As Tension with Iran Escalates, Iranian Students Feel Divided

Pouria Taghavi, a sophomore who was born in Iran, worries for his family at home as conflicts between the U.S. and Iran intensify. Jan. 14.

With tensions between the U.S. and Iran heightened after a recent drone strike by President Donald Trump killed Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, some Iranian students are struggling to find peace in their day-to-day lives while others feel torn by dual-heritage.

William Motazedi, a senior and dual-citizen of the U.S. and Iran who is conducting his thesis research on the history behind American citizenship of Middle Eastern and Iranian people, thinks in order to reach a peaceful agreement with Iran, the U.S. government must be willing to compromise and understand the extensive history and heritage of Iran.

“(The U.S. has) only been around for what a fraction of Iran has,” Motazedi said. “I think we need to realize that we cannot just hold our ground with this and be so stubborn, because our ways are extremely new, culturally and politically, to a lot of people in the Middle East as a whole.”

More than six months after withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal, Trump commanded the American MQ-9 Reaper drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, resulting in the deaths of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and several Iraqi military officials.

Following the strike, Trump issued the following statement: "Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood. He should have been terminated long ago. By removing Soleimani, we have sent a powerful message to terrorists: If you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued the following tweet in response: “General Soleimani fought heroically against ISIS, Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al. If it weren’t for his war on terror, European capitals would be in great danger now. Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region.”

Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was the orchestrator of nearly all significant Iranian intelligence and military operations over the past 20 years. While people across the globe recognized Soleimani as a terrorist and perpetrator of human rights abuse, many are divided on whether the strike was a justified action amid decades of conflict.

Motazedi thinks Soleimani’s death, while deserved for his acts of terrorism, infringes on the freedoms of Iranian people.

“It takes away the agency of the Iranian people to choose freedom for themselves when we are bombing their leaders,” Motazedi said.

Motazedi’s father was born in Iran and lived there until he moved to the U.S., where he met Motazedi’s mother, who is American. Although Motazedi’s father did not often speak his native language, Farsi, at home, Motazedi’s childhood was heavily influenced by Iranian culture, as his family often enjoyed Iranian food and honored cultural traditions.

Pouria Taghavi, a sophomore who was born in Iran, said his mental health is wavering because of the conflict at home, and he often cannot sleep after he reads the news. He worries for his family in Iran, who are restless from years of ongoing tension, he said.

“It’s hard to be Iranian and deal with all of that,” Taghavi said.

Taghavi thinks although the death of Soleimani was justified, his assassination has divided Iranian citizens, he said. He thinks trust between citizens and the government has dissolved, as well as trust between each other.

“People are very hard to depend on each other, and it’s really harder to trust each other back home right now,” Taghavi said. “They’re trying to keep their lives safe. Needing to protect yourself from your own people is definitely not a good thing for any country.”

Because of the tension, communicating with loved ones across borders has become increasingly difficult, Taghavi said.

“There’s a level right now where people have difficulty to send money to their family or even get a flight right now,” Taghavi said.

Taghavi thinks the U.S. and Iranian governments are not likely to cooperate anytime soon, but education on both sides is crucial to reaching a peaceful agreement, he said. He thinks everyone could benefit from learning about other countries’ cultures and traditions, and that mutual understanding could be the first step toward peace.

Shirin Saeidi, an assistant professor of political science and Middle East studies, said the U.S. government’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal intensified sanctions on Iran, which is essentially an application of economic terrorism.

“Once that happens, it becomes difficult to negotiate with Iran over its regional politics because Iran is a regional power,” Saeidi said. “It is one of the more powerful countries in the Middle East that is challenging U.S. domination, Israeli politics and the politics of the Saudis.”

The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was an agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and a group of world powers including the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France and China – plus Germany and the European Union. Under the framework of the agreement, Iran would redesign, convert and reduce its nuclear facilities and lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions.

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