Thursday, 15 February 2018

Undocumented Antiquities, Undocumented Immigrants

The American Committee for Cultural Policy have a new conspiracy theory, this one is a real cracker:  'Tangled Interests With State Department, ICOM Emergency Red Lists May Serve Other Goals' ('Yemen Claims Jewish Religious Artifacts). Whoah, tinfoil helmets out everyone. 

This is about the new Emergency Red List for Yemen (January 2018) which has made the no-questions-asked market a bit leery. And of course, it being America, the Jews are involved. For the ACCP this is not at all about the heritage of the territory of Yemen, but part on an anti-Jewish conspiracy, Readers may remember the fuss the same group of people kicked up about the so-called Iraqi Jewish Archive a while ago. Now it is Yemeni Jewish Collectables they are on about.

The Yemen Red List has raised extreme concerns among the broader Jewish community, and especially among exiled Jews from the Middle East. Yemen is just the latest nation to assert its government’s ownership and control over the heritage of Jewish peoples that were persecuted and driven to leave en masse in the mid-20th century, after the partition of Palestine and creation of a Jewish state in 1947. Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya have already laid claim to all of their former Jewish population’s heritage. Yet the Department of State has long held to the position that people do not have legitimate claims to their history or their art; only governments have claims to art and history. [...] There is no acknowledgement of legitimate private or community ownership, even in the case of heritage belonging to exiled peoples. 

That is because we live in a world in which human communities are currently organized into states. When the anarchists (or Leninists) get their wish, then there would be no states, and no state oppression of the rights of individuals to do as they wish. Poland too recognizes its obligation to look after the heritage of former Jewish populations of the state's territory, as do the Germans, Hungarians, Danes and many of the rest of the European countries from which the Jews have departed, why does the ACCP concentrate on only the brown-skinned countries of the Muslim world, one wonders. Could there be some bias in their summary of the issues?

The author is the text clearly misunderstands or misrepresents what a Red List is for:
While Red Lists may accomplish the goal of helping law enforcement to recognize a country’s most distinctive artworks, they do not help to determine if an artwork has been stolen or illicitly trafficked – or not. 
Well, of course they do not. That is not at all their purpose. But they help prompt law enforcement to request what any no-questions-asked dealer dreads hearing: 'have you got any paperwork showing licit origins of that item?'. Many of them are inexplicably careless about keeping any legitimacy-affirming paperwork with the objects they bring onto the international market. It is that paperwork that determines that an object has not been stolen or illicitly trafficked (the same as the documents being carried by a brown-skinned man in Trump's America show he has the right to be in the US, if he's undocumented, he cannot stay, no?). 

Once again, the antiquities trade lobby focuses on their bugbear of destruction of buildings and monuments as the stock-in- trade smokescreen for the no-questions-trading of loose artefacts. Chalk and cheese:
Given that the destruction of war has been so great, and the illicit removal of cultural items so relatively sparse [...] why is the Department of State so focused on illicit trade, when a US ally is actively engaged in obliterating key monuments of Yemen’s cultural heritage?
The answer to that is not any kind of anti-Jewish conspiracy, but a corollary of the manner in which the US administration is organized. Cultural property protection is accommodated as part of US 'soft power' among the diplomats of the Department of State, rather than a dedicated Ministry of Culture as in other countries (such as Yemen). In its exercise of 'hard power', the US is just as capable of blowing up old buildings as any 'brown-skinned Ayrab' regime of the Orient.

When it comes to the conspiracy theory we read that:
The government of Yemen seems very concerned with reclaiming the heritage of its exiled peoples. Jewish (and also Christian) art, artifacts and heirlooms are included in the items covered by the Red List. Jewish religious artifacts and manuscripts are pictured and explicitly included. The Yemen Red List includes photographs of a pair of Torah finials and a Hebrew manuscript. 
How odd eh? Now Google "Yemeni torah" and see how many Yemeni manuscripts are currently on the market, almost all of them without any but the vaguest and apparently unsupported indication of how and when they reached the market. This is the clue to why there is concern, with a large emigre population eager to buy some tangible link to their culture (to their feeling of self ) there is a huge potential market. If the buyers restrict themselves to goods that are demonstrably of legal origin, no problem. If they stoop to buying stuff where the seller cannot demonstrate it's from a legal origin, then there is a problem. Thus since one cannot dictate what people buy on a free market, at least one can try to curb the passage of unpapered artefacts from the source countries into the market countries. Why is that so difficult for the ACCP to understand?  Too many syllables in the words? 

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