TERRORISM IN THE ART WORLD - Christmas 2015

1. NEW YORK October 29, 2015.  A NY Times Opinion piece by Tristan McConnell, The Ivory-Funded Terrorism Myth, debunks the supposed links between terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab (the East African Al-Qaeda offshoot) and the international ivory trade. McConnell notes that misdirected efforts based on bad information have had disastrous consequences: the illegal ivory trade continues unabated, and Al-Shabaab’s true sources of revenue continue to flow into its coffers. He notes that flawed analysis that vastly exaggerates the terrorism/ivory connection has become the prevalent media narrative, influencing governments, NGOs, and conservation advocates and hampering efforts to halt the flow of funds to terrorist groups in Africa.
Christian Nellemann, author of a joint United Nations Environmental Program and Interpol report on global environmental crime told McConnell that the supposed Al Shabaab/ivory connection was “total nonsense.”
Marc Bryce, the former coordinator of the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea told McConnell, “We saw nothing and we heard nothing about ivory,” during the four years he was in charge.
The direst warnings come from a major research paper funded by the UK’s Royal United Services Institute. In An Illusion of Complicity: Terrorism and the Illegal Ivory Trade in East Africa, authors Tom Maguire and Cathy Haenlein describe in detail the actual main sources of Al Shabaab’s funding: widespread extortionate taxation and illegal export of charcoal and sugar. Author Maguire states: ‘With attention required on so many fronts, the ivory-terrorism narrative serves as nothing more than a distraction from the international community’s efforts to tackle Al-Shabaab financing.”
The report contains extensive recommendations to address separately what it views as two completely separate criminal issues, among them, going after higher echelon government corruption and linked organized crime to stem the ivory trade, and engagement with the UAE and Saudi Arabia to halt Al-Shabaab’s trade-based financing through illegal charcoal and sugar.
There appear to be similarities between the media’s  ill-directed focus on the illicit ivory trade as a primary funding mechanism for Al-Shabaab and the patently absurd claims that the illicit antiquities trade is a major funding source for ISIS. Better data could result in a better-directed campaign against looting and cultural destruction in Iraq and Syria.