Asia, Endangerment, Immorality, Myth of Benefits

Fear, Hate and Violence: The Human Cost of US Sanctions on Iran

Tehran, Iran. photo credit: kamshot/FlickrBy Alan Knight with with Shahrzad Khayatian, October 13, 2018

On August 23, 2018 the street price of 1 US$ in Iran was 110,000 Rial. Three months earlier the street price was 30,000 Rial.  In other words, the oranges you paid 30,000 Rials for three months ago may now cost you 110,000 Rials, an increase of 367%. Imagine what would happen in Detroit or Des Moines if the price of a half gallon of milk at Walmart jumped from $1.80 to $6.60 in the space if three months?

People living in Iran don’t have to imagine what might happen. They’re living it. They know Trump’s sanctions will hurt. They’ve gone through this before. Under Obama’s sanctions the number of Iranian families living in poverty almost doubled.

In the US, however, this suffering in Iran will be invisible. You won’t see it on the screens of the 24/7 mass-market corporate broadcasts. You won’t find it on the pages of the newspapers of record. It won’t be debated in Congress. And if something does make it onto YouTube, it will be ignored, downplayed, denied or buried in a lifeless statistic.

The importance of giving a name and face to suffering cannot be exaggerated. We respond to human experience; we ignore statistics. In this series of articles we will follow the lives of middle class Iranians, that middle class Americans can easily identify with, as they live through US imposed sanctions. The stories begin with the implementation of the first tranche of sanctions in August 2018, but first some context.

Why Economic Sanctions

The United States is an imperial power with global reach. It uses its economic and military strength to ‘encourage’ other countries to follow its policies and do its bidding. The Trump brain trust, after relocating the goal posts, contends that Iran is not playing by the rules of the Imperium.  Iran is secretly developing nuclear capability. It is arming and funding terrorists. It is the home of a Shia-based thrust for regional dominance. Iran, according to this logic, is therefore a threat to US and regional security and must be penalized (by having sanctions imposed).

The Kool-Aid drinking authors of this hackneyed analysis and discredited strategy, and the clever people (including the corporate media) who fabricate the justifying narratives, try to make this unwarranted aggression palatable to their domestic audience by masking it behind the myths of benevolent empire bringing democracy to the world, and by ignoring and denying the human cost of sanctions.

In cribbed 1984 doublespeak, they explain how the US actually has the back of the average Iranian citizen and that the sanctions will not unduly harm the Iranian people1 because they are directed with drone-like precision against specific actors and institutions. Thus the canard of American exceptionalism (the benevolent empire) and the cult-like faith in global capitalism are given enough blood to live another day.

But empires are never benevolent. They maintain control through force.2 They are coercive and authoritarian by nature, traits that run contrary to those of democracy. The American empire, as the supposed champion of democracy, is caught square in the middle of this contradiction.3

As a result, US policy, which demands obedience to the hegemon, is based on creating fear of the ‘other’. ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.’ This is not a well-founded fear; it is propaganda (PR for the squeamish), cynically manufactured where no real threat or cause exists. It is designed to create anxiety for which force is an acceptable response.

One of Trump’s great talents is manufacturing fear and then turning fear into hate, its natural correlative: they’ll rape our woman and kill our children; they’ll spend out tax dollars on drugs and booze; they’ll develop nuclear capacity; they’ll destabilize the Middle East; they are a threat to our National security.

Fear and hate, in their turn, are used to justify violence: forced separation, exclusion and murder. The more fear and hate you create, the easier it is to enlist and train a cadre willing to commit violence on behalf of the state. And the more violence you commit, the easier it is to manufacture fear. It’s a brilliant, self-perpetuating, closed loop. It can keep you in power for a long time.

The first step in unmasking the reality behind the myths is to humanize the impact of the US sanctions on Iran.

None of this is to say that Iran does not have problems.  Many Iranians want change. Their economy is not doing well. There are social issues that create unrest. But they do not want US intervention. They have seen the results of US sanctions and militarism at home and in neighboring countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. They want and have the right to solve their own problems.

