Thursday, 27 November 2014

Dealers Again: "No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Artefacts Funding ISIS" (1)

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wants to brush away the suggestion that the German part of the no-questions-asked trade in dugup antiquities is in any way involved in funding ISIL. "Extremely unlikely" is how they phrase it. So they've just released a triumphant text 'No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Art Funding ISIS' (Basel, November 25, 2014). They announce it in Coin Weekly: "Exhaustive investigation has revealed that the most important sources of the allegation the trade in ancient objects would finance IADAA are not existing". So collectors can sleep soundly tonight. 'Sorted' says the IADAA and the majority of them will now most likely as a result not fatigue themselves by reading another word on the topic. But one gets the impression that this is the idea of producing such a text in the first place - to prevent collectors thinking and questioning the dealers who supply them with stuff.

The notion that coin collectors are homegrown scholars, doing important "research into the past" is a recurrent leitmotif  in their attempts to justify the continuance of the damaging status quo. So let us have a look at this scholarly "exhaustive investigation". Does it consist of an exhaustive literature search of where claims have been made and the verification of their sources? Does it perhaps consist of a breakdown of the information we have about the mechanisms of ISIL funding in general? Well, heck, no. "during the last week, two articles have been published by independent parties supporting our point of view, one from Suddeutsche Zeitung, the other the blog ‘Chasing Aphrodite’".  So this "exhaustive investigation" consists of just a single newspaper article and a single blog post. Moreover, the author of this text (Ursula Kampmann) actually cannot even manage to quote either of those accurately in support of her thesis.

And the "First IADAA Smoking Gun" is:
The source of the rumour: The Guardian, June 15, 2014
Martin Chulov [...]
I've discussed this problematic material about Nabuk at least twice here,[1] Sam Hardy[2] has also returned to the topic a couple of times. Ever since it appeared we and others have been saying there obviously is something wrong with the way it is quoted. That does not mean that sales of antiquities are not involved, but the information has become garbled. For the IADAA it is their key argument: 
This unverified allegation was taken up by numerous activists and journalists who concocted a purely fictional story about how these ancient objects were sold in the German art trade.
Well no, actually not. The main discussion was and still is focussed on the global trade, and not Germany. The 'Nabuk antiquities' story was NOT by any means the beginning of the story. In many news items, many web sources as well as in the archaeological literature (some of it discussed down the years in this blog)[3] there has been much information about looting in Iraq and Syria used to finance militant (and terrorist) activity in this region. It began soon after the 2003 invasion in Iraq (actually the looting began before), and then spread with the 2011 civil war starting in Syria. The story, and the smuggling routes that they involve have been active long before ISIL. The IADAA then goes on to say that: 
Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 15/16, 2014 It is somewhat ironic that Volkmar Kabisch, who was responsible for the ARD documentary “Das geplünderte Erbe”, has now had to admit – after careful examination of the 160 usb sticks: “But where does the money come from? There has been much speculation about art trafficking, revenues from kidnapping or the sale of oil but no such information can be gained from the documents.” Nevertheless, his broadcast “Das geplünderte Erbe” is still aired by Phoenix. The IADAA demands that this and similar broadcasts that are based on false and obsolete information are removed from the program at once.
There are three cogent points here.
1) The IADAA "demands" that this whole story is suppressed "at once" because they claim that it contains "false and obsolete" information. Just who do they think they are, to dictate what we can watch and what we cannot? Fine, they think the information can be shown to be "false and obsolete" and they can present their arguments as above. It is then up to the viewer to decide, not for them to dictate to what information they have access. That's totalitarianism in action.
2) If you've not watched it, have another look at “Das geplünderte Erbe”, and work out for yourself just what part the "memory sticks" motif plays in it. Take them away, does a story not still exist? Yes, it does. IADAA is "demanding" suppressing all the rest of the information and opinions expressed (for that is what interviews are constructed of - both of the interviewee as well as interviewer/editor) because they think they can contest one fragment of the programme eleven seconds long.
3)  But then, is Ms Kampmann actually citing her sources in context and accurately? On looking at the article quoted (thanks to Sam Hardy for getting this for me) we see two things which simply dismiss her argument.
[UPDATE: Just as I was about to send this, I got a tweet from Esther Saoub with the link to: '‘Islamic State’: A Bureaucracy of Terror' [translated by Candice Novak] an English summary of the text: Thanks]

Perhaps it escaped the notice of Ms Kampmann, but the journalists  state quite clearly that they did not see all the documentation (Cf "a German journalist has checked all 160 data carriers, the Guardian article wrote about"). They also specifically note that were shown (by Iraqi intelligence officers) documents relating to Iraq. That is the Iraq which is a neighbouring country to Syria, where one will find al-Nabuk (where the antiquities were reported to have been from). It is perhaps not surprising then that the Germans did not see the data about Nabuk in the documents they had available about ISIL's Iraqi provinces. Duh. In fact what they also say is the documents they had access to concerned mostly social services in 'The Islamic State'. Martin Chulov, was reporting about what he'd learnt from another part of the same batch (maybe the intelligence services of the two countries have apportioned the material since Chulov saw it).

In passing, I must say that I found some of what I read in that article extremely disturbing, and I am not sure that "hey there's nothing about antiquities here" is the first thing that would come to even my mind on reading it.

