What Sanctions Mean for My Iranian-American Family

“What’s wrong?” I asked my mother, as I saw her broken expression. She was on the phone, speaking with my grandparents in Iran. “A terrible thing has happened,” she replied.

My grandparent’s home in Tehran had been broken into. The thieves took everything they could carry – my grandmother’s jewelry, my uncle’s prized watch collection, his wedding band, and some cash. Perhaps the only thing left untouched was the grand, ornate Persian rug in their living room.

My grandfather had left the house for 10 minutes for afternoon prayers at the mosque. Now, he swears to never leave his home unattended again. He takes turns leaving the house with my grandmother, both in constant dread of another break-in.

Across Iran, such burglaries seem to be increasing as ordinary Iranian people face increased hardship from U.S.-imposed sanctions.

As a dual citizen, I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, but I’ve been traveling to Iran regularly ever since I was four months old.

I grew up in a household that taught me to love who I am, to see the wisdom in maintaining cultural intricacies, and to relish in the socio-religious traditions that keep life going. Words cannot do justice to the feeling of affinity that envelops me every time I step into my second home in Tehran.

My mother, in efforts to ease her old parents’ anxious hearts, could only repeat tavakol be khoda, or as we like to translate it: “Your faith must be stronger than your fear.”

President Trump has sought confrontation with Iran at every opportunity. Since America’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, the U.S. has re-imposed sanctions targeting critical sectors of Iran’s economy.

Since then, oil exports have more than halved, choking the main source of funding for the country. Iranian currency has lost almost 60 percent of its value against the US dollar, reaching a record low.

Meanwhile, sanctions and problems in banking transfers have made it extremely hard to buy everything from food to medicine. In the past 12 months, the cost of red meat and poultry has increased by 57 percent. Physicians are forced to prescribe less effective drugs, while patients must wait longer for operations.

During my visit last December, I witnessed the desperation with my own eyes.

Children stood, begging on the streets, tapping on my car window, trying to sell flowers and CDs. Highly educated youth sat in their homes, unable to find employment. Families withstood long lines at government-subsidized grocery stores to receive rationed meat. Patients had to self-treat their illnesses because they couldn’t purchase proper medicine.

Day after day, I sit and watch my president come up with new ways to escalate tensions, like tweeting that we’re “cocked and loaded to retaliate,” and only barely calling off a strike that would have killed 150 people – potentially starting a war without congressional approval. Or imposing new sanctions on top Iranian officials, which could close off the road to diplomacy.

Yet the absence of armed conflict doesn’t mean that over 80 million innocent people aren’t tremendously hurting already – and for no good reason. Economic sanctions are a form of warfare on people who are just trying to make ends meet.

Trump has even configured a way to suppress the normal aspirational response to escape destitute living conditions – banning Iranians entry to the most promising nation on Earth with his Muslim travel ban.

Whether it’s Cuba or Venezuela or Iran, history shows that sanctions alone have never forced a change in policy by an adversary. Iranians and Americans alike deserve diplomacy, not war – and that includes war by economic means.

Can our faith be stronger than our fear?

Mina Shahinfar is a Next Leader on the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Reprinted from OtherWords.org with permission.

14 thoughts on “What Sanctions Mean for My Iranian-American Family”

  1. Embarrassing to call the USA home, but with an American flag flown by some gingoist, ignorant wretch everywhere I turn, can’t deny it.

    1. It’s fine when not associated with the empire. The US has become the embodiment of globalism.

        1. Well, I like Swiss militarism. Stalin and Hitler both supposedly hated how the Swiss built themselves into a fortress, their mountainous regions anyway.

          I also wanted to make the argument that it is not US chauvinism but a sort of ideological globalism, akin to the spread of communism. A primary difference of course is no one really knows what in the heck the US ideology is. It’s something about worshiping greed, not caring for one’s neighbor (as opposed to charity), and sanctifying the voting empowerment of a proletariat mass which lacks the ability to understand what it’s voting on.

          1. All species spend, or reserve energy for it’s defense, that is not militarism. Globalism also includes manufacturing water systems for nations around the world, that don’t have them. I believe that any government/socioeconomic system fails where militarism is a goal of production.

          2. Water systems alone might be positive, but there always seem to be ulterior motives. I hate how, for example, aid workers seem to abuse local girls. And there’s the common claim that foreign aid tends to keep dictators in power who otherwise could not retain power.

