Leilee Naderi is a business administration sophomore and opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Disclaimer: Two out of three sources wished to stay anonymous during the interview process due to concerns of not being able to return to Iran.
Oil prices skyrocketed. The Internet was shut down. Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was killed by a drone strike. Iran was accused of storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. An Iranian missile shot down a Ukrainian civilian flight.
These are the headlines that have been popping up on your phone. Your news app has been exhausted with tensions regarding the U.S. and Iran. Beyond news and politics, there is life behind the headlines.
It’s effortless to stay abreast with current affairs, but it’s necessary to understand that there are real people behind the spam of news headlines who are mentally affected by the U.S.-Iran tensions. We often fixate on tracing logistics in order to contemplate political theory and possibility of war, and in doing so, we forget how to humanize.
In San Luis Obispo, the Iranian community is small. During times of tragedy and tension, it is highly unlikely that you will see your classmates affected. The majority of students at Cal Poly do not identify as Iranian, nor are they personally connected to what is happening across the globe. If you look closer, however, you will feel the pain of those affected. For an electrical engineering senior who moved from Iran to the U.S. to pursue his education four years ago, the recent happenings especially grim.
“I knew people who died in the Ukrainian plane crash,” he said.
Alongside his own grieving, he said he also sympathized with families living in the U.S. who have relatives in Iran.
“They suffer too because they always hear bad stuff and what’s going on, which makes them worried. For example, the time they shut down the internet in Iran a few months ago, I had a terrible time that week because I could not talk to my family and I was constantly worried about what was going on,” he said.
“The thing is, the Iranian people are not looking for war or fighting. It’s really the government doing all of this and the Iranian people do not want to accept war with the whole world.”
Beside mental and emotional pain due to the recent tensions, Iranians also face economic hardship.
“With all the sanctions [the U.S.] put on Iran, they are destroying our country from the inside,” he said. “The sanctions are putting a lot of pressure on our country. The prices of everything are going really high.”
With Iran’s economy already plagued by hyperinflation ($1 equals roughly 42,000 Iranian Rial), every mishap urges stricter sanctions, and with this, the people delve further and further into instability and poverty. With all the evidence that yields his feelings of discontent, the interviewee said he is both confused and frustrated at the same time because he identifies a sense of polarization between the people of Iran and the Iranian government.
“The thing is, the Iranian people are not looking for war or fighting,” he said. “It’s really the government doing all of this and the Iranian people do not want to accept war with the whole world.”
To scrutinize the divide between the people and the government, I urge you to listen to the same words I hear over and over again from the Iranian community that surrounds me.
“I think the government is not listening to the people. That’s their problem. They’re not listening to the actual people because they have that kind of power. They’re just listening to the people around them, who also work for the government, and not the whole country,” the electrical engineering senior said.
In direct parallel to his words, I spoke to my aunt who lives in Iran and she too expressed how she felt the strong divide between the people and the government.
“The real people of Iran want the regime to be gone,” she said. “There is no other way.”
For 40 years, she has felt anger regarding the political state of Iran.
“This regime has been here for 40 years, but in this point of history, I think the regime is the shakiest it’s been the whole time,” she said. “After the war in Iraq was finished, I would have never thought about having any other wars, but now I have been thinking about it very seriously.”
With a lingering feeling of conflict and a slight eschatological mood on the horizon, she admitted her children are afraid of war. They cannot sleep at night. Her daughter does not want to start a family because she does not want to raise her children in Iran as long as its current leaders hold power.
“I have wanted to move to Turkey to start a new life because I feel that my children are grown enough, but I don’t want to be away from my country right now because I’m afraid something will happen. There is a very dark feeling in my heart and in my mind and it is so out of control,” said my aunt.
When the corrupt Iranian military, however, shot down the Ukrainian plane, we were all in disbelief. Opening up the notification between classes, I felt like something was off. There was no way a plane could just crash over Tehran at a time like this. “The first time my daughter told me about the crash, I just could not believe it. They shot down a plane full of our youngsters and geniuses. What should we have to lose now? Nothing,” said my aunt. She expressed her anger towards the military at their initial attempt to claim the shooting down of the Ukrainian aircraft was a technical blunder. She knew it was no accident: instead, it was something worse. How could the military put someone in control of a missile who is not professionally qualified to operate it? She scoffed at how they only admitted guilt after Canada practically forced them. “This confession [from the Iranian military] has brought us some form of braveness inside of us; inside all of the Iranian people. We’ve had anger coming up within us for forty years, but in these recent days we’ve had a new sort of braveness in our words.”
In this swarm of negativity, it is inevitable that people will change their perceptions about Iranians. “The rhetoric that is being used in the media to describe everything that’s going on will change the public’s view on Iranian-Americans for generations to come. Repeatedly being called a ‘terrorist nation’ perpetuates Islamophobia, as you are equating an entire nation’s peoples with our definition of ‘terrorism’,” said ISCO Cal Poly’s (Iranian Student Cultural Organization) President Tara Faraji. She fears that children will now grow up in a time where their parents think of Iran as a “terrorist nation.” She deems the rhetoric being used in media outlets toxic, and points out how it prevents any type of progress to be achieved.
In a more optimistic light, there is something we can do to eliminate negative views towards Iranians – right here and right now at Cal Poly. It entails getting educated. It entails talking to the kind faces behind the headlines. “The scary part is that the American people look at the news and believe everything they are being told. They don’t know what’s going on behind the story. They only see what’s happening on the news, which is based on lies and propaganda,” the electrical engineering senior said. When he first moved from Iran, he only had one American friend, and she had some idea of what was going on Iran, but she never knew the full picture. He changed her perspective by just talking to her and giving her knowledge about what was going on in the eyes of the people. “I want people to know the whole story and not just what’s on the news,” he said. Granted his recent move from Iran, it’s easier for him to speak about current affairs.
In the case of those who identify as Iranian-American, we sometimes feel a pressure in explaining perfectly the political dualities of events occurring in Iran. “For Iranian-Americans dealing with this now, we are placed in the role of the educator, as if our dual identity is supposed to serve as some type of certificate of immaculate knowledge in US-Middle East relations. It’s not our job to educate others on this complex history but yet I find myself refreshing the news every 2 minutes for the newest updates so when my friends ask me ‘What do you think about the stuff going on?’” said Faraji. She feels that American people should partially remove themselves from their nationalistic perspectives in order to wholly educate themselves about affairs in Iran and the Middle East. There is a small community here that has been affected, even if you can’t see it. We exist. We are hurting.
If you’re interested in learning more, come out to ISCO’s (Iranian Student Cultural Organization) discussion panel to learn about US-Iran tensions featuring professors and Iranian-American students alike. Join us on Friday, January 31st from 10:10 a.m. – noon in 192-106.