Archive for August, 2014


Are ‘unheard of numbers’ of cultural goods from Syria and Iraq making their way into auction houses in the UK?

Buzzfeed journalist Sheera Frenkel has extended the continuing analysis of How ISIS Became the Richest Terrorist Group in the World. I’m concerned that some unevidenced claims are becoming received wisdom, and that Frenkel’s informants are contributing to that.

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Militants have bombed the Shrine of Sufi Sheikh Taqi Baba, Mastung, Balochistan, Pakistan

This is just a note. Dawn journalist Syed Ali Shah has relayed police official Nazeer Ahmed’s information: unidentified militants have ‘planted explosives inside’ and ‘completely destroyed’ the Sufi Shrine of Sheikh Taqi Baba.

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‘We have not started a sectarian war’… but ‘we should have burned’ that mosque.

Journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has reported from the front line between the Islamic State and the Iraqi state. Shia militias are defending their territory and reclaiming Sunni places for the Iraqi state – or simply claiming those places for themselves.

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Islamists and anti-government conspiracy theorists do exploit my work, but they’re not very good at it

Previously, I’ve warned Islamists, ‘do not try to use my research for your propaganda: the Islamic State’s bigotry and violence is all too real’. Appropriately enough, left-wing and right-wing, anti-Anglo-American or anti-government conspiracy theorists ignore that too. I can’t do much to stop them exploiting my work, but I can point out that they’re not very good at it. After all, I’ve found out that they’re doing it because their target audiences have actually followed their links and read my work for themselves.

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The Yezidi shrine of Shaqsebat in Babire (Iraq) appears to have been destroyed, but it is difficult to tell from the evidence

It appears, from photographic evidence in the Êzîdî Press, that the Islamic State (1) has destroyed another regional pilgrimage site, the shrine of Shaqsebat in the five-village community of Babire in the region of Sheikhan [Sinjar (2)] [Sheikhan/Shaikhan (4)], north of Tel Kayf, near Mosul [in Ninawa Governorate].

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You had me at ‘pretty much anything’

I did comment on the Centre for Law and Religion Forum, in an attempt to end any confusion over a Washington Post article, but the misunderstanding spread to Think Progress and a lot of small community sites, and work distracted me before I could make a(n undoubtedly ineffectual) comment here. To save anyone reading the rest of this painful nitpicking, when the Washington Post asked me what the Islamic State might destroy next, it had me at ‘pretty much anything’.

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The lure of antiquities in the New York Times and the trap of poor evidence in war zones

The New York Times has explored the lure of antiquities. I don’t want the evidence to be misunderstood.

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Khums: an un-Islamic tax for an Islamic antiquities market?

Before I say anything else, I want to reaffirm that it’s very difficult to get good evidence – some evidence is unreliable, some evidence is false – but it’s still very clear: everybody’s involved somehowAssadist forces, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) (the secularist, democratic men-with-guns), Islamist/jihadist militias, seemingly even foreign militaries (as well as, of course, non-combatant mafias). The only armed groups for whom I’ve seen no evidence are the Kurdish defence forces.

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Using open-source data to identify participation in the illicit antiquities trade

My thesis documents some of the problems with research on (or simply amid) the Cyprus Conflict – including boycotting, blacklisting and sheer trouble-making. And my book chapter on the paramilitary takeover of antiquities trafficking shows how the civil war, the destruction of cultural and community property, and the trade in illicit antiquities developed together. My latest journal article, on the Cypriot civil war, uses the open-source data from catalogues of antiquities in collections and museums to work out the structure of the trade.

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Metrics, altmetrics and back-handed compliments

The readership statistics for my thesis, on the politics and ethics of cultural heritage work in conflict zones, have consistently (if unsurprisingly) shown that open access work is read more often and more widely than paywalled work. However, as suggested by my thesis’s slipping place amongst the institutionally-hosted e-prints of the University of Sussex (which include a lot of publications that inform policy), by the near-zero clicks on a link to an open access article that I’d added to my publications page but not advertised in a post, and by the article’s poor visibility on the web outside searches for its title, neither work’s existence nor its accessibility is enough.

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