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Sanctioning Iran, or Iranians?

Writing about Iran is tricky. One can never know enough and there are at least two sides to any argument. What makes this personally troubling, is that I am half Iranian and can never quite separate my emotional opinions from the ones I learn to have at King’s – critical and objective. But university has taught me to voice my opinion and give my best shot.

In light of the sanctions on Iran, which still prevail, I would like to point to the effects they have. First, I thought sanctions are like toy guns; empty threats politicians use in their power play. But then I realized that they are designed to be everything but empty threats. How they affect innocent individuals is easily overlooked, when we read the headlines announcing them. Information fatigue can obscure the severity of events. But sanctions have effects on real people.

Iran’s economy has been in steep decline, ever since Trump withdrew the nuclear deal (see arrow on figure 1 below). The deal had been signed in 2015, between Iran, the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. It was a long-term deal, in order to ensure that Iran limits its uranium production and therefore does not produce nuclear weapons. Upon Iran’s fulfilment of the deal’s obligations, the UN’s nuclear-related sanctions and the US sanctions were removed. Due to Trump’s fear of parts of the deal expiring, thus allowing for the possibility of Iran’s production of nuclear weapons, Trump announced his withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reintroduced sanctions. His withdrawal was based on a fear, an emotion, not a fact or proven incident. Speculation.

Figure 1. Iran’s economic decline since sanctions reintroduced. BBC.

So sanctions clearly hurt the economy. What this graph doesn’t represent, is the effects this has on the lives of innocent citizens. It’s the ordinary people who are most affected. Even if that is what sanctions are meant to do, it is in no way humane. The Statistical Centre of Iran shows that last year, red meat and poultry have become 57% more costly, with milk, cheese and eggs following at 37% and vegetables at 47%. This is my relatives’ food in Teheran too. And without clinging onto a few numbers, I am deeply distressed about the effect sanctions might have on my family.

Medicine stocks are low

It is not just food, which has come under jeopardy. The stock of basic medicines has suffered too. Mainly however, it is the more advanced medicines, which rely on imports, that have been harder to access. An article on the BBC mentions that drugs for anaesthetics, cancer-treatment and diabetes are especially difficult to obtain now. Usually, news like this would sound dramatic, yet distant to me. A short-term sensation which seems to get lost somewhere between eating breakfast and putting my shoes on. But this time it’s different for me.

My grandmother has recently been diagnosed with a rare disease, relying heavily on imports from abroad. For four days now, my father has been waiting for my grandmother’s medication to be shipped to our house, so that he can then send it to my grandmother in Iran. The sanctions make my family’s life a lot more difficult. Sanctions are much more than a decree, they destabilise the lives of people who rely on international goodwill. The insecurity imposed on those furthest removed from politics, is cruel and unnecessary.

Immature and deceitful politics

When the US Secretary of State disguises irrational sanctions behind a call for the improvement of human rights, without addressing the fact that economic sanctions severely impact Iranian’s in their most basic everyday lives, I think I have the right to say that politics is immature, even deceitful. The human cost of sanctions on the Iranian citizens and the assertion of power in manners which create disruption, rather than a constructive solution, must be taken sufficiently seriously by other countries, in order for politics to redeem itself in my mind. “Politicians” use economic power tools to support their argument, possibly because a constructive argument won’t allow them to assert their power, or perhaps because they doubt their abilities to make one.

It seems absurd to me, that the power games played by individual leaders hurt ordinary, innocent families, whilst the leaders don’t risk personal punishment. That the fear and memory countries carry of previous difficulties with Iran override the present need for action. 

Trump is sanctioning Iranians more than the Iranian government. He is sanctioning my 80-year old grandparents. He is sanctioning the sick and he is sanctioning the poor. When you enter university, you think you will leave with an understanding of the world but I think what it does is help you formulate arguments to support your moral convictions and constructively disagree with those things you find unacceptable. I find this unacceptable.  

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