Wednesday 19 November 2014

What Professor Danti May have said

Jason Felch's critique ('Danti’s Inference: The Known Unknowns Of ISIS and Antiquities Looting' Chasing Aphrodite November 18, 2014) of the notion that antiquities looting has become “the second largest source of revenue” for the militant group ISIL has of course been seized oupon with alacrity by the antiquities dealers' lobbyists who assume that it somehow suddenly absolves them of any need to look hard at their industry. On the contrary. I think it is worth going back to the source published just a month ago (Justine Drennan, 'The Black-Market Battleground' Foreign policy 17th October 2014) and noting its primary hopeful underlying message - "Degrading and destroying ISIS could take place in the halls of auction houses, not the Pentagon". In order to frame that argument, Professor Danti is quoted second-hand:
according to Danti [...] ISIS's profits from looting may be second only to the revenue the group derives from illicit oil sales [...] "What we have from the satellite imagery is that there is industrial-scale looting all over Syria," said Danti
It seems the author of the article, discussing US foreign policy, was trying to make the point that ISIL’s looting necessitates non-violent efforts to stop trafficking, not military intervention, and it is in this context that her use of whatever she heard from Professor Danti should be seen.

I think it rather tragi-comic the way the supporters of the trade have seized on the question of whether it is the "second", or maybe "third', and perhaps "fourth  or fifth" issue as if that was more important than the fact that the trade is (or is not)  financing ISIL's violence. Even if the verdict was that it is a "minor but consistent" source of revenue, I do not see how that could mean it can be ignored. As for the sources of ISIL funding, US buyers are not really in the market for Yazidi sex slaves, and the US government has  proven resistant (to the despair of the victims and their families) to the idea that they could free their citizens by a cash payment - but Americans can stop the sale of Syrian and Iraqi blood antiquities on their soil - and try to encourage others to do the same. What is disturbing is the degree to which , given the many questions and wholly justified doubts which remain, the US antiquities trade is prepared to defend their "rights" to a continued no-questions-asked trade in dugup Middle eastern antiquities.

Vignette: US hyperbole - "got some white powder here, now let's all go to War".

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