An innocent victim of our sanctions against Iran

Or how “high” politics are connected to the lives of Iranians even abroad

By Jan Oberg

I’ve come to know a young Iranian student here in Sweden. Fortunately he came before the discriminatory law that forces students from outside EU to pay for their studies while those from inside the EU can study freely.

Kourosh – a name I use for the purpose of this article – is a very modest, diligent and polite young man. He has quickly learned to talk everyday Swedish. He sees his life in Sweden as a great privilege and an opportunity to go back to his native Iran and make it a better place. Since I have applied for a visa to go to Iran, I’ve been eager to meet with him and listen to what he can tell me about Iranian culture and about how life has been for his family. The father is a truck driver turned farmer; the family is not among the poorest but also not in the upper class.

After our first few meetings, he gave me a present, a beautiful jar with a lit, made of copper, chiseled with a special tool with ornaments and then lacquered. I was touched by this gesture; I was the one who should have given him a present but he says: “I took my tools with me over here and have made a few like this one; I’ve tried many shops and individuals but there is no market for them here. I know you appreciate art and you are interested in my country.”

Recently, his Swedish life has changed considerably. Because of the sanctions that we decide about in the West with such ease and no human empathy, there can be no bank transactions between Sweden and Iran; this means no more transfers from his family to help him live in Sweden. He does have an uncle in Sweden who can support him a little, but this is money that must, naturally, be paid back.

When these unfair and counterproductive sanctions were tightened – and that is not the only thing, we also suffocate the Iranian people of 75 million by forcing other countries to stop buying its goods including oil – I asked him whether he would be able to stay. He said – “I have to to finish my studies and that is a few years ahead and then perhaps adding a PhD, I don’t know. If I go home, I shall also have to do my military service.” He doesn’t look happy exactly. “At the time of our New Year – Nowrooz – the duration was extended from 18 to 24 months. It’s a consequence of the Western threats against my country.”

Kourosh finds most Swedes kind and he has no serious problems. He actually admires our type of society – as does, allegedly, many in Iran. But he has come across threats and unpleasant incidents; the caretaker of the apartment building where he lives with another Iranian man knocked his door at 8 in the morning, bringing two body guard-like people with him and shouted at him that he could be thrown out if he was once again seen in a room of the complex where, according to his contract, Kourosh has a right to store a few belongings. Evidently, he had been taken for a kind of thief by the caretaker although he hasn’t taken a thing.

Also, when recently he went to the Nordea Bank to send 500 Swedish kronor – US $ 72 – on behalf of a friend to another Iranian in Sweden, he got a lot of questions as to where that money came from. And was told that he could not do it.

The whole sanctions system causes absurdity. The bank will not accept that Kourosh deposits his own money on his account; the only reason is that he has an Iranian passport and of course does not look like or speak like a Swede. At the same time, the Swedish immigration authorities require that he can prove that he has money on his account to extend his study visa! Discrimination + bureaucratic chaos are the only words I know for such rules!

So far, Kourosh takes the whole thing with a smile and emphasizes repeatedly that he is truly grateful for studying in Sweden. But he also says that it doesn’t feel good “to hold our heads down every time we say our nationality.”

Over 13 years the sanctions against Iraq implied that there live around 1 million fewer people there today than there otherwise would. It is not unreasonable to call tight, comprehensive and multi-year sanctions a weapons of mass destruction. Particularly when, as is often the case, they are linked to embargo and internationally coordinated attempts to stop importing goods from the same country. These months the US spends considerable diplomatic time and energy on twisting the arms of anyone who buys goods, including oil, from Iran.

Under such circumstances the “soft” un-controversial sanctions tool of pressure that we so lightly force upon others have dire consequences for what is genuinely innocent people.

Is this not a human rights problem? Is this not collective punishment of a people for what its government does – or, rather, what we in the West don’t like about it?

I’d like to see the psychological theory or evidence that if you threaten someone you also call bad names on his life, deliberately and systematically try to suffocate him and tell others that they will be punished if they ever deal with him then the person in the receiving end becomes more willing to come your way and do what you demand that he shall do.

The human folly in international politics seems limitless. I shall be very happily surprised if Kourosh’s native country, Iran, is not going to be smashed up at some point in the future – due to that human folly. My friendship with Kourosh has taught me – and certainly not for the first time – how good it would be if there were just a gram of empathy and humanity in the foreign offices of Western nations. And if a bit of basic psycholigical insights were applied.

4 Responses to “An innocent victim of our sanctions against Iran”

  • Bodil Weyde says:

    Det griber mig om hjertet. Undskyld jeg ikke kommenterer på engelsk. Jeg føler stor hjælpeløshed. Bl.a. har jeg ingen penge at kunne bidrage med,kan kun bruge stemmen og gøre noget konkret som medmenneske når jeg møder de problemer indflygtede mennesker står med i ensom fremmedhed. Således er jeg nu på snart sjette år mor og bedstemor for en tjetjensk flygtningefamilie, i en gensidig kærlighed for livet. En forpligtigende ankerplads og vejleder. Det er godt det du gør Jan Oberg, og så udholdende bliver ved med. Også inspirerende og godt for os, der deler dine synspunkter.

  • Jan says:

    Det er helt flot, det DU gør. Og vi blir nok begge ved med at gøre det, vi tror på, ikke!

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