Tuesday, 16 September 2014

To Reduce Burden of Proof: Moratorium on the cards?

Heather Lee, a summer intern at SAFE has an opinion piece on the organization's blog ('Heritage Crisis in Syria: a call for a moratorium on the antiquities trade', September 3, 2014). In the section "So, what can we do?" she has made this suggestion:
SAFE believes that in order to curb looting in Syria, the demand for looted objects must be eliminated. In his recent interview with the New York Times, Samuel Hardy, Honorary Research Associate at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London (and writer of the Conflict Antiquities) said, “There’s a huge amount coming out of Syria. The rebels have teams dedicated to looting and refugees are using portable statuettes, pots, and glass as an international currency.” Here’s a thought: Could museums and collectors agree to a moratorium on Syrian antiquities until order is restored?   [...] why not take a pause from acquiring ALL antiquities without proper ownership history post-1970? A broad-based moratorium would alleviate the burden of proof that artifacts have not been freshly looted [...]  This would be a symbolic gesture of good will on the part of those who engage in the buying of antiquities [...] . After all, museums and collectors are the ones who create the demand. [...]  Can we all stand together in a symbolic moment of silence to acknowledge such tragic moments as the damaging of the Citadel of Aleppo and nearby monuments by explosives, the raiding of archaeological sites throughout the country, and the looting of more than five museums? This will send a clear message to the world that wanton destruction of cultural heritage must be condemned and stopped. Regardless of which side of the trade we are on, we can demonstrate our collective commitment to save the past for our future by not aiding and abetting the destruction of our shared heritage — with or without the presence of rules and regulations.
Admirable sentiments. Heather Lee has apparently yet to learn of the intellectual and moral vacuum that in general lies behind the fine words of the collecting and dealing lobby. It seems she has faith in their overall goodwill and good intentions, she has yet to learn that in most cases such assumptions are ill-placed, and is unaware that the majority of collectors and dealers are demonstrably vacuous self-absorbed oiks focussed on the me-me-selfishness of acquisition and profit-making, busily employing switch-and-turn arguments, complacency and unsupported denials in self-justification. These people intend doing nothing to upset the damaging status quo. I'd be only too happy of course to learn that this time the antiquities trade acted in a way that proved me wrong and Ms Lee's faith in the milieu justified.

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