A group of prominent Iranian-Americans recently sent an open letter to Secretary Pompeo. In it they said: “If you truly wish to help the people of Iran, lift the travel ban [although no Iranian has ever been involved in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Iran is included in Trump’s Muslim ban], adhere to the Iran nuclear deal and provide the people of Iran the economic relief they were promised and have eagerly awaited for three years. Those measures, more than anything, will provide the Iranian people with the breathing space to do what only they can do—push Iran toward democracy through a gradual process that achieves the benefits of freedom and liberty without turning Iran into another Iraq or Syria.”

While this was well intentioned and reasonably argued, it is unlikely to have any influence on US policy. The US commitment to empire will not allow it. Nor will its allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, who have been mounting a campaign against Iran since at least the 1979 revolution. These allies do not support diplomacy. For years they have been pushing the United States to go to war with Iran. They see Trump as their best bet to achieve their goal.

Empires are not benevolent. The sanctions, whether or not they achieve the desired outcome, are designed to hurt.

Sheri’s Story

Sheri is 35. She is single and lives in Tehran. She lives alone but helps take care of her mother and grandmother. Ten months ago she lost her job.

For five years she had been a photographer and journalist. She was responsible for a team of ten content providers. Two years ago she decided to go back to school. She already had an MA in Movie and Theater Directing but wanted to do a second masters in International Human Rights Law.  She told the company she worked for about her plans six months before the course was to begin and they said they were ok with it. So she studied hard for the University entrance exams, did well and was accepted. But the day after enrolling in the program and paying her fees, her manager told her that he didn’t want an employee who was also a student. He fired her.

Sheri receives no employment insurance. Her father, who was a lawyer, is dead. Her mother is a retired employee of National Iranian Radio and Television and has a pension. Her mother gives her a small amount of money each month to help her continue her studies. But she is retired and can’t give her much.

“Everything is getting more expensive everyday,” she says, “but things are still available. You just have to have the ability to buy them. And I know some people who don’t. Poor families cannot even by fruit anymore, and I am afraid that this is only the beginning.” She can no longer afford what she now considers luxury goods. She can only buy what she most needs.  

“My sister has two beautiful cats.” But now their food and their medicine are considered luxury goods and with sanctions may become difficult to find. “What should we do? Let them die of hunger? Or just kill them. The sanctions will even have an impact on animals. Every time I hear president Trump talking about Iranian people and that they have our back, I just can’t resist laughing. I shouldn’t say that but I hate politics.”

Before she was fired Sheri did not consider herself well off, but she was getting by well enough. Now that she is studying and not working she is struggling to get by. Sheri says “it is getting harder and harder every day for me to get on with all this pressure and without a proper income. This is the most terrifying economical situation I remember in my whole life.” The value of the currency is decreasing so quickly, she says, that it’s hard to plan. The currency started decreasing two weeks before the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). And even though she buys what she needs in Rials, the price of everything changes according to the price of the dollar. “As the value of our currency keeps decreasing against the dollar,” she complains, “my income keeps becoming less against the cost of living.” She is very worried about the unpredictably of the situation and by analyst reports that it will get even worst over next two years.

Travel is her biggest dream. “I live to see the world,” she says, “I work just to save money and travel. I love to travel and I love to manage all by myself.” Not that is has ever been easy. As an Iranian she has never been able to have an international credit card. Because she doesn’t have access to international banking she can’t have an Airbnb account. She can’t pay with her Iranian cards.

She had plans to go on a trip this summer. But she has had to cancel it. One morning she woke up and the dollar was at 70,000 Rials but then Rouhani and Trump said something about each other and by 11:00 A.M the dollar was worth 85,000 Rials. “How can you go on a trip when you needs dollars to travel. In Iran you need dollars to buy your tickets to get out?” The government used to sell 300 dollars per person each year for travel expenses, but only once a year. Now that the government is running out of dollars there are rumors that they want to cut it off. She is frightened. “For me, not being able to travel is equal to being in prison. Thinking of getting stuck here when there are all these beauties all around the world to see, makes my soul feel like dying inside of my body.”

She is also angry with the rich people who bought up dollars when the value started to increase. This caused a huge crisis in the currency market. “They said sanctions would not have any impact on us. I think they are talking about only themselves. They don’t consider ordinary people.” She is worried that she will have to say goodbye to her dreams. “No dollars, no trips. Even thinking about that drives me crazy. We are getting so isolated.”

