In the face of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, Iranian Americans can be caught in the middle.
A U.S. drone strike assassinated Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani Jan. 3, following the attack on a U.S. embassy in Iraq by an Iran-backed militia. Although war seems unlikely, the increasing divide between the countries has some students on edge.
Nealofar Madani, a third-year in public health and co-leader of the Iranian Cultural Association, said she has concerns about family visiting from Iran.
According to a press release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Iranian Americans in Washington state were detained at the border Jan. 6. CAIR is a civil rights group for Muslims with nationwide branches, including one in Columbus, Ohio.
Madani said she is worried about her grandparents who are set to visit her in February in time for the Persian New Year. Madani is concerned their poor English could present a barrier, despite having the proper documentation.
“I am worried that if they’re not completely aware of their rights, they could get mistreated or misinformed during their travels to the U.S. or back,” Madani said.
CAIR-Columbus has put out a “Know Your Rights” community advisory for those who may need it.
Usjid Hameed, government affairs and development director at CAIR-Columbus, said CAIR provides services such as employment discrimination, immigration delay, citizenship, voter registration and advocacy to aid members of the Islamic community. He said he does not know of any Iranians or Iranian Americans who have reached out to the office yet.
The recent escalation between Iran and the U.S. is not the first time some Iranian American students have faced discrimination. For some, it represents the latest blurring of the personal and political.
Milad Vedaie, a third-year in environmental engineering and co-leader of the Iranian Cultural Association, grew up in suburban Columbus and is a dual citizen of America and Iran. His parents and siblings all attended Ohio State. He said he has faced discrimination because of portrayals of Iranians in the media.
“Because of the way the media creates terrorism to be almost strictly associated with Islam, it’s hard to have an unbiased public towards the Iranian community because they are perceived and so commonly portrayed as associated with a terrorist identity or a radical Islamic identity,” Vedaie said. “You know, I could give you countless examples of how I was subjected to jokes about terrorism.”
Madani and Vedaie said they embrace both aspects of their identity and want to change media narratives around Iranians.
Madani said she believes people often make broad assumptions about citizens of a country, as well as the ideals they embody, based on actions their government takes. She said she wants Iranians and Americans alike to remember that many citizens only strive for peace.
“I think both countries need to hear that right now,” Madani said. “Individuals are separate from the government.”