Young Women In Iran On Life In A Country At Boiling Point

Photo by STR/Contributor/Getty Images
As a young British-Iranian woman, I have spent the last two weeks nervously following the news regarding the tensions between Iran and the U.S.
When I heard that General Qasem Soleimani, a Revolutionary Guard Leader, had been killed in a U.S airstrike in Iraq, I was instantly fearful. 
The 62-year-old general was the second most powerful man in Iran and is seen by some Iranians as a war hero and martyr.
I worried this could be the final trigger to start a war between the U.S and Iran – a war into which the UK could be dragged at some point thanks to the 'special relationship' between the two Western countries.
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Like other British millennials, I grew up looking on as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars filled the news. But I also knew all too well the devastating effect these conflicts had on ordinary people in those countries.
My main fears were for my family members who live in Tehran, some of whom had survived the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and bombings in their home city during that time. I also feared for my younger male cousins who would be drafted in to fight if there were a full-blown conflict.
They're one of the reasons why I have decided to remain anonymous while writing this piece. As a British-Iranian journalist, it is difficult to write openly about the country in British or U.S media, as it can affect your entry into Iran. I don't want to be prevented from seeing my family. If I write something that goes down badly, that's a real possibility. 
The situation in Iran is incredibly complex. I can't predict how things will develop in the coming months. And while I know there are severe problems with the current Iranian regime, such as arbitrary arrests, women's rights abuses, censorship and the frequent blocking of social media sites and the internet, including during the civil protests last November, my belief is that most people in Iran simply want to get on with their lives in peace. 

As a British-Iranian journalist, it is difficult to write openly about the country in British or U.S media, as it can affect your entry into Iran and I don't want to be prevented from seeing my family. If I write something that goes down badly, that's a real possibility. 

While nobody died in last week's Iranian airstrike against a U.S military base in Iraq, the threat of war has already destroyed families with the accidental shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 and the death of 176 civilians by Iranian missiles. And now, the individual who filmed the plane going down on their phone has been arrested. 
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Be in no doubt – this tragedy would not have happened had Soleimani not been assassinated.
Setareh Sadeqi, a 34-year-old PhD student from Esfahan, Iran, tells me that while she doesn't believe things will escalate into a full-scale war between Iran and the U.S, Iranians are concerned about the situation.
"I was born during the U.S-backed Saddam Hussein's war on Iran and the trauma existed for a long time among families," she says.
"I was too young to remember anything, but I've heard stories from my parents about how terrible it was."
Photo by STR/Contributor/Getty Images
She adds that since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran has constantly had to defend itself from foreign aggression. "After a year we faced foreign invasion, and that delayed Iran's progress in many ways. It took many years to rebuild the country, but at the same time there were pressures from the so-called international community and these tensions have never left us.”
"This has actually made it difficult for any Iranian – whether or not they support the current government – because we haven't really felt stability and peace for long and that has made it very difficult for political and economic progress."
Her worries are shared by Haley Darya Parsa, a 23-year-old Iranian artist based in Texas. "I have concerns all the time, especially now," she tells me. "A war would deepen the distance between me and my family. I worry for their safety and our ability to see each other."
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As an Iranian woman living in the U.S, she adds that she "can't get too personal" despite being in a position to speak openly to Western media. "I have to think about safety," she adds. "So many people do."
Setareh says she believes Donald Trump is the "epitome" of aggressive U.S policies towards any country that "doesn't submit to its will", citing the fact that Obama also placed visa restrictions on Iranians travelling into America.
"In that regard, I don't see a difference between Trump and other U.S presidents," she explains. 
"The only difference that I can feel as a Muslim, as an Iranian, is that Trump is very open about it while Obama was not. Trump has no concerns about public opinion and his Islamophobic and racist positions are very clear."

I was born during the U.S-backed Saddam Hussein's war on Iran and the trauma existed for a long time among families.