Sheri used to traveling a lot and has many friends in different parts of the world. Some are Iranians who live in other countries but many are foreigners. Now that travel is difficult she is also finding that communicating with friends outside of Iran has also become difficult. “Some people are afraid of Iran,” she says, “they think communicating with us may have a bad impact on their reputation.” Not everyone is like this, but one friend told her that communicating with ‘you people’ might get us in trouble when we travel to US. “Some people think we are all terrorists. Sometimes when I say I am from Iran they run away.”

“I have tried talking to those who think we are terrorists. I have tried to change their minds.” Sheri has invited some of them to come and see Iran for themselves. She believes that Iran needs to change people’s idea about who Iranians are. She has no faith in the media. “They are not doing a good job,” she insists. Instead, she uses social media in both English and Persian, to let people “know we are seeking peace, not war.” She tries to write stories to let people know that “we are human beings like everyone else. We need to show it to the world.”

Some people have become more interested and sympathetic. Perhaps it is only out of curiosity she suggests, but it is better than running away. One friend, a Romanian living in Australia, visited recently. His family was very concerned and worried that he might be killed. But he loved it and he felt safe. “I am happy that he understood the Iranian spirit”

But communication is becoming increasingly difficult. “The government filtered a platform which we used to communicate on with each other after the first wave of protests against the increases in prices. Facebook was filtered many years ago and now Telegram.” It has become increasingly difficult for Sheri to connect easily with friends and relatives who live abroad.  Because of this, she says she is “not in a good mood these days. All I think of is being scared about my wage and my unclear future. I am not in a good mood for communicating at all.”

This is having an impact on her health. “I would say it has had a great impact on my mental health, my calmness and my emotions. I am so scared about my future plans that I can’t sleep well. I have high blood pressure and thinking of all these increases that so quickly.”

She left a good job to pursue further education. Ideally she would like to continue on and do a Ph.D.. This course is not offered in Iran so Sheri planned to apply to a foreign university. But with the decreasing value of the Rial this is no longer an option.  “Who can afford studying abroad?” she asks. “The sanctions are limiting everything.”

Instead, she enrolled in an online course in Peace Studies. It was her plan to attend two or three courses through the summer to provide herself with a better CV. The first course she selected was offered on the online platform edX. edX was created by Harvard and MIT. It offers courses from over 70 universities worldwide. The course she enrolled in, ‘International Human Rights Law’, is offered by the Universite Catholique de Louvain, a Belgian University.  Two days after she enrolled she received an email from edX ‘un-enrolling’ her from the course because the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had refused to renew their license for Iran. It didn’t matter that the university was not in the US. The platform was.

When she got the email saying the she had been ‘un-enrolled’ she responded right away. She tried not to be harsh she said, but she couldn’t keep herself from stating the obvious. She told them about the core concepts of Human Rights. She told them about standing up against discrimination. She wrote about the need to support each other against cruelty. She insisted that “we have to endeavor for peace among us.” edX, one of the biggest and most famous online academic platforms, did not reply.

“They have the strength to stand up,” she insists. “I told them that no one deserves to receive those kinds of insulting and discriminating emails just because they have been born in a country or they have different religion or gender.”  

“I haven’t had any sleep since that day,” she said. “My future is melting in front of my eyes. I can’t stop thinking about it. After all I have risked for my childhood dreams I may lose everything.” The irony is not lost on Sheri. “I want to help people all around the world by teaching them their rights and bring peace to them.” But “the universities do not accept me because of where I was born, which I don’t have any control over. Some men of politics will ruin all I ever wanted just because they can’t bear each other’s way of thinking.”

“It is not only me. Everyone is worried. They are getting more and more angry and grumpy with each other. They are fighting each other every day and everywhere. I can see them in the city. They are nervous and are getting their revenge on innocents, the ones who are victims themselves. And I am watching all this. All I ever thought about was bringing peace to my people and now we are stepping backwards.”

While she is dealing with all of this, she has started applying for any job she can get, just to survive. “I can’t put all the pressure on my mother,” she says, “and I can’t just wait for a position related to my major to be opened.” She has reluctantly come to the decision that she must change her plans. She says she will “do whatever comes my way and forget about my dream job for now. If we are going to have two hard years we must learn how to survive. It reminds me of movies about wartime famine and starvation.”

