Week of July 3rd

  • Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts store, has become the subject of a lawsuit concerning 5,500 artifacts that may have been looted from historical sites in Iraq. The evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby have long maintained an interest in the biblical Middle East and in 2009 they began to assemble a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent. In 2010, as a deal for rare cuneiform tablets was being struck, an expert on cultural property law who had been hired by Hobby Lobby warned its executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law. Despite the warning, Hobby Lobby purchased the artifacts for $1.6 million in December 2010. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn filed a stipulation of settlement with Hobby Lobby that requires the company to return all of the pieces and to pay a fine of $3 million, resolving the civil action. Over the years, Hobby Lobby has undertaken numerous efforts to promote evangelical Christianity, producing films with biblical themes, operating a chain of Christian bookstores and creating the Museum of the Bible, set to open in Washington D.C. in November this year.
  • The Afghan version of Sesame Street, Baghch-e-Simsim, has introduced a new character with the hope that young people will see educated girls in a positive light. The new character is the younger brother to the program’s first ever female character, Zari. Zari is a 6 year-old girl who is very bright and studious. By giving her a younger brother who looks up to her and admires her for her knowledge, the producers hope that young people in the country will be influenced by the positive attitude towards girls attending school. Baghch-e-Simsim is the only television show in Afghanistan dedicated to children, so the program has the potential to influence a lot of young people, although, far from every household has the ability to tune in every day. Massood Sanjer, who heads the television network that broadcasts Baghch-e-Simsim, believes that introducing a boy character who not only respects his school-going older sister, but actually wants to be like her, will “indirectly teach the kids to love their sisters.” Currently in Afghanistan only about 15 percent of the female population receives a formal education, and the literacy rate among women is one of the lowest in the world.
  • Chinese students from the Uighur ethnic minority living in Egypt are being detained by Egyptian police, with detention requests reportedly coming from Beijing. The Uighurs are a traditionally Muslim group, and many Uighurs complain of cultural and religious repression and discrimination by China. To justify the detentions China has pointed to unrest in Xinjiang in western China, the homeland for most Uighurs, claiming that Uighur separatist groups are responsible for bombings and vehicle attacks. Lucia Parrucci, a spokeswoman for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization advocacy group, said in a statement that: “We have learned that many of the students have been arrested directly at the airport upon their return and sent to re-education camps. None of them have been able to see family members and no information was provided to their families about their whereabouts.”
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