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.”AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to Print
Cultural heritage expert available to discuss threats against Iranian cultural sites
Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, assistant professor of community and regional planning at Iowa State University, is available to comment on threats against Iranian cultural sites. He is an expert on cultural heritage and historic preservation.
Grevstad-Nordbrock has drawn parallels between the threats against Iranian cultural sites and the “Baedeker Raids” by Nazi Germany in 1941-2. During these raids, German war planners used popular European travel guides (“Baedekers”) to identify cultural sites in UK cities for aerial bombardment. This was intended to shock and demoralize the British population. It was also a reprisal for the British bombing of historic cities in Germany’s north.
Grevstad-Nordbrock has conducted research of historic sites during times of armed conflict, in particular exploring how Allied governments protected historic sites in Europe from destruction during World War II, focusing on immoveable cultural heritage (historic buildings, archaeological sites) as opposed to moveable art objects (paintings, sculptures, etc.).
He has a Ph.D. in geography from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, a master’s degree in art history from the University of Wiconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW-Madison. He had 25 years professional experience in historic preservation before coming to Iowa State.
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