Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

The President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump, just posted this statement on twitter:

Just in case the tweets are deleted in the future, here is what he said:

Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently……..hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have………targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”

It is worth noting that the destruction of cultural heritage sites is a war crime under the United Nations, in a rule targeting not only ISIS and Al Qaeda but all combatants on any side:

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Friday condemning the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage and warning the Islamic State extremist group, al-Qaeda and other combatants that such attacks may constitute war crimes.

The resolution approved by the UN’s most powerful body expands previous measures which were limited to the illicit trafficking in looted cultural items to fund terrorism, and focused on Iraq and Syria where Islamic State extremists have destroyed ancient sites including Palmyra.

The newly adopted measure targets not only IS, al-Qaeda and its affiliates but all parties to conflicts.

This is no idle rule. A radical Islamist is already doing nine years’ hard time at the Hague for destruction of cultural heritage sites in Timbuktu:

A militant has been found guilty of a war crime for intentionally destroying cultural sites — a first for the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi has been sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the destruction of nine mausoleums and the door of a mosque in the Malian city of Timbuktu in 2012. The sites were destroyed by “individuals, some armed with weapons, with a variety of tools, including pickaxes and iron bars,” according to court documents.

Actions of deliberate cultural cleansing have come under increased scrutiny by the United Nations as a result of atrocities by fundamentalist extremists aligned Taliban, Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Destroying the cultural history of a people is tantamount to destroying the people themselves.  The obliteration of the Bamiyan Buddhas was nearly a casus belli against the Taliban even before 9/11, and after the invasion of Iraq the apparent failure of U.S. troops to adequately secure the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad from looters was and remains a major scandal. Farther back in the past, Adolf Hitler’s own generals disobeyed the order to destroy important cultural heritage sites like the Eiffel Tower as the Germans retreated–because that’s the sort of thing only the most monstrous of monsters do.

One is reminded of the famous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones is pointing a grenade launcher at the Nazi troops carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The villainous Vichy archaeologist Belloq calls Indy’s bluff, however, correctly reminding him that “we are simply passing through history. This, this *is* history.

It is impossible to know at this point which sites in Iran Donald Trump is threatening. But we do know that the history of the people of Persia is long, rich, and storied, against the backdrop of which the current conflict since the rise of the Ayatollahs is a minor blip. The country is full of ancient and more heritage sites that are the pride of all human civilization, core to the identity not just of the Iranian people but of all mankind.

The president of the United States is threatening Iran with cultural extinction. That is a war crime. Threatening a war crime is also war crime. And this president must be held accountable for it, whether while in office or afterward as need be.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.