The following piece was submitted by guest writer Emily Mullens. All ULC Ministers are invited to contribute their own sermons for consideration/publication. To submit a sermon, please email it to email@example.com.
An attack on even one cultural site is really an attack on the totality of human history.
President Donald Trump's tweet threat of retaliatory strikes on 52 Iranian "cultural" sites in the face of ever-growing tensions in the region was quickly shot down this week as not only a horrible war-crime-in-the-making, but as a veiled threat against Muslim heritage.
But let's put aside the fact that the United States, as a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention, has a legal obligation “to protect cultural property” during times of war. Trump and his far right Evangelical cheerleaders have failed to realize that threatening a country that literally cradled civilization, whose history predates the rise of Islam by some 2000 years, and whose Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian landmarks continue to function as places of worship and pilgrimage, would be tantamount to shooting itself in the heart while beating its chest.
“They’re not just cordoned off but are woven into the fabric of everyday life,” explains assistant professor of Middle East studies at Cornell University Seema Golestaneh. In other words, targeting any of Iran's 22 cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites would be equal to "threatening to bomb Notre Dame or the Sistine Chapel."
Take the Fire Temple of Yazd. Not only is it a potent symbol of Zoroastrianism, the world's oldest religion, but its own fire, a symbol of truth, has been burning since the reign of the Sasanian Empire, circa 470 AD. Or the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, believed to house the remains of the Jewish queen of Persia's King Ahasuerus as well as other famous rabbis. Or the Vank Cathedral in Isfahan, one of 16 Armenian churches in the New Julfa region crucial to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Or the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Persia's first emperor, a man celebrated in the Bible for freeing Jews held captive in Babylon, whom many modern evangelicals have compared to Trump himself.
“Iran has very significant sites for the Zoroastrian religion, Jewish and Christian communities, and of course Muslims,” explains Omid Safi, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University.
Even as Trump’s own defense secretary has been quick to insist the US would not target Iranian cultural sites following any further Tehran retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week, the task of distinguishing Iran's Shiite theocracy from the rich legacy of Persian culture, which predates the rise of Islam, and even monotheism, has largely been left to scholars.
Wouldn't it be nice if religious leaders from all corners of the globe could put politics aside and unite in order to defend their own heritage?