In the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani’s killing, President Trump on Twitter threatened to attack 52 Iranian sites that are important to “the Iranian culture,” a threat that has drawn criticism and condemnation as “cultural cleansing” and an action in violation of international law.
Seema Golestaneh, professor of near Eastern studies at Cornell University, studies the anthropology of Islam and culture of Iran. She says threatening to attack cultural sites shows a lack of understanding of the Iranian peoples’ day-to-day lives.
"The threat to attack Iranian cultural sites is akin to threatening to bomb Notre Dame or the Sistine chapel. And to make such claims so cavalierly, without any regard for the deep emotional ties that people have with these sites, seems especially cruel.
“Some of these sites are not just tourist destinations but are still in heavy use and are woven into the fabric of their respective cities. For example, the bazaar of the Imam’s Square and the Khaju Bridge of Isfahan, which were built nearly four hundred years ago, are used by hundreds of thousands of people every day.
“The term ‘cultural heritage sites’ in a way seems to fall short to describe these places and things and their role in the popular imagination. They are ways of life, ways of understanding the self. The United States is a young country and perhaps it is hard to understand this deep affection. But outside of the loss of life, for Iranians, nothing could be more painful."
Lori Khatchadourian, associate professor of near Eastern studies, studies the relationship between imperialism and the vast world of material things. She says the threat to cultural sites is an "assault on science."
"President Trump’s threat to target Iranian cultural sites is deeply disturbing. The deliberate destruction of such sites would constitute not only a war crime and an abrogation of obligations under existing treaties, but yet another of the President’s assaults on science.
"We can assume that the 'very high level' and 'important' sites mentioned in the President’s tweet include Iran’s 22 cultural properties inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, comprised of both pre-Islamic and Islamic sites. Many of Iran’s archaeological sites are of extraordinary scholarly importance. They shed light on some of humanity’s earliest and most creative political experiments; they reveal the complex interconnections between East and West over millennia; and they stand as iconic exemplars in the history of art and architecture.
"The President tweeted that the sites on his list are 'important to Iran & the Iranian culture.' But this characterization grossly understates the significance of Iranian cultural heritage to the history of humanity."