Setareh Sadeqi, 34-year-old PHD student from Esfahan, Iran
"The U.S want to portray themselves as strong against an enemy – sometimes it is Islam, sometimes it is Iran – and sometimes it is both,” Setareh continues. "I think Trump is also looking for ways to secure his position as the president. The U.S elections are close, and Trump badly needs to look different from other presidents."
She also says she doesn't believe fellow Iranians are positive about Trump. "I have never seen one single Iranian who approves of Trump or likes him," she adds. 
"Everyone thinks of him as a stupid guy who has too much power and wealth but doesn't have any common sense and is crazy enough to make very wrong decisions."
It's clear that Donald Trump has been targeting Iran since he got into office. Iran was one of six Islamic countries from which he banned travellers to the U.S under the guise of terrorism prevention – despite the fact that no Iranian has committed terrorism on American soil.
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In 2018, he announced that the U.S would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, and Trump's economic sanctions on Iran have led to a recession in the country, as well as high levels of inflation and food shortages.
Nappies, sanitary towels and medicines have also been in short supply due to the sanctions.
"The sanctions have made it difficult for many groups of people," says Setareh.
"What we are feeling in everyday life is not totally due to U.S sanctions – it is also because of the economic mismanagement within Iran – but it is very difficult to know what is going to happen next because Trump keeps talking about new rounds of sanctions. I really wonder what these will be, as he's already sanctioned all possible areas."
Haley also believes that Trump has been targeting Iran specifically. "He very strategically conflates 'terrorism' with Iran and the Middle East, when the American people are actually at a far greater threat of domestic terrorism in the U.S than from anyone in Iran, anyone from Iran, or anyone of Iranian/Persian descent born in the U.S, who conveniently get grouped as one," she says.

Culture is the strongest connection unifying the people of Iran. We should all be united in wanting to preserve global heritage and history. Trump's threats to bomb historical sites is a shock tactic to exercise power and elicit terror and hate.

Haley Darya Parsa, 23-year-old Iranian artist based in Texas.
"Since he came to office he has been targeting Iran at the expense of the Iranian people – with the sanctions, the Muslim ban, and now this. The people of Iran do not want a war. The American people don’t either."
"There has been a collective cultural amnesia – many people do not know or remember that the U.S and Iran once had a cooperative foundation and close relationship."
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One of the most heartbreaking moments in the past two weeks was when Donald Trump tweeted about his plans to target 52 sites that were important to Iran and the Iranian culture "very fast and very hard". 
Aside from this clearly being a war crime should it go ahead, some of these cultural areas, from the stunning Shah Mosque in Esfahan to the 6th century BC World Heritage site Persepolis, are irreplaceable parts of world history and belong to various ancient civilisations. 
Haley says she sees these threats as being "equivalent to cultural genocide". "There is no ability to reverse or replace," she says. "Culture is the strongest connection unifying the people of Iran. We should all be united in wanting to preserve global heritage and history."
"Even the threat alone was a shock tactic to exercise power and elicit terror and hate. The current president is disregarding the global value and rich history embedded in these objects and sites."

I've experienced racism myself at the U.S border, and have previously been detained there for several hours just for the crime of being of Iranian heritage. This was an extremely degrading experience. I was treated as a criminal just for being what they thought was 'other'. 

"Even though he has walked back on these threats, he has still put this out into the world and to his followers. I know people who have already fled their city in Iran to find refuge in a lower profile, remote area less prone to attacks."
"Everyone is concerned and angry that our general was killed by the U.S, and see it as a terrorist attack but they are worried about the consequences and the decisions that their countrymen will make in that regard," adds Setareh.
"A war would affect me the same way it would affect everyone else in Iran. Like any victim of war, I would be probably displaced, suffer from the loss of loved ones, as well as PTSD, anxiety and depression. If a war broke out between Iran and the U.S, then I wouldn't be able to imagine anything, to make plans for my future."
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"Sanctions and economic pressure, as well as escalations of tensions have already made it difficult for me to make long-term plans as everything can change within days but a war would make it even more horrible."
I've experienced racism myself at the U.S border, and have previously been detained there for several hours just for the crime of being of Iranian heritage. This was an extremely degrading experience – you're questioned at length about your motives for entering the country (in my case, a simple holiday with friends) and it felt as if I was being treated as a criminal just for being what they thought was 'other'. 
It's another reason for my anonymity in writing this piece – I also worry about criticising the U.S publicly should I want to travel there again at any point. For my generation – in Iran, the UK and the U.S – the possibility of war has loomed large since the 2000s. Imagine a world where we no longer had to live this threat, moderate what we say and where we say it, and could live our lives without fear of being denied access to a country on either side of the conflict. 

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