Art As Anti-Terrorism

Ancient Persian tablet CBS

On the surface, a 1997 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem shopping center and ancient cuneiform tablets don't have much in common. To understand the connection you need to first meet Daniel Miller, the common denominator, if you will.

On a horrifying September night, he was an 18 year old American exchange student, toasting the Jewish New Year, when all hell broke loose.

"As we raised our glasses a suicide bomber carrying two suitcases filled with shrapnel blew himself up about five feet to our right," Daniel Miller told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. "I looked down at myself and noticed that I had a five inch nail lodged in my calf muscle."

He still carries scars, both physical and emotional. And when he found out the Palestinian bombers who had killed four and injured close to two hundred people that night were trained and funded by Iran, he wanted to make that government pay, reported Bowers.

In all the court systems in all the world there is a general principle of justice of paying for your crimes.

And when Miller and several other survivors went after Iran, a U.S. court agreed to the tune of more than $400 million. When Iran refused to honor the verdict, the plaintiffs started looking for assets to seize and sell. One of the only things of value they found were 2600-year-old Persian tablets on loan to the University of Chicago.

"My jaw dropped," Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, told Bowers. I had never encountered anything like it and I don't think anyone else has encountered anything where a plaintiff has tried to seize items of cultural heritage from another country as compensation."

This case still before the court could set what many see as a dangerous precedent. If there were a chance that cultural and artistic treasures exhibited in this country could be confiscated, would American museums ever have access to antiquities such as the Dead Sea scrolls or the treasures of King Tut?

"It really concerns the whole cultural relations that link countries around the world and diplomatic relations," said Stein.

In an odd juxtaposition the U.S. State Department is backing Iran's rights to the tablets, but Daniel Miller says it's important nations who sponsor terror understand their actions may carry a cost.

"If they hesitated the next time, then these lawsuits could actually save lives," said Miller.

This isn't the first time the tablets have been caught in a conflict. They survived the burning of Persepolis by Alexander the Great. Whether they will survive this latest assault intact remains to be seen.
Cynthia Bowers
  • Alfonso Serrano

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