Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Can You See the Forest for the Trees?

Roman ruins to take away
As has been remarked on this blog a number of times, portable antiquities collectors are notable for not being able to see things clearly through the intellectual fog that clouds their brains, they prefer to 'touch the past' rather than think about it. Every few days the internet provides yet another example to confirm this general rule. Peter Tompa, one would have thought, would be better equipped than most, he has a degree and wears a suit. Sadly he tends to allow the fog to take over his thought processes - so in his "personal comments" on the CPAC's Libyan MOU discussions, the American attorney struggles to make any sense. Let us recall that what is being discussed by the CPAC is something called the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, which is a local law putting into effect the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Among other things Peter Tompa urges the CPAC to tell the DoS to:
4. Frankly, instead of yet another round of import restrictions, the State Department, along with other international organizations, should instead focus on helping Libyan community groups protect Libya's 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites from the deprivations of Islamic fundamentalists. Ultimately, Palmyra and Nimrud suffered severe damage because local communities didn't care enough to protect them from ISIS. Let's help those locals who care about these sites protect them.
First of all it is utterly insulting and shows zero sensitivity and awareness to place the blame for the destruction of sites by ISIL on a 'local community that did not care enough'. The fate of at least one Syrian archaeologist in Palmyra and the execution of Samira Saleh al-Naimi ('Execution of Human Rights Activist in Mosul, she Criticised Destruction of Historical Monuments' PACHI Sunday, 28 September 2014, not discussed in the Cultural Property Obfuscator blog) shows what happened to people who did care. Has this callous American apologist for the no-questions-asked antiquities trade no shame?

Secondly,  I doubt that the towns of Cyrene and Leptis Magna really are actually in danger of being packed up and illicitly exported. For a cultural property lawyer, Mr Tompa shows a surprising lack of awareness of the actual topic of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property), and to suggest that the US should protect just these five sites from being 'exported' under the CCPIA is simply fatuous. Also, Mr Tompa seems unaware that none of these five sites is in a region under control of ISIL-affiliated militants!

Remember Gentle Reader, there are (at least) two different UNESCO Conventions which, although collectors of portable antiquities muddle them, decent folk who care about preservation should be able to differentiate:
Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Teheran, 1970)

Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Paris, 1972)
One protects things against criminals, the other celebrates significant places.

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