If war should come
Seeing the news of Qasim Soleimani’s death doing the rounds on Twitter, my first reaction was relief. As a British-Iranian, his name wasn’t new to me and I’d heard about the horror he was unleashing across the Middle East. He was also doing this with a growing share of the Iranian regime’s budget at a time when sanctions have the left the country’s domestic economy in the gutter. People are struggling to afford basic supplies and yet Soleimani’s Quds forces were given carte blanche access to the regime’s resources.
Though not framed in this way, he was a threat to Iranian citizens as much as to American troops so yes, hearing he had been killed did give me some relief. Perhaps the country would break its obsession with costly interventions in other countries in the region and invest in its own people, who so desperately need it.Needless to say, I had been naive. The consequences of his death will prove more costly for all players involved. Seeing analysis of how this essentially amounted to a declaration of war, dread set in.
I still have family living in Iran, both in Tehran and Kerman, Soleimani’s hometown. The threat of them being under attack was no longer a long shot. Any chance of seeing them, either me going to Iran, or them coming to the UK is now definitely out of the question. The Iranian regime does not draw a line between its citizens and troops — in the Iran-Iraq war, city centres would be bombed whilst children would be encouraged to go to the front to clear mines (with their bodies) so troops could advance. In one night, many of my family had gone from being people I could see rarely and with some difficulty to being cut off for the foreseeable future, potentially victims of an American war.
Rather selfishly, I found myself thinking what this would mean for me. I am not living in the Middle East, nor am I a diplomat at risk of assassination — I certainly won’t be who the focus should be on during this conflict. Nevertheless, I considered my position. My heritage has been effectively severed from me. My family members in Iran are now out of reach. Equally out of reach however, are the mountains my parents climbed in their student days, the Zoroastrian temple my grandmother would go to, the university my parents studied at. My Iranian citizenship, rarely used but held onto as something to connect me to my heritage is something I will most likely have to rescind, or else I would face being drafted into the military should I try and visit.
Essentially, the bulk of my family history lies out of my reach. Should this really become the war many seem to think it will, then I can only see this being worse. My dual nationality has been a gift, although a challenging one at times. Exposure to two different languages, cultures, cuisines and ways of thinking from my birth has given the perspective to identify the best things about being both British (the freedoms, the education, the music) and Iranian (the food, the warmth, the deep sense of history). Should Britain follow the US into this conflict, and it may well do so, these two halves of my identity will be pulled against each other.
Trying to juggle these two facets facing hostility from both sides will become difficult. I see my identity as giving me twice the heritage someone with a single nationality has — having to abandon one side will give me half what they have. It’s a great thing to be British-Iranian, as long as that’s something you’re allowed to be. I could never be fully British, nor could I ever be fully Iranian (I can barely read and write Farsi, as an example).
None of this is to say I’m an expert in the foreign policy discussion currently taking place. I am however, heavily invested in it. The people who could stand to lose their lives are not faceless people from a country I couldn’t find on a map, they’re my uncle, my cousins. This is why seeing the discourse take place online has been so unnerving.
There are, as always, the flag-waving military hawks. They support war with Iran, just as they supported war with Iraq. They would probably support war with Iceland if that was on the table. The less said about these people the better.
A new phenomenon has been the meme-makers. Jokes about finding ways to avoid being drafted into the army centre a perspective that should really remain on the fringes of this discussion. I, frankly, don’t care what a white American thinks their life will be like in the event of a war — I’m more worried about the Iraqi and Iranian civilians who will be killed. It is true that we make jokes to deal with our fears in times of extreme terror. I just fail to see what civilians living in the biggest military power in the world, separated from the battlefield by an ocean, have to fear compared to those living in the zone of conflict. Now is a time to speak for the Iranian and Iraqi civilians, or failing that, to stay silent.
And finally, there are the Iran defenders. Primarily leftists who have been tweeting out all the crimes the US has committed against Iran. Yes, the bombing of a civilian Iran Air flight (for which there has been no apology) was demonic. The CIA ousting the democratically elected Mossadegh was outrageous. Yet all too often, these critiques of the USA turn into an implicit endorsement of the Iranian regime.
The same regime which imprisoned my mother, and my aunt. The regime which executed many of their friends. The regime carries out human rights violations on a daily basis, within and without its borders. It is only marginally less jarring to see a person endorse a government which has put my family through hell than it is to see someone endorse bombing the city where some of them live.
There isn’t really a way to conclude this. It wasn’t written to make a point or reach an argument. I’m fearful for the future, wishing I could do something to stop the course of events. I know I can’t but I don’t want to say I didn’t speak up.