Saturday 7 January 2017

Cultural Genocide and Antiquities Trafficking in the MENA area

A report published by the US Department of Defence's Joint Special Operations University discusses: 'IS and Cultural Genocide: Antiquities Trafficking in the Terrorist State' by Russell D. Howard, Marc D. Elliott, and Jonathan R. Prohov.
 In this monograph, the authors offer compelling research that reminds government and military officials of the moral, legal, and ethical dimensions of protecting cultural antiquities from looting and illegal trafficking. Internationally, states generally agree on the importance of protecting antiquities, art, and cultural property not only for their historical and artistic importance, but also because such property holds economic, political, and social value for nations and their peoples. Protection is in the common interest because items or sites are linked to the common heritage of mankind. The authors make the point that a principle of international law asserts that cultural or natural elements of humanity’s common heritage should be protected from exploitation and held in trust for future generations. The conflicts in Afghanistan, and especially in Iraq and Syria, coupled with the rise of the Islamic State (IS), have brought renewed attention to the plight of cultural heritage in the Middle East and throughout the world.
The usual simplistic Hollywood-bred approach of assigning every bad phenomenon to a single group is evidenced here, but there are some strong words against collectors, dealers and their usual junk arguments:
Furthermore, as archaeologists and museum curators are well aware, once an artifact has been looted, it loses the valuable archaeological context scholars rely on to understand the society and culture from which it came. Therefore, far from being “saved for humanity,” much of the archeological value of objects with dubious provenance is already lost, especially those being purchased on the black market. As an increasingly finite amount of antiquities are looted worldwide, all of humanity is losing the opportunity to learn about both our shared origins and distinct cultural histories because the pace of looting is far outrunning that of rigorous scientific inquiry and archeological documentation of cultural heritage sites. By purchasing cultural objects that have been robbed of their cultural value, unscrupulous buyers are giving such objects artificial value that actually increases the incentive for looters and traffickers to continue their illegal acts, just as paying ransom to terrorists for kidnapping victims encourages them to take more hostages. The looters may be the ones physically stealing the objects, but those purchasing them are in effect robbing the world of its cultural history and fueling this illicit market. If antiquities buyers, museums in particular, are driven by a mission to educate and preserve these historic treasures, then engaging in such behavior is misguided at best. Nevertheless, the idea advanced by some—that knowingly buying antiquities on the black market to “save them” is a valid act—is in fact a criminal one that suggests these buyers may be driven by other motives.
Too true. 

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