And the "Second IADAA Smoking Gun" is: 

Moving on from misquoted sources. The Second "key piece of evidence" for the IADAA is the "second not fifth or whatever" argument. Personally, I think using the tactic of deflecting discussion onto a side-issue treated pars pro toto as the only argument is a typical example of the smoke and mirrors tactics always adopted by the antiquities trade and artefact collectors. The only reason I return to this already-tired point it is because the IADAA see fit to treat it as the "smoking gun".

Now, this idea that "the trade in ancient art provided the second largest source of revenue for ISIS" was treated with scepticism before Jason Felch wrote about it, that IADAA has not really been following this discussion is nobody's fault but their own.[4]  For them it is "news" that it turns out to be journalistic hyperbole. In fact, if they'd done any reading on the topic beforehand, they'd have found other articles published at the same time which gives a much more detailed breakdown about what we know about ISIL's funding, it's not exactly an unpopular or un-newsworthy topic at the moment, but no, it suits them to continue hounding the one point.

IADAA allege that this is all a conspiracy of the United States (against the German antiquities trade?). Kampmann alleges:
In his function as co-director of a State Department funded campaign to track cultural heritage destruction in Syria, Danti had published an article in the magazine “Foreign Policy” on October 17, 2014, in which he called the illicit trade with ancient objects the second largest source of revenue of ISIS.
True to coiney form, no link to that alleged article by Danti is given. Too many facts spoil the story I guess. The article  ('Black Market Battleground') was by Justine Drennan and she was quoting Danti. I wish Ms Kampmann the luck that the next time she is interviewed by a journalist, what she says is presented absolutely verbatim and having the meaning she gave it. Most of us in archaeology have completely the opposite experience. I think it is an unfortunate consequence of speaking to the press and consider it par for the course - as I think we all do. In my own case the only time my words have never been twisted was when I wrote a short piece myself for the local newspaper back in England. None of us knows what Michael Danti actually said, I think most of us who read the article smiled wryly when we read the article. Only the coineys seem insistent on treating it as a case of an archaeologist deliberately twisted a fact. But then, we all know how they love an "everyone is against us" conspiracy theory; it fosters a feeling or brotherhood.

It is quite important to see the context (we know how some coineys despise that word) of this soundbite. Drennan was writing after the US airstrikes on Syrian towns had begun and in the context of Kerry's Sept. 22 gung-ho speech at the Met (see here too). She herself says "my aim was to show how ISIS’s looting necessitates non-violent efforts to stop trafficking, not military intervention". That is the context in which she used whatever Danti had said. It was a useful quote because Kerry was using ISIL's mistreatment of the "cultural heritage of all mankind" to justify the US no-boots-on-the-ground remote bombing them into the Stone Age (and anyone else who happened to get in the way of US bombers - see yesterday's report on the deaths in Ar-Raqqa). Drennan wanted to make the point that there is another - bloodless - way of doing that, and Danti's quote served her to uphold that argument. But then others copied it out of that original context. I really do not think Prof Danti can be held responsible for that. But then, I'm not a vindictive archi-(b)hating coiney.

The upshot of all this is that as proof  that there is "No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Artefacts Funding ISIS" - the two items adduced by Ms Kampmann as such turn out on closer scrutiny to be nothing of the kind.

Footnotes for those with a longer attention span

[1]  Monday, 16 June 2014, 'ISIL and its "36 million" ; Monday, 16 June 2014 'Iraq/Syria: ISIL/ISIS fundraising by antiquities trafficking: Implications for the Market'; Monday, 14 July 2014, 'Syrian Heritage Task Force on the Antiquities Trade' ; Sunday, 31 August 2014 'More on Isil Looting, but What's Really Going on?'; Tuesday, 2 September 2014, 'Art Net News, Looting Bankrolling ISIL?' ; Wednesday, 3 September 2014, 'ISIL Looting: In war, the first casualty...?' and not so long ago that IADAA can't find it themselves Wednesday, 29 October 2014, 'US Brigadier General Urges Proper Antiquities Market Transparency' and Wednesday, 29 October 2014 'Conflict Antiquities' in Syria and Iraq: How Much for it to be "OK" for dealers?' (and for interest: Tuesday, 17 June 2014 'Collectors Criticised by Esquire blogger') 

[2]  Reuters blog  ('How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)', October 27, 2014 and conflict archaeology, passim  many of these texts referenced in the above-mentioned blog posts.

[3]  You kidding? Use the search facility up there above (little box).

[4] Wednesday, 12 November 2014 ' Mulder on Blood Antiquities', Thursday, 6 November 2014, 'Newsweek and ISIL Funding'; Wednesday, 29 October 2014 'US Brigadier General Urges Proper Antiquities Market Transparency' Saturday, 18 October 2014 The connection between ISIL, Looting and the Antiquities Trade (1) ; Saturday, 18 October 2014, 'The connection between ISIL and the antiquities trade (2)'.

UPDATE 26/11/14

Michael Müller-Karpe replies to IADAA "proof"
I have checked with Volkmar Kabisch, the „German journalist”, mentioned by Ursula Kampmann, who allegedly “has checked all 160 data carriers, the Guardian article wrote about.“ Mr. Kabisch has explicitly stated in the documentation, that he had access to parts of the information only. And he made statements about the contents of these parts only. The allegation by Dr. Kampmann is simply false.

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