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New Headaches for the Once-Serene Job of Curator


It used to be that for a quiet, scholarly life, you couldn't beat the job of a museum curator. You could indulge your passion for Sanskrit literature and the like and get paid for it! You went to wine-and-cheese parties -- maybe even traveled the world in search of Nubian pots, Sumatran spiders, or whatever.

But these days, you need a law degree to be a curator. Better yet, you need a good lawyer!

Curators in the United States and other Allied countries found this out when individuals and museums whose collections were looted during World War II began demanding their treasures back. And Native Americans, Africans, and others who object to what they consider the desecration of relics removed from their lands want their objects back, too.

And now comes a complex new headache for curators. The Chicago Tribune newspaper explained it, but you have to pay close attention to follow the logic of it all:

For many years, the militant Palestinian organization Hamas has carried out suicide bombings that have killed Americans, among many others. The victims' survivors want compensation, which Hamas is not about to give.

Iran has helped to fund Hamas. Iran's not paying up, either. So a lawyer representing terrorism victims is demanding that museums that hold Persian artifacts, on loan from Iran, turn them over to victims as payment for the terrorists' deeds.

A federal magistrate in Chicago has already upheld one such request of that city's Field Museum of Natural History. Naturally the museum is appealing. To quote the Tribune, this "tangled web has several American cultural institutions under the gun." We can imagine their curators mumbling to themselves, "Nobody in museum-studies class told us about any of this."

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