But she finds it difficult to cope. She is depressed at times, and says, she is “still in shock. All these difficulties and the cancelation of my summer trip have made me introverted. I don’t want to go out and communicate. It makes me feel bad about myself. I just think a lot more these days and don’t feel like talking with other people. I feel like being alone all the time. You go anywhere and everyone is talking about the hardness they are getting through. People are protesting everywhere and the government is arresting them. It is not safe now. I’m just so sad about it. I hope I can change things and find a job which has no bad effect on my studies.”

She will cope. She has resolved that she is “not going to sit back and watch.” She is trying to use social media to tell her story. “At the end of the day I am the one who talks about world peace. This world needs healing and if each one of us steps aside and waits for others to do something nothing’s going to change. It will be a hard trip ahead but if we don’t put our feet on the path we will not get to know it.”

Alireza’s Story

Alireza is 47. He has two children. He has a store on one of the most famous streets in Tehran, where he sells clothes and sports equipment. His wife used to work in bank. However, after they were married, Alireza did not allow her to continue working, so she resigned.

His store was always one of the most popular ones on the street. His neighbors called it the ‘big store’. People would go there even when they didn’t want to buy anything. Now there are no lights on in the store. “This is so dramatically sad,” says Alireza. “Everyday I come here and see all these shelves empty, it makes me feel broken from inside. The last shipment, which I bought from Turkey, Thailand and some other places is still in the customs office and they won’t let it out. They are considered luxury goods. I have paid a lot to buy all those goods.”

Unfortunately this is not Alereza’s only problem. He has rented his shop for 13 years. In a way it is his home. The landlord used to increase his rent by reasonable amounts. His current contract will allow him to stay for another five months. But his landlord recently called and told him that he wants to raise the rent to its real value, which is to say a value based on the inflated US dollar.  His landlord says he needs the income to survive. Now that he can’t release his goods from the customs office, he is forced to close the store and find a smaller one somewhere cheaper.

It has been 2 months since he has been able to pay his rent for the store and anything on his loans. He can probably find a cheaper store he says, “but the problem is that in that people’s ability to buy such things is way less.” And as the value of the dollar keeps increasing against the Rial, he needs to increase the price of the goods in his store. “And if I close completely how can I continue living, with a wife and two kids?”

Customers are constantly asking him why he has changed his prices. “It was cheaper yesterday,” they complain. They are losing their trust and he is losing his reputation. “I am tired of describing that I need to buy new goods to keep my store full. And because I buy from different countries, I need to be able to buy dollars or other currencies at their new values in order to buy new goods. But no one cares.” He knows it’s not the fault of his customers. He knows they can’t afford the new prices. But he also knows that it is not his fault either. “How can I buy new goods if I can’t sell the old ones.”

Alireza also has a little shop in Karaj, a small town near Tehran, which he has rented out. “It is a very small shop. Last week my tenant called and said he can’t continue to rent the shop because he can’t pay the rent. He said that for months he has been paying the rent from his savings because there is no income from the store. How is this possible? Nothing has happened yet! The first phase of sanctions has just started. Even by talking about the sanctions people lose their faith in everything. Prices have not been stable for months.”

He now wishes that his wife were still working at the bank. “I think that kind of life is a bit more secure.” But she is not. He is very worried about the impact on his family. “If this is our lives now, I cannot even imagine how we are going to get through next year and the year after that. I am so afraid, for me, for my children, for what I’ve done to my wife’s life. She is a very active woman, when I stopped her from working, her only consolation was to travel with me and help me find beautiful clothes for sale. She loved to bring things that are not here in Iran, for us to be unique among other shops.” She still thinks that we can continue, says Alireza. But he hasn’t told her the full details of the difficulties with the customs office. She thinks it’s only a matter of time and that there are just some small issues to clear up. I don’t know how to tell her that we might not be able to get our goods out of customs and that we are already broke at the very beginning of all these idiot sanctions.”

Alireza can no longer afford to travel.  He no longer has the money he needs to travel, to buy and to ship goods. “It was always hard. The government did not let us bring our goods in easily. But if we paid more, we could do it. It is no longer a matter of paying more.” He points out that it’s the same all along the street. Most shops are closed these days.

