Thursday 2 April 2015

Surrogate Arguments in NYT

There is a lot of chit-chat in the blogosphere about the New York Times piece by Tom Mashberg and Grahame Bowley ("Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over Repatriation of Antiquities"  30th March 2015) 
"the devastation has [...]  intensified a bitter debate over whether American museums, Western collectors and others should be returning disputed artifacts to the lands where they originated, a practice known as repatriation".
I really do not think anyone but the New York Times thinks that there is anything debatable (still less a "bitter" debate) about returning stolen items to the people they were stolen from. Here "repatriation:" is a surrogate term for cleaning up the art market. Repatriation is one of the side-effects of stopping cultural racketeering, it is not the aim of those fighting culture crime. It should be clearly recognized that the various objects repatriated by the US end up in the hands of Homeland Security/ICE as the result of proven or reasonably-inferred wrong-doing. Let's concentrate on fighting the criminals, not jumping the gun and debating only what to do with the evidence. The key quote for me concerns:
"those using the destructive spree by Islamic State extremists to lobby against repatriation want to justify discredited practices. “It was only a matter of time before some in the art-collecting community tried to turn this cultural nightmare to their own advantage,” said Ricardo J. Elia, an archaeologist at Boston University [...].
That actually sums up what is going on. It basically sums up what most of the NYT article is about. Despite inclusion of a few token views from 'the other side', there is no "debate" there.

[Let us also bear in mind, despite the emotive claptrap from the commercial and collecting lobby, of course nobody is saying illicit items seized from dealers have to go straight back to the Middle East, they have embassies in the loot-holding countries, those embassies are not in the war-zone and not in jihadist hands. Once again the dealers and collectors erect straw man arguments to serve their own greedy interests.]

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