Saturday, 15 July 2017

Hands off the Antiquities, USA

Cultural policy is about our relationship with other
countries and their pasts, which help shape their futures.
But it is also about values, those we share and those that
we, and perhaps we alone, prize

U.S. cultural policy will become key as wars throughout the Middle East and North Africa give way to reconstructions argues Alex Joffe ('Hands Off the Antiquities Advice for U.S. Policymakers' The American Interest : July 15, 2017).
Collecting antiquities is morally and legally problematic. [...] The [Hobby Lobby] case brings American cultural heritage policy—how the U.S. government understands, supports, and defends cultural heritage, including antiquities sites and cultural property—into the spotlight once again. It also highlights the fact that cultural heritage policy is far more than a matter for law enforcement. Indeed, cultural heritage policy is tied to both foreign and security policy. Intelligent foreign policy demands deep understanding of how culture shapes conflict, including those cultural artifacts that can be removed from their places of origin. Meanwhile, both terror groups and transnational criminal syndicates often loot and smuggle antiquities to finance their operations. Non-state actors operate globally, thriving in corrupt, weak or collapsed states, where such activities are relatively easy. The cultural costs are the destruction of archaeological and heritage sites, the weakening of local economies, communities, and nations, and the erasure of humanity’s common narrative. 
While the U.S. government has responded to some of this with legislative and executive moves to restrict the import of stolen antiquities and other cultural property from Iraq and Syria, much remains to be done.
The U.S. government should also, along with NGOs and academic organizations, raise public awareness about the damage done by the sale of antiquities: One television spot with Kim Kardashian could put looted antiquities into the same category as baby seals.
Joffe argues that  'the problem of cultural heritage will become acute for both military and civilian authorities when stability operations in places like Afghanistan and Syria turn into post-conflict reconstruction'.
Here the U.S. government (and the international community) will be confronted by a series of problems, such as irreconcilable claims regarding the possession of cultural heritage sites and property from different ethnic, religious, and local groups. To whom do sites belong? What should be rebuilt and by whom? Will, for example, Shi‘a and Yazidi shrines and mosques destroyed by ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria be rebuilt? Who has responsibility for restoring ravaged antiquities sites in northern Iraq, like Nimrud—the Kurdish or Baghdad government? Cultural heritage problems will do much to shape post-conflict politics and landscapes. Local consensus will be difficult, and the international NGO and development communities will inevitably weigh in. The process is likely to cause further conflict, opening the way to more looting and destruction. Furthermore, the immense piles of money that are a part of post-conflict reconstruction will encourage looting. These will be policy issues for the United States, whether we like it or not. 

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