Alireza has had to lay off his staff. He has nothing to sell. There is no work for them. “I can’t pay for their salary when there is nothing to sell here.” Everyday he goes to the customs office and sees many others in the same situation. But at the customs office everyone says something different. What is a fact? What is a rumor? What is a lie? He doesn’t know what is right or who to trust. The stress is beginning to take its toll. He is worried that the worst side of people comes out in situations such as this.

Alereza talks about Plasco, a huge commercial center in Tehran that caught fire a year and a half years ago. Many people died. The shop owners lost their shops, their belongings and their money. He talks about how many died of heart attacks after they lost everything. He’s worried that he is in the same situation now. “I know the price of the dollar can have a direct impact on my work. How is it that our men of politics do not know that? We are the ones who must pay for their actions. Isn’t it their job to work for people’s needs?”

“I have traveled a lot and I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else – at least in the places I have traveled to.” He wants his government to serve the people and not just themselves and some old-fashioned ideas. He is concerned that Iranians have lost the ability to protest and demand change. “This one is our own fault. We Iranians accept things so soon, like nothing has happened. Isn’t it funny? I remember my father talking about the old days before the revolution. He kept repeating the story of people not buying Tangelos because the price had been increased in a very small amount. Guess what? They brought the price back down. But look at us now. People do not protest for the government to stop its toxic policies, they attack the exchanges and even the black market to buy dollars, even when they shouldn’t. I did it myself. I thought I was so clever. I bought a lot of dollars the day before Trump pulled out of the deal, and the days after. I am not proud of it, but I was scared, like everyone else. I laughed at those who didn’t and who told others not to do it. Did it rescue us? No!” Alireza likens his situation to the story of ‘Sohab’s death’, a famous Persian expression, from the Iranian heroic poem ‘Shahnameh’ by Ferdowsi. Sohrab is injured badly in a battle with his father. There was a cure but it was given too late and he dies.

As a father of 7-year old twin boys Alireza is concerned. “They have lived very well all these years. They have had everything they wanted. But now their lives are about to change. We are grownups, we have seen a lot through our lives, but I don’t know how they can understand such a huge change.” His sons used to come to his store every weekend. They were proud of their father. But now Alireza doesn’t know how to explain the situation to them. He can’t sleep at nights; he has insomnia. But he stays in bed and pretends he’s sleeping. “If I get up my wife will understand that something’s wrong and she is going to ask, ask and ask until I tell her every truth in the world. Who can?”

“I used to consider myself a wealthy man. I must have done something wrong, or not considered something important to fall so quickly. I think I’ll rent a small store somewhere cheaper and start a supermarket if they give me the permit. People will always need to eat. They can’t stop buying food.” Alireza stops and thinks for a minute.  “At least for now.”

Adriana’s Story

Adriana is 37. Three years ago she divorced and returned to Iran, after living and studying in Germany for over nine years.

When she returned to Iran, she started working as an architect in her parents’ business. They own an architectural firm and a well-known consulting engineering group that has successfully completed many large, city projects all over Iran. It has been a family business for a long time and they are all very loyal to it.

Both of her parents are old. She also has an older brother. He has a PhD in architecture and teaches in one of Iran’s universities. When she returned to Iran to help her father, after her years in Germany, she found that things were not the same as before. The company had not won any new work in over a year. All existing projects were in the process of being completed. Her father was very worried about it. “He told me one day that they are giving all big projects to government contractors. It’s been a while since there has been a victory for us or for other companies like us.” Adriana wanted to try to change this and thought she could. She tried hard for a year but nothing happened. Her father insisted on keeping his employees and started paying their salary out of his savings, not out of the company’s income, because there wasn’t any.

Before she left Germany, Adriana had been working on her Ph.D. in architecture as well. When she returned to Iran it was with the permission of her supervisor. They had agreed that she could continue work on her Ph.D. project while working for her parents. She would keep in touch by email and visit from time to time. Unfortunately this arrangement did not work out and she had to find a new supervisor. Her new supervisor did not know her and made it a requirement that she return to Germany to work under his direct supervision. She wanted to complete her Ph.D. project because she had received encouragement to sell it in Dubai, with the opportunity of being the supervising architect. So in February 2018 she moved back to Germany. This time, however, she was unable to work in Germany to support herself while she studied, so her father agreed to support her.

Her father is paying for both her University and her living costs. “Can you even imagine how embarrassing that is?” she asks. “I am 37. I should be helping them. And now with everything that is happening in Iran the price of my living keeps changing every minute. I wanted to quit. I bought my ticket and called my family, announced that I am not going to finish this because of all the costs that I am enforcing on them and that I am going to stop my studies and come back, but they didn’t let me. My father said it was your dream and you have struggled for it for six years. It is not the time to quit. We will afford it somehow.”

The prices in Germany are stable. But she is living on money coming from Iran. She is effectively living in Germany on Rial. “Everytime I bring my credit card out of my wallet,” she says, “the price has increased for me and my family. You understand? Every minute that passes, the value of our currency decreases. I am becoming poorer in a foreign country because I am living on money from Iran.”

In the last month she has seen many Iranian students return home, including three of her close friends. They have left their studies because their families could no longer afford to support them. “I know that my family is no different. But they are trying because they want me to finish my studies.”

She buys less. She eats less. She laughs when she says “the only good news here is that I am losing weight – a new kind of compulsory diet.” But then adds that she rarely sees Iranians who laugh anymore. Their experience is bitter sweet. While they are still in Germany following their dreams, they are all worried. Things are about to change for them.

Adriana used to travel a lot. But now she simply says, “travelling? Are you kidding me? It will soon be a year since I’ve seen my family.” Last month she had a one-week break and thought she would go back and visit them. She checked online to buy a flight back home. It was 17,000,000 Rials. She asked her professor for permission to travel. When she received it three days later, the price of the ticket was 64,000,000 Rials. “Can you even believe that? I am stuck here till I finish. I can’t even visit my family, because if I do, they would be the ones who lose. I can’t really imagine what is happening to poor families back there in Iran. Every time I go to a supermarket to buy something to eat, the price of bread has changed for me.”

“My family is trying so hard to hold it together but there is not a single day that I don’t think about what they are going through and how they are going to be able to be able to continue. So no, I can’t even think about travelling but thank God I still have no issues about banking. They still send me money, and God knows how.” Adriana is now focused on completed her Ph.D. as soon as possible. As she says, “every day I spend here is a day through hell for my parents.”

She thinks non-stop about returning to Iran. She wants to help her family. The business is still in the same situation.  She knows that her father, against his will, has had to let some of his employees go. But she also knows that even when she goes back there will be problems finding a job and making money. She is afraid that in this economic crisis nobody will need somebody with a Ph.D. “They will label me ‘Over Qualified’ and won’t hire me.”

Adriana has now reached the point where she thinks her Ph.D. will be useless even though her parents insist that she stay and complete it. “I am going to omit this part from my CV. I will do whatever I can, no matter what kind of job it would be.” She does not want her parents to pay for her to live. “I am facing a lot already. I worry about everything. I have never been so worried about the future. Everyday I wake up and ask myself how much further I can go with my project today? Everyday I wake up sooner than the day before and go to sleep later. I am so tired these days, because the stress makes me wake up hours sooner than my alarm. And my ‘to do list’ makes me more stressed.

Merhdad’s Story

Mehrdad is 57. He is married and has one child. While he is Iranian, he has lived and studied in US for almost 40 years and has dual citizenship. Both he and his wife have families in Iran: parents and siblings. They travel to Iran frequently.

Merhdad has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and has done post-doctoral research. For the last 20 years he has worked for the same company. His wife is also Iranian. She also studied in the US and has an MA in software engineering.  They are both highly educated professionals, the sort of people America claims to welcome.

While he feels that he is well off and that his life in America is secure and safe, he is aware that it is becoming increasingly precarious. Although he has worked for the same organization for 20 years, his employment is based on an ‘At Will’ contract. This means that while he can quit whenever he wants, his employer can also lay him off whenever he wants. If he is laid off, insurance will cover his salary for 6 months. After that he’s on his own.

He is worried that he may lose his job because he is Iranian. “My job is a sensitive one,” he says. At the moment it is not related to the military but most of the job opportunities in his field are. If he needed a new job and it was related to the military he would have to give up his Iranian citizenship. He insists that this “is something I will never do.” While he likes his job, it is not stable. If he loses it, it will be very hard to find a new one in US.

