Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Rejoinder to Neil Brodie

As Neil Brodie's response to my original post below makes clear, we agree on much more than we disagree on, including the importance of engaging local communities in site protection efforts, and on the fundamental importance of linkage (on which more below. And as I suspected, at least some of our disagreements are not substantive but semantic. As a policy researcher I tend to think of "effort and resources" as terms that refer to what the government or military actually provides to the archaeologists, museum curators, police, and military personnel -- not to the efforts that archaeologists, museum curators, police, and military personnel expend in order to try to persuade the government or military leadership to empower them. In his response, Neil comes some way towards making this distinction as well. 

But even with this distinction in place, we continue to disagree. This is a question of evidence. Neil seems to believe that the focus in Iraq by archaeologists, curators and military personnel, advocacy-wise, was exclusively on site protection; and because the sites were not protected, this proves that advocating for site protection is a waste of time in all circumstances. 

That strikes me as logically fallacious. But it also seems mistaken as a matter of evidence. I think the record shows that archaeologists, curators, and military personnel concerned about Iraq's archaeological heritage did not in fact make site protection the exclusive focus of their advocacy efforts. In fact, because archaeologists and conservation groups themselves are neither trained nor interested in how to secure sites, it wasn't even the central focus of their advocacy efforts. Of course they castigated and chastised the military, and rightfully so. But look at what they asked for or willingly accepted from government and from foundations, and where the money went: into training conservators and archaeologists, into GIS mapping systems, into rebuilding the museum, into turning Babylon into a tourist attraction, into decks of playing cards to sensitize GIs about the need to do no harm to sites (but not to guard them), into cultural sensitivity awareness-raising talks by the head of the AIA to officers headed overseas. All fine things, but not related directly to stopping looting. In contrast, it took years for Elizabeth Stone to find the money to buy satellite photos simply to be able to document the massive looting that had occurred. And in the absence of that documentation, the Bush administration was permitted to not have to take responsibility for protecting the sites -- while it could, on the other hand, speak proudly about funding these conservation and cultural-sensitivity-training efforts. Oh, and also speak proudly of backing UNSCR 1483 and imposing its own emergency ban on imports of Iraqi materials into the US. Meanwhile thousands of sites were looted.

That does not mean that UNSCR 1483 was ineffective, necessarily. Indeed, Stone believes it accounts for the decline in looting that eventually did occur, though of course the caveat here is that looting continues at a higher level than in earlier times when the antiquities police were stronger (and as Stone herself admits, another possible cause for the decline in looting may be that after three years of massive digging the market was saturated). The point is that it is that we need both more and better supply-end policing and more and better demand-side policing.

Neil, by contrast, suggests that the solution is trade regulation at the international level. Exactly what that would mean I am not sure. But if he has in mind a worldwide ban like that imposed by 1483, now applied to all antiquities whatsoever, I am puzzled. Such a ban would be lovely, of course. But what chance is there of passing such a ban? And if passed, how would the sustainable resources for enforcing the ban be found?

My opinion is that a worlwide ban enforced by robust international policing is pie in the sky. It is almost impossible to imagine it being put in place to begin with, and if it were, it is equally difficult to imagine the international community coming up with the money to make it effective. 

Which brings me to "linkage". Neil and I agree wholeheartedly that it is the buyers of antiquities who fuel the looting, and that therefore any sustainable solution to the problem of looting must recognize the linkage between collecting and looting. But where I think we may differ is that I want a policy that makes this linkage work for our purposes, a policy that would link collecting not to looting but to looting prevention (as well as to policing of the illicit international trade, which would require sustained funding of criminological research of the kind that Neil does so brilliantly). 

As I have argued for quite some time now, one feasible way to begin doing this would be to tax domestic purchases of antiquities and direct the proceeds into policing efforts -- including funding international taskforces, domestic undercover operations and other activities in destination countries, but also including funding for site protection efforts of various sorts in "countries of origin". This proposal is far from what the collectors have in mind when they call for site protection. I agree with Neil that in their case the call is a way of trying to shirk responsibility and shift guilt. My proposal forces collectors to take economic responsibility and is modeled on the "sin tax" model of public policy, so I'm not sure why Neil thinks what I am suggesting sounds like what the collectors say.

No comments: