"Hyperallergic," an Internet "forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today" has joined the Committee for Cultural Policy in taking on fantastical claims about ISIS funding itself with looted antiquities, albeit from a far different perspective. Tellingly, the post by archaeologist Michael Press -- though well researched-- avoids the elephant in the room. Who was responsible for "weaponizing" antiquities in the first place? The ISIS killing machine was bad enough to justify military intervention, particularly given its terror threats not only in the region but to Europe and the US as well.
Of course, the answer is quite apparent to
those who represent the interests of collectors, museums and the trade.
It is the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, which worked along with
ASOR, the State Department contractor mentioned in the article, and the
Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded archaeological advocacy group with ties to ASOR, the
Archaeological Institute of America, as well as authoritarian Arab regimes.
These groups were quite successful in laundering their dubious narrative not only through mainstream media (NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CBS,
etc.) but through the foreign policy establishment as well (think tanks and Foreign Policy
Magazine). The goal was threefold. First, getting Congress to pass permanent import restrictions
on Syrian cultural goods (which was achieved through these scare
tactics). Second, creating and funding an "Antiquities Czar"
position that would elevate these groups' influence even further
within the US Government. (A goal that was not realized.) Third, convincing Congress to lower the bar for criminal prosecutions based on foreign cultural patrimony laws. (Another goal that was not realized.) Meanwhile, those representing the interests of collectors, museums and the
trade that raised the exact same issues about the credibility of these fantastical
numbers early on have become targets for abuse from some of the very same individuals Press acknowledges for their contributions in exposing the truth.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
The Committee for Cultural Policy has issued a report demonstrating how news media and advocacy groups associated with the archaeological lobby have spread disinformation (including some from Russian and Syrian sources) about the value of artifacts looted by ISIS. A must read.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
U.S. Customs has announced so-called "emergency" import restrictions on Libyan cultural goods. Once again, grossly over-hyped fears of illicit antiquities funding terrorism appears to be the primary justification for rushing through this dubious request, even though it meets few, if any, of the statutory criteria and it is doubtful the militias running the country will protect any artifacts that may be repatriated under the agreement.
The sheer breadth of the "designated list" also raises concerns. The Cultural Property Implementation Act contemplates that any “emergency restrictions” will be far narrower than "regular" ones. They focus on material of particular importance, but no “concerted international response” is necessary. The material must be a “newly discovered type” or from a site of “high cultural significance” that is in danger of “crisis proportions.” Alternatively, the object must be of a civilization, the record of which is in jeopardy of “crisis proportions,” and restrictions will reduce the danger of pillage.
Yet, here, import restrictions have been imposed on virtually all Libyan cultural goods. And despite the lack of "cultural significance" all coin types that were made or circulated within Libya down to 1750 A.D. are now potentially subject to restrictions. At least in a bow to the CPIA's wording limiting such restrictions to items "first discovered" within Libya, the regulations contain some belated acknowledgement any restricted coins must also be "found" there. (Previous import restrictions on coins have improperly equated where they are found with where they are minted, though they are items of commerce that typically circulated widely.)