Saturday, 31 January 2015

Blood Antiquities, Now Blood Manuscripts?

"Get a brain.." who?
Over on the blogs and forums of those involved in the no-questions asked trade in dugup antiquities, the brown-skinned folk of the antiquities source countries are depicted as ignorant savages who associate their countries' heritage with an oppressive regime and thus will willingly destroy it or flog it off cheap to middlemen supplying foreign markets here for example, the same idea here and the notion is also a notorious leitmotif running through the IAPN/PNG paid lobbyist's blog. These spokesmen for the milieu see looting as the inevitable result of a country ruled in a manner that is recognizably un-American (and so therefore in their views by definition bad and wrong). If only, they argue, the laws protecting the heritage in those countries were relaxed, looting (done by the general populace in revenge for not being run by America) would magically stop. This is really an offensive racist view of America's neo-colonialist and xenophobically-blinkered right with which (it would seem from what they and their spokesmen write and how), many collectors and dealers of dugup antiquities align themselves.

Meanwhile the situation is far more nuanced. The brown-skinned folk these people deride by their simplistic cardboard-cutout picture of the outside world do not fit the stereotypes these commentators wish to impose. We may think of the people in Syria who are doing their best to oppose the destruction of sites of cultural importance over there, some of them losing their lives as a result (remember Samira Saleh al-Naimi for example). In Iraq just now we are learning of others (Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub, 'ISIS burning books at Iraq libraries and loading artifacts onto refrigerated trucks at night, residents say', Associated Press January 31, 2015) who cannot be fitted into the insulting stereotype which some antiquities dealers and their spokesmen attempt to propagate
Since the Islamic State group seized a third of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, they have sought to purge society of everything that doesn’t conform to their violent interpretation of Islam. They already have destroyed many archaeological relics, deeming them pagan, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous. Increasingly books are in the firing line. Mosul, the biggest city in the Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate, boasts a relatively educated, diverse population that seeks to preserve its heritage sites and libraries. In the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, residents near the Central Library hid some of its centuries-old manuscripts in their own homes to prevent their theft or destruction by looters. But this time, the Islamic State group has made the penalty for such actions death.
But foreign collectors can help preserve the past too, and put a little money in the coffers of the groups  which do fit their one-sided stereotypes of the "Other". A University of Mosul history professor (who spoke on condition he not be named because of his fear of the Islamic State group), said that locals reported that locals who live near these libraries observed that the older books from historical libraries were removed during the night in refrigerated trucks with Syria-registered license plates.
The fate of these old materials is still unknown, though the professor suggested some could be sold on the black market. 

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