) still being widely current with coins often treated as a type of ornamental silver, to be cut up as necessary to arrive at a specific weight.

Having been trained in the physical sciences, I am constitutionally unable to view ancient coins solely from an aesthetic and historical perspective and have taken an abiding interest in their methods of production, one example of which is the monograph "Lathe Machining of Bronze Coin Flans" - . The study of ancient die-sinking, flan preparation and minting technology is a very absorbing and extensive subject which can richly reward collectors oriented toward this aspect of numismatics.

Don't limit yourself as a collector - think of your avocation as an adventure in science and history, and advance into these fascinating vistas as far as your imagination and inclination toward research and contemplation can carry you.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Collectors Beware: Italian MOU Renewal Pending

The US State Department is now considering renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy, first promulgated in 2001 and subsequently renewed in 2006 and 2011, which restricts importation into the United States of a wide variety of antiquities, including many types of ancient coins struck in Italy.

The State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, under the leadership of archaeologist Maria Kouroupas, has become a willing and enthusiastic collaborator with the anticollecting ideological agenda of the Archaeological Institute of America. Since 2001 the State Department has been systematically working to extend import restrictions on a wide variety of collectible antiquities, which since 2006 has included ancient coins. Knowledgeable observers within the trade believe that the ultimate goal of the AIA is to close down the international antiquities trade, and perhaps even to make private ownership of antiquities illegal.

At present Roman Imperial coins, the most popularly collected ancient coins, have not yet been placed upon the Restricted List. It is widely predicted that unless very strong public opposition emerges, that may change in 2016.

If the relentless expansion of import restrictions is allowed to continue, it will eventually become very difficult (if not impossible) to import ancient coins into the United States. That will cause serious dislocations within the trade, and major problems for collectors of ancient coins in the United States. Since there will not be any restrictions on export of ancient coins from the United States, they will become scarcer and harder to find, and prices will inevitably rise as they leave the country never to return or be replaced.

It is time for US collectors to take a strong stand and summon up a firestorm of public opposition to this usurpation of power by a few radical anticollecting archaeologists and their unelected bureaucratic allies, who have unscrupulously flouted the legislative intent of the 1983 CCPIA implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the United States.

To submit comments electronically, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (, enter the Docket No. DOS-2015-0010-0001, and follow the prompts to submit a comment. (for a direct link see!documentDetail;D=DOS-2015-001.) Please note comments may be posted only UNTIL MARCH 20, 2015 at 11:59 PM. Submit comments yourself and ask friends and family who reside at different addresses to also submit comments.


Peter Tompa, an attorney specializing in cultural property law, has provided very good reference material in his blog:

If you would like to "know your enemy" you can find a good starting point in archaeologist Paul Barford's anticollecting blog:

Mr. Barford's special theme is that while he does not altogether oppose antiquities collecting, he does oppose collecting of (and especially dealing in) unprovenanced antiquities. Mr. Barford snidely describes collectors of ancient coins as "coin fondlers." If you consider that insulting, it is nothing compared to the invective unleashed upon their suppliers: "dealer" in his vocabulary of invective is used with a haughty disdain that suggests such individuals are social outcasts. Perhaps in his far left-wing circle of acquaintances in Warsaw, that may indeed be the case.

If Mr. Barford were in control I am sure that it would become unlawful to collect unprovenanced ancient coins. Every collector should realize that this includes more than 95% of all coins available and that the cost of documenting provenance would be almost prohibitive. I have discussed this here:
The Logistics of Provenance

Please note that Mr. Barford has not accepted the approach discussed there, and no doubt would require something considerably more onerous and expensive.