Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Use of Antiquities in Propaganda

This is something which concerns a number of people writing in this field and Dr. Rainer Schreg of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz has produced an excellent, extensive and thoughtful blog post on the issue: 'Propaganda mit Antiken (Syrien/ Irak, Dezember 2015)' Saturday 2nd Jan 2016.
Berichte und Bilder aus Syrien und Irak, aber auch die westlichen Deutungen des Geschehens sind - wenig überraschend - tendenziös. Im Umgang mit den Berichten muss man sich dessen bewusst sein - um sie richtig zu bewerten und sich nicht für Propaganda der einen oder anderen Gruppe einspannen zu lassen. Da Archäologie nie unabhängig von der Gegenwart erfolgen kann - ihre Forschungen aber auch auf die Gegenwart bezogen werden müssen - ist es unerlässlich, kritisch zu reflektieren, welche Interessen jeweils verfolgt werden - und den eigenen Standort zu definieren.
I presume this intended as a review of the publications of the past year concerning this issue. The main sections include:
Kulturgutzerstörung in der Propaganda des Daesh
Kulturgutzerstörung in der westlichen Argumentation gegen Daesh - und die Position des Handels Maßnahmen, Aktionen, Veranstaltungen
Daesh und Raubgrabungen
Weitere Kriegszerstörungen
It is really quite interesting to note how few of the works cited are written in German, most of the literature highlighted by Dr Schreg is in English. Frankly, the bit on "the position of the trade" is very weak in content, he mainly focuses on the "how much the trade is/is not worth" issue, which is a deflectionary tactic. There is a whole batch of literature emerging from  this interest group (some of which is extensively discussed on the PACHI blog) exploiting the destruction of monuments as an argument for denying the 'source country natives' the right to any heritage at all, and broadly painting whole communities in 'orientalist' colours, depicting  them as driven solely by primitive motivations (revenge against the regime, corrupt untrustworthy natives). By these means this narrative endows the foreign collectors - seen in comparison as 'enlightened' - with the status of saviours of the artefacts. Another element of this side of the propaganda presentation by the trade is to claim all the artefacts robbed and sought by collectors as 'art', whereas things like cuneiform and scraps of papyrus business records (and broken off bits of human mummies) most certainly are nothing of the kind. This kind of talk distorts the real nature of the commercial exchange of portable antiquities. These issues are also all pure propaganda and merge with wider issues such as cultural identity and colonialism.

Anyway, Dr Schreg's presentation is worth a look.

1 comment:

Rainer Schreg said...

Thanks, for picking up my blogpost. However, as a part of a series of monthly blogposts ( monitoring the events in Syria and Iraq it does not provide an in-depth analysis of all propaganda and all stakeholder interests involved. I just used recent reports mainly from december 2015 to highlight the problem.
Due to the character of this blogpost series I did not go into the problem any deeper.
For the role of the antiquities trade as a stakeholder the journalist Günther Wessel did a good job. See my review on his book:
In fact, there are some important German contributions to the current problems in antiquity trade within the context of the new law for the protection of cultural heritage (Kulturgüterschutzgesetz). However, there should be more on a scientific level...

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