The Islamic State's recent video showing its forces destroying what appear to be priceless antiquities in an Iraq museum has provoked harsh words from the head of the J. Paul Getty Trust, who condemned the attacks but said there is little that can be done outside of military intervention to prevent future acts of cultural pillaging.
"It's outrageous -- it's the destruction of some of the world's greatest antiquities dating back thousands of years. These are objects that truly belong to the world," said James Cuno, president and CEO of the Getty Trust in Los Angeles, in an interview on Friday.
Cuno said that he had seen the five-minute online video that the Islamic State released on Thursday and said that the video appeared to be legitimate.
"It wouldn't be in the interest of ISIL for it to be fake. Anything that is contrary to their beliefs is idolatry," he said. "They appeared to use every attempt to destroy them -- it wasn't a casual activity."
The video shows forces using sledgehammers, drills and other tools to destroy ancient sculptures housed in what some reports have identified as a museum in the city of Mosul, and in a nearby archaeological site. It also shows the forces toppling works of art and smashing them on the ground.
The Getty is one of the world's leading art institutions that is active in the field of conservation. Cuno said there isn't much the U.S. or any other power can do to stop the Islamic State from destroying other cultural artifacts, save for military intervention.
Those who hold political power in a region technically have the right to save or destroy articles in their care, he said. "Whoever is in charge can protect and destroy, and the rest of the world can express outrage," he said.
In 2001, the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed two sixth-century statues of Buddha carved into the side of a cliff. The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan was condemned by international leaders.
The Islamic State is believed to have carried out extensive destruction of cultural sites throughout northern Iraq and Syria.