Wednesday, 22 October 2014

In war against ISIL, a fine line between facts and artifacts

Jessica Holland, 'In war against ISIL, a fine line between facts and artifacts' Al Jazeera America October 22, 2014
On Sept. 22, a few hours before U.S. airstrikes began against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was the opening of an exhibition of Middle Eastern treasures dating back to the early Iron Age [...] Against this backdrop, Kerry voiced a lament that quickly became a battle cry. “We gather in the midst of one of the most tragic and most outrageous assaults on our shared heritage that perhaps any of us have seen in a lifetime,” he said to the assembled crowd. “Ancient treasures in Iraq and in Syria have now become the casualties of continuing warfare and looting. And no one group has done more to put our shared cultural heritage in the gun sights than ISIL.”[....]  He then argued that this destruction demanded action, repeating the same basic idea over and over: “How shocking and historically shameful it would be if we did nothing”; “the civilized world must take a stand”; “if you don’t stand up, we are all complicit”; “those who deny the evidence or choose excuses over action are playing with fire”; “we believe it is imperative that we act now.” Later that night, the military campaign that has now been dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve expanded into Syria with the help of with Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar but without formal congressional approval. 
Holland puts the speech into the context of other US initiatives attempting to use culture as a political tool (US collectors and lobbyists, are ya'll taking note?). She notes that Kerry's pep-talk falls into the same model as the "same foreign policy narrative that President Barack Obama has been telling, in which ISIL’s atrocities are stripped of context".
Kerry referred to these crimes as “ugly, savage, inexplicable, valueless barbarism” and not the most virulent symptom thus far of two countries that have fallen apart in a mess of poverty, infrastructure failure, corruption and opportunistic power grabs.[...] The most glaring omission of all was the looting and destruction of Iraqi cultural and archaeological sites that has been persistent and devastating ever since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
What I do not find mentioned here is any discussion of the glib claims that it is ISIL responsible for the bulk of the looted and smuggled artefacts reaching the market, while that patently is not the case, other militias and militants have been doing it too and being financed by the greed of dealers and collectors.

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