Since he lives in the US, the sanctions will not have any immediate and direct impact on his material wellbeing. But that is not what worries him. What worries him is the impact on his health. “Since everything is getting worse in Iran,” he says, “I cannot stop thinking about it. I am nervous about everything that is happening there. I used to be a quiet person. Not anymore. I have joined campaigns. I talk about Trump’s toxic impact on the world with anyone who will listen to me.”

He no longer buys luxury goods. He won’t buy anything that is not a basic commodity. Instead, he is committed to supporting charities in Iran, charities that are building schools in rural parts of Iran or supporting talented youth who could not reach their goals without support. But there is a problem. Since Trump pulled out of JCPOA, people have stopped donating to the charities he supports, including those who live in Iran, who have lost half their purchasing power in less than a year due to the devaluation of the Rial.

The devaluation of the Rial is not the only financial impact. There is also access to banking, and not just in Iran. Mehrdad and his my family have used the same bank in the US for 30 years. “Last year,” he says, “they started asking funny questions each time I wanted to log into my account on the internet. They asked for my nationality code, which they already have, and other information that they have had on file for 30 years. I answered the questions until one day when they asked: ‘Do you have a dual citizenship?’ It is an unusual question for a bank to ask. I went to the bank and asked them what the problem with my account was. They told me there were no problems. The questions are being asked randomly of everyone. I asked some friends if they had the same problem and no one had.”  He was anxious but didn’t make a big deal out of it until he received an email from an Iranian community group saying that his Bank has begun targeting Iranians with login problems since Trump’s election. Mehrad knew everyone at the bank. After many years of doing business there, he says he “felt a kind of intrusion and violence against our privacy.” He closed his accounts.

Merhdad insists that being Iranian has never previously had an impact on his relations with colleagues and friends in the US (he lives in a Democratic state and has little contact with Trump supporters). However, it does have impact when he travels to Iran. “There is always this sensitiveness about flying back and forth to Iran and they always remind us that we are not allowed to reveal any information about technology while traveling to our homeland.” The restriction on access to information is a sanction that never goes away.

But Merhdad recognizes that things are different this time. He has started to become more active. “Previously I don’t remember myself campaigning for people. Anyone. Even for democrats. You know I don’t consider myself a liberal or a democrat, but now I am talking. I see the situation in Iran; I talk to my family everyday. So I decided to try to change people’s ideas about Iran. I talk to everyone I see in US, in every circle or society I enter. I have prepared a presentation to be able to present things fully to people I talk to.”

It is his view that Iranians in the US who care are all worried. They realize that the next two or three years are going to be hard years for the people in Iran, “very hard I think,” he added with sorrow in his voice. “Only God knows but the difficulty seems to be way more than what we can imagine because everything is related to what is going to happen in the US.”

Even so, Merhdad, having lived so long in the US, still has some faith in the electoral system. He hopes that if the Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, Congress will be able to rein Trump in.” He hopes that a change the balance of power in Congress will put Trump under such pressure that he won’t have enough time and energy to make trouble for others.

He recognizes the faults of the system but for now is willing to take the ‘least worst’ option approach. He suggests that the upcoming elections are “like what happened here in Iran during the past election. Everyone had problems with the leader and they may not even wanted Rouhani, but he was the better choice at that time for the sake of Iran, not that he was the best but he was better than the other candidates.”

NOTES:

1. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the case of the benevolent empire in a recent speech to a group of Iranian Americans: “The Trump administration dreams,” he said, “the same dreams for the people of Iran as you do. . . . I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you; the United States supports you; the United States is with you. . . . While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States, in the spirit of our own freedoms, will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people.” Anyone tempted to believe this should place it beside Trump’s belligerent all-caps tweet in which he essentially threatened war with Iran. Trump upsets his colleagues and the country because he forgets to, or is not interested in, hiding behind convenient myths.

2. As Patrick Cockburn put it in a recent article in counterpunch, “economic sanctions are like a medieval siege but with a modern PR apparatus attached to justify what is being done.”

3. From Thucydides on historians and political thinkers have recognized that empire and democracy are a contradiction. You cannot have both at the same time.

NO To NATO: A Peace Festival

Washington DC, April 3, 2019

No To NATO

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