-Remarks as prepared-
WASHINGTON—Today, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, joined Representative Ed Royce, Chairman of the Committee, in a ceremony to unveil a recreation of the Arch of Palmyra on the National Mall. The Arch of Palmyra was destroyed by ISIL in Syria. Rep. Engel delivered the following remarks:
“I’m so pleased to be here with my friend, Chairman Ed Royce. As the leader of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has made sure that we are the most bipartisan committee in Congress. I’ll be sad to see him go, but I’m proud of the many legislative achievements we have made together, as a team.
“One of those accomplishments that I’m particularly proud of is the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act. I authored this bill with Chairman Royce—President Obama signed it into law—and it’s the sort of thing that flies under the radar, but can make a big difference.
“Leading up to the passage of that bill, we had seen videos of ISIS and other extremist groups taking sledgehammers to ancient monuments and weapons of war to ancient civilizations.
“Now, tragic as these scenes were, we saw them alongside pictures of innocent people being slaughtered. So people would ask me, ‘Why should we care about these ancient artifacts when people are losing their lives?’
“Because there was another element to this. We learned that whatever ISIS could get their hands on before they smashed the rest to smithereens, they were peddling on the black market. They were selling these priceless, irreplaceable parts of history to help finance their campaign of violence.
“So, I reached out to Ed and we put our heads together and came up with this bill. If ISIS was profiting from this looting and exploitation, that was a place we could clamp down. This law slapped on tough new requirements to track and stop trafficking in looted artifacts. We sought to cut off a funding stream for these extremists.
“But I understand, and I know Ed does as well, that it’s not enough just to deny ISIS the profits they reaped from this destruction. When ISIS soldiers swung those sledgehammers, it wasn’t a random act of vandalism. It was a deliberate campaign to rewrite world history.
“From the Tomb of Jonah in Mosul to Yazidi shrines in Sinjar, ISIS decimated the very sites that preserved a record of the region’s rich and diverse past. ISIS tried to rewrite history.
“The Triumphal Arch of Palmyra occupies a special place in that prolific history. For nearly 2,000 years, throughout the ages of human civilization, this distinctive piece of architecture stood strong as cultures, religions, regimes came and went in the progression of human history. When we look at this beautiful arch, we are seeing through the eyes of ancient civilizations. It’s extraordinary.
“That’s why I am so pleased to be here celebrating the tremendous work of the Oxford Institute of Digital Archaeology in recreating this masterpiece. The thugs of ISIS destroyed the physical arch. But we will not allow them to take that profoundly important piece of human history away from us… away from the people of Syria. This recreation honors this part of our world’s heritage.
“By being here today, we stand shoulder to shoulder, our voices as one. We will not let terrorists erase history. We are in solidarity with the people of Syria, who have been subjected to such unimaginable horror by ISIS and the Assad regime.
“This disgusting tactic didn’t start with ISIS. Throughout history, groups have used the destruction of historical sites as a tool for spreading terror and rewriting history. In Afghanistan, the Taliban wiped out the Bamiyan [bahm-YAN] Buddhas in March of 2000. During the Holocaust, the Nazis systematically targeted Jewish property as part of their effort to wipe out an entire race.
“Just as it didn’t start with ISIS, it won’t end with them either.
“So, we need to stay vigilant. We need to stay committed to preventing this barbarity from occurring. We should continue enforcing and updating critical laws like the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.
“And we must remain dedicated to remembering those cultural masterpieces that ISIS destroyed. Projects like this recreation of the Arch of Palmyra are a critical way to celebrate these iconic pieces and keep them very much alive and present in our collective consciousness.
“I’m proud to be here today honoring this extraordinary endeavor. Thank you.”
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