Elham Pourtaher, Iranian In The U.S., On Daily Life In Iran Amid Rising Tensions
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
U.S. aircraft carriers and bombers are moving into the Persian Gulf. Iran is threatening to retaliate if attacked. Both countries say they don't want a war, but they appear to be ready for a fight. This isn't just a geopolitical matter. For many, it's a personal one, too. Elham Pourtaher published an essay titled "For Iranians, The War Has Already Begun." Pourtaher spent most of her life in Iran before coming to the States, where she is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Albany. I asked her what effect she thinks the Trump administration's hard line on Iran is having there.
ELHAM POURTAHER: President Trump claims that he cares for the Iranian people, and he wants Iran to be more democratic. But really, imposing sanctions and embargo and war threats really contradict these claims in reality. Sanctions, first and foremost, target middle class and working-class people. The undemocratic elements are actually the last people to be pressured by these sanctions. So since last year, Iranian currency has lost 80% of its value vis a vis U.S. dollar.
You can imagine the radical economic impact on people's ordinary lives. And a lot of small businesses that are totally independent from the state have become bankrupt. And also, there's obviously political consequences to these sanctions and war threats. People were very hopeful about the outcomes of the Iran deal, especially reformists. And now that it's revoked, conservatives are becoming more powerful because now they're saying, look at this. This is just another 21st-century example of how the West is not trustworthy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how is Iran portrayed in the United States?
POURTAHER: Iran is portrayed in the United States in a very monolithic, homogeneous way. I actually studied this phenomena with another colleague. And we are just surprised to see how one-sided and how stereotypical is this perception even in the liberal media.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because there's about 80 million people in Iran so, obviously, with a lot of different perspectives.
POURTAHER: Exactly. There are so many different perspectives. And there are so many different interpretations to religion. So, like, by just putting everyone in one group and calling them, like, Muslims who are radical and ignorant - this is just not the case.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The administration says it's sending in an aircraft carrier strike group to counter threats from Iran, that it has intelligence that Iran is planning an attack on U.S. interests. Is there a concern, a real concern, among your peers in Iran that there could be a war?
POURTAHER: Of course. They constantly follow the news, the political news in the U.S. They know their lives totally depend upon the party that is in power in the U.S. And they just - their understanding of the situation is not limited to the Iranian state news. And they are very scared of a possibility of war.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In your essay, you wrote about living this sort of double life between the U.S. and Iran and that you, quote, "struggle daily with moments of despair and alienation." Do you think about going home?
POURTAHER: Every day - I - sometimes I feel like, what am I doing here, like, when my people are suffering? Of course, I also feel belonging to the United States. I'm now a permanent resident here. And I work at the Department of Health. I - my projects are focused on programs that respond to the opioid crisis. And I'm - I feel like I'm making an impact here.
But it's just so hard because people like me who are not defending either of the states but really want better lives for our society and, like, believe in democracy - our perspective is just not represented in the United States, which makes it difficult for me to verbalize my sense of fear.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Elham Pourtaher is getting her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Albany in New York. Thank you very much.
POURTAHER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.