            Any intervention of course has consequences; some could be considered bad. So, the question comes to be: Is the overall impact positive or negative?

            Anyway, most US intervention seems negative from what I’ve seen. Foreign polities that suffer resource shortages sometimes are just suffering from overpopulation… And others are just located where cyclones are horrible.

            I dunno how one helps Haiti. If wanting to save the world, it seems the US would start by trying to lift Haiti out of poverty. I have my ideas for how Haiti could be helped, but ultimately it would need to support itself. Aid workers traveling there to “help” need to do more than just sleep with the locals…

          3. I just used water systems as an example of how “globalism” doesn’t have to mean empire, or militancy.

          4. Oh, yea I know. I just say, it’s tough to separate them.

            Last thing I’ll pester you on here: y’all here overestimate voters. My gf, assuming we’re even still together, was a poli sci major, might have dual majored really. She won’t tolerate talk on politics and current events, because she’s focused on her immediate life. She only tolerated politics when trying to appeal to me. She trusts most authorities, and she doesn’t see a need for her to understand affairs. Any debate we’ve had, she forgets entirely, because she’s not remotely interested. She doesn’t mind my opposition to foreign policy, because it’s not controversial, isn’t looked upon poorly by society. She is wary of my desire to reduce immigration, because it’s divisive, could have societal repercussions. So, all she cares about is her immediate life, and I think a lot of people are like this.

            A lot of guys in their 20s and even 30s, all they’re interested in sleeping with girls. A nice job is desired, to attract girls. That’s their ambition. Foreign affairs, other political matters? They’d only care if it impacted their pursuit of girls.

            I told one guy recently that I like music that’s virtuous. He asked, “well, what do you pick girls up with?” That’s all most people focus on, until they have kids. Then the focus is on kids.

          5. I agree. I have been reading history since I could read. You are right on US voters, those that bother. The loss of accountability on the part of leadership is a big problem. Lies and more lies, provable lies, nothing happens. The obfuscation and secrecy is a feature, not a trend. The militancy foundation is “national security secrets”. People become disinterested in the process because there so little information to trust. Every year brings a new country under US bombs, or an expansion of bombing in a country they forgot about. But, always bombs.

  2. I’m impressed the author is willing to speak out like this. Most Iranians and Lebanese seem to keep quiet nowadays. I’m referring to American citizens.

  3. Banning foreign Muslims originating in certain polities from the US is good. It is absolute insanity for the US to terrorize the world and then invite its victims into the US. Iran is perhaps unique in this regard, because there seems to be zero terrorist threat from Iran. It would be better to ban the Saudis.

    The obvious goal of “invade-the-world;invite-the-world” is to encourage terrorism which then justifies not only continued interventions and empire but also the police state.

    A free society relies on trust: Members of a nation trust one another more than they trust the government. If the US comes to fear fellow Americans and visitors more than it fears the government, then we’ll have a police state and perhaps ultimately communist enslavement.

    1. Perhaps, tho the vast majority of terror attacks in the US, originate in the US, by US citizens.

      1. Many are ethnically descended from foreigners of these regions it seems, so immigration origin is at least pertinent. Just to add an argument: I’m concerned by how even Buddhists seem to fight Muslims fiercely now. Some here clearly blame the Buddhists, but I’m wary that without a dominant Christian culture to unite Americans that we’ll fight.

        To counter my concern: 9/11 and other attacks are a relatively very minor problem in the US, currently. But the fear is of this trend growing.

        9/11 is the big thing people talk about. Many were visa overstays.

        One of the frightening things about the US-Mexico border is supposedly ISIS fighters attempted crossings. And I do acknowledge the US seems to have caused some of the economic problems MesoAmericans are fleeing. I obviously don’t support the military serving US big business interests.

        And I do find it humiliating to be associated with the US empire. Because in a democracy, the people get blamed, even if we’re too stupid and ignorant to know what in the heck we’re voting on.

        1. “Visa overstays”…we won’t go into how these guys got visas…can of worms. I reject association of religion, Christian, Islam, or any other, with terrorism. I regard them all as radical militancy. Raised Christian, I don’t consider self identified “Christian” terrorists christian in any way, I’m sure Muslims feel the same way about terrorists in their midst.
          Regarding citizens being “too stupid and ignorant to know”, that is true, yet militant propaganda and secrecy, poor education investment is the main culprit here. I believe US voters want to know.

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