Wednesday 19 June 2013

BIGotry never far away: "Malefactor Source Countries"

The cultural Property Research Institute Director, Arthur Houghton reports on his progress in  attempting to affect US foreign policy to the benefit of the no-questions-asked antiquities market ("More Breaking News: Time for Malefactor Source Countries to Take Some Heat", CPO blog, June 18, 2013):
"I have completed my discussions in Washington with political figures associated with the Congress and can report that there is considerable interest in ensuring that Americans are not disadvantaged by the practices of other countries with regard to cultural property matters, but also that countries that willfully (sic) destroy their own past, either by allowing their domestic markets to flourish -- or -- far worse in everyone's view -- by permitting and even encouraging public and private development that destroys their past history and their archaeological sites. 
He cites of course the Taliban Bamiyan Buddha case,  "the destruction of the Mayan temple in Belize" and now "China". Houghton suggests the creation of a list of what he calls "Malefactor Source Countries", akin I suppose to the USA's list of countries that support terrorism. In Houghtonism:
"Malefactor Source Countries are those that
a) have unregulated markets in antiquities that motivate the looting of archaeological sites or material;
b) engage in public development (roads, buildings) that destroy archaeological sites or material; or
c) have laws that allow or encourage private development that has the effect of destroying archaeological sites or material." 
As someone who lives in a country which, geographically, has fewer such problems Houghton seems to be unaware (or able to ignore) that there are places on this earth, unlike the Arizona desert, where any development, in towns, fertile river valleys etc is going to come into conflict with archaeological remains. Why is that so shocking or surprising?  Among these "political figures associated with the Congress" with whom he met was one: 
"who asked what would be more effective - modifying the Convention on Cultural Property to exact sanctions against states that violated the precepts of the Convention, or enacting legislation that would have the same effect and that, even if unilateral, could motivate other countries (the EU say) to do the same thing. 
I do wonder about who these people were and whether they were under ninety and had access to sharp things. The reason I ask is that these people seem to think that the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is about protecting sites from being bulldozed by road developers or farmers, covered by the waters of a dam project, or destroyed by religious fanatics. I guess its the misleading words in the title that do it. (Perhaps UNESCO needs to produce a comic-book version for the weak of mind who cannot actually read the text with any understanding.) In order for the US to re-write the Convention (and yes, it's about time it was done to suit the realities of the market of the 1990s) they'd have to start paying again their subs to UNESCO. I really doubt that if the US passed any crackpot exceptionalist law aiming to impose US will on the rest of the world, that many EU countries  would show any support by following suit.  The US will be on its own there.

Curious is the suggestion from the no-questions-asked market sector that it is precisely the US no-questions-asked buying and selling of antiquities which in Houghtonism would be America's "punishment for malefactor source countries to ensure that they began taking care of their own history". This is of course the dealer-collectors' favourite two-wrongs-make-a-right argument again. Houghton furthermore fantasises that if his scheme succeeds: 
Any existing MOU with a malefactor country would be made null and void and would remain so unless and until the country involved could demonstrate [to America] compliance with the Convention. Other acquiring countries would be encourage (sic) to do the same. 
Of course in those cases where the implementation of the Convention is dependent solely on the existence of an MOU saying that states parties will actually do what they have said (by becoming a party to the Convention) that they will do. All the rest of them will carry on helping fellow member states to in doing their best to prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. Meanwhile Houghton has been asked by his 'associated-with-Congress' pal to set up a study group to "look at the matter and propose recommendations for action", so that so-called "malefactor states" can be made by America to "suffer the consequences of their actions".

Peter Tompa, who in fact actually spends most of his time online trying by his sniping to do exactly that, says:
I myself think its high time to focus some attention on malefactor source countries. All the archaeological community's selective outrage against collectors has had the effect of diverting attention from poor stewardship of cultural resources in countries like Greece, Italy, and China. Under the circumstances, Houghton's initiative should be welcomed by everyone who truly cares about cultural heritage. 
We note that the self-professed cultural property lawyer from Washington refrains from showing how the legislative systems of the three countries he specifically names actually fit the three definitions supplied by the creator of the Houghtonism he so clearly supports.

UPDATE 20th June 2013:
Houghton now reports: 
 I have had further contacts with knowledgeable political figures and will report later as I can. The concept of malefactor states has begun to gain traction.
So what? 

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