Thursday, March 25, 2010

Looting in Lebanon

This article has already spurred at least two responses in the blogosphere, from Derek Fincham and Larry Coben. Coben suggest that the Sustainable Preservation Initiative is designed to prevent precisely the type of looting to feed one's family that is detailed in the article -- the interviewed looter is quoted saying he does not believe he is doing anything wrong:"I have a wife and six children to support, and I do so through this business."

The SPI is a wonderful idea, but its success, if I understand correctly, depends on getting buy-ins at the local level, from community leaders, for a tourism-oriented business model. That might be a tad difficult in countries like Lebanon where tourism is difficult to arrange, and where -- if the article is accurate -- the community leaders one hopes to appeal to are acting as middlemen to consumers who include Lebanese elites:

The artifacts often wind up in the homes and gardens of Lebanese politicians and citizens and even in private collections on other continents.

In February, police confiscated a child's sarcophagus dating back to the Roman empire from the Baalbeck home of a Muslim sheikh who was trying to lure in the highest bid.

I'm not suggesting it is not worth trying the SPI approach, even in Lebanon. But it would seem more likely to succeed in countries without a strong indigenous demand for antiquities, and where the central authorities are more committed to combating the illicit trade.

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