Nonprofit // United States
Colonial Williamsburg, the Virginia attraction that re-enacts 18th century life, has offered to temporarily take custody of Iraqi artifacts that the Islamic State is intent on destroying, according to the tourist destination’s leaders.
Colonial Williamsburg President Mitchell B. Reiss, a former senior U.S. diplomat, first proposed the transfer on March 2. Days later, the restored town’s website, History.org, was defaced by hackers. It is unclear who is responsible for the vandalism, which other U.S. sites experienced around the same time. Colonial Williamsburg officials suspect the culprits are part of ISIS.
But there is no indication this was a targeted attack on what some see as a memorial to the beginnings of American independence and democracy. A Colonial Williamsburg spokeswoman told WAVY-TV that the website seemed “to have been affected as randomly as other organizations across the country.”
The intruders penetrated the site through a software vulnerability and then posted their own content to the site. The flaw existed in a third-party software plugin that Williamsburg had neglected to update.
No direct threats were made against Colonial Williamsburg, the spokeswoman said.
“While this incident was a fluke, it reminds us about the dangers of the world we live in,” she said.
The conservation offer still remains on the table, officials say.
“The Iraqi people once suffered at the hands of despots. They continue to suffer at the hands of terrorists. If we can join with them in an effort to protect these antiquities, we can protect Iraq and the world’s collective DNA until these clouds of divisiveness and chaos pass,” Reiss said in a statement this week.
Officials have drafted a memorandum of understanding and want to work with Iraqi archeologists and antiquities professionals to identify items that could be better preserved at Williamsburg.
“Iraq, a country known as the cradle of civilization for its scientific, cultural and artistic achievements—including invention of the wheel and the first alphabet,” Reiss said. “That legacy—indeed our common human legacy—is contained in the vessels of civilization now being destroyed by ISIS.”
The Islamic State is aiming to establish, what it calls, a caliphate, partly by subsuming other extremist sects.
“ISIS is likely to offer resources, training, and its brand so the Nigerian terror group [Boko Haram] can create a distinct province within an Islamic caliphate,” The Daily Beast reports. “It’s a model that ISIS is increasingly adopting as it attempts to spread its reach around the planet.”