Thursday, November 20, 2014

HR 5703: Does the Archaeological Lobby Hope to Profit from Tragedy?

Does the archaeological lobby hope to profit from the ongoing tragedy in Syria?

The Secretary of State is authorized to make grants to private individuals or organizations for the purposes of international cultural property protection activities in areas at risk of destruction due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters.

The bill thus gives the State Department permanent grant making authority to fund interested individuals and groups without requiring any transparency or analysis of potential conflicts of interest.  This is troubling because many of the bill's supporters potentially stand to gain financially or professionally from such grants. Such grants, of course, could very well be an absolute boon to their anti-collecting efforts, funded as they would be by U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Of course, this is already happening with or without this bill.  After all, the State Department has given the American Schools for Oriental Research (ASOR) a $600,000 grant to create a "Syrian Initiative" meant to to track destruction and looting in that troubled country.  Tracking destruction and looting may indeed be worthwhile, but one can and should still question both the high cost of the grant and whether all the initiative's conclusions may in any case be pre-judged given ASOR's anti-collecting stance and the recent, highly dubious claim made by the Syrian Initiative's co-director that looting is the second largest funding source for ISIS, after "hot oil."   Worse still, the archaeological lobby has made sure that such reports don't just "sit on the shelf."  Instead, they have mounted a concerted press campaign to hype such claims in an effort to stampede the UN and national governments into establishing a world-wide ban on the international sale of Syrian antiquities. Of course, another part of HR 5703 (Section 8) would do just that-- it would impose permanent "emergency import restrictions" on anything and everything "Syrian." 

Finally, it may or may not be a coincidence, but Rick St. Hilaire and other likely supporters of the bill have just  formed a non-profit called "Red Arch" which would seem to be perfectly placed to become a potential beneficiary of any State Department largess.  Curiously, St. Hilaire appears to have omitted any mention of HR 5703's provisions for State Department grant making authority in his otherwise thorough reporting on the bill.

1 comment:

John H said...

Far from hoping to profit from tragedy, Mr Tompa, this is all about profiting from myopic and/or gullible politicians.

In the UK, the heritage lobby promoted laws to ostensible 'protect' the heritage, but wrote into the legislation clauses that would make it incumbent on developers and landowners to call in for-profit commercial archaeological outfits should anything 'archaeological' be uncovered.

The huge costs involved in these excavation is always passed on to the final buyers. Excavation reports and 'finds' usually fade into the ether.

Smart guys these archaeologists. We could learn a lot from these operators.

Best wishes

John Howland