Saturday 1 August 2020

ACCP Tries Again with RAND Report

Like a cracked record, 'the lady
doth protest too much, methinks " 
The American Committee for Cultural Property joined the chorus of 'art trade' voices trumpeting how the Rand Report published in May. They all said it vindicated the "We are victims of a vast misunderstanding" narrative of the antiquities trade. But that text (Kate Fitz Gibbon, 'RAND Corporation Debunks Facebook and Dark Web Ties to Illegal Antiquities', Cultural Property News (ACCP) July 19th 2020) was full of nastiness directed at the people that had trying to get Facebook to stop acting as a conduit for antiquities sales. Quite why ms Fitz Giibbon is such a fan of facebook is left unclear. 

Anyway, after some criticism of her approach, it seems she decided to have another go...

So now we have a second piece "RAND Corp Report Demolishes Assumptions on Antiquities and Terror". In it, she says that the art trade is the 'victim of a lie' (violins please) that art dealers, collectors, and greedy museums are supporting looting.
This story has already severely damaged the legitimate trade in ancient art and artifacts, including coins.
(More violins). In what way? (undefined). But the RAND Corporation has come to the rescue (hooray), with "the first major step in completely overturning current thinking on the size, geographical scope and participants in illicit looting and sales of antiquities". That's a bit of hyperbole because what the report does is use the same sources as the rest of us, and comes to very similar conclusions in fact as most of us currently working on the issue.
The report shows that the conventional narrative promoted by many journalists and espoused by advocacy and archaeological organizations is dead wrong: the illicit antiquities trade is not a multi-billion-dollar enterprise operating through organized criminal networks, nor is it a significant source of revenue to terrorist organizations.
Uh-hmmm. yes. Few 'advocates' are saying these things. Part of the trade does operate this way (that's why the RAND report takes Bulgaria as one of its case studies). Some of us don't use the T-word in the loose way it is applied in US public rhetoric. And this report is stubbornly US-orientated, even though the trade it claims to investigate is global. Funny that.

So then Fitz Gibbon starts laying into Matthew Bogdanos... and the Antiquities Coalition, and then the Antiquities Coalition... I guess the antiquities trade has to have its hate figures. Bogdanos is mentioned only twice in the report in fact.

The report has the following three research questions as its brief:
What do the actors, networks, and markets that enable the looting, trafficking, and sale of antiquities look like?
What data sources can be used to assess the structure and transaction volume of the illicit antiquities market?
What are the potential strategies and data sources that would guide more-effective enforcement?
The report supplies some answers to those questions. I would say they are also in the interests of the "reputable antiquities trade", so I wonder why the American Committee for Cultural Policy is making such a meal of the aspects Fitz Gibbon chose to focus on, and not how THEY see the recommendations of this report applying to US dealers and collectors in the future. But perhaps loudly playing the victim and pretending that a problem is an 'invented one' is easier than actually applying knowledge to resolve a problem.

Can we expect a third ACCP text from the pen of the verbaceous Kate Fitz Gibbon saying how they will recommend taking this forward - but please, this time leave out the pretentious antique maps.

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