In some ways, the situation with Iran seems to be cooling off, but it remains volatile. The White House has announced new sanctions for Iran after the country ordered missile strikes on two American airbases in Iraq this week. Iranian State Television said the attacks were in response to President Trump ordering the assassination of Iran's top general Qasem Soleimani. And the world is still struggling to determine exactly what happened to the Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran. Right now, it looks very much like that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile. Sina, an Iranian-American living in Lowell spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Arun Rath about his experiences as an Iranian living in America and his views on the foreign media's role in unintentionally aiding the totalitarian regime in Iran.This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: First, we are not using your last name in this interview, per your request. Can you explain why you wanted us not to have your full identity?
Sina: Considering how things are with those in power in Iran, it's just a further level of risk that a lot of people are not willing to take, a risk for myself or my family who are living in Iran. So I decided to not do that.
Rath: And that's something that we heard actually from a lot of local Iranian-Americans that our reporters talked to this week. Talk about your story a bit. When did you first come to the U.S.?
Sina: I came to U.S. eight years ago for grad school after I finished college back home. And after I graduated, I started working as an engineer in a pharmaceutical company. I became a U.S. permanent resident in 2018, through the employment-based green card process, with the sponsorship of the same company that I'm still working in.
Rath: I imagine you must be in touch with your family, with your parents, pretty regularly. What have you heard from them right now, this week, about their feelings about this conflict with the U.S.?
Sina: A combination of things. I think the collective feeling is a sense of immense pressure and concern from everyone I talked to, not only my family. It's the feeling of waking up every single day to more tragic news. Just this past Tuesday, I woke up to finding out that one of my friends, one of my college classmates, was on the plane that crashed near Tehran Airport.
Rath: That's the Ukrainian passenger jet?
Sina: Yes. She was heading to Canada, where she lives.
Rath: I'm so sorry.
Sina: So there is that feeling, the concern and the pressure. On the other hand, there is a sense of helplessness from everyone inside and outside the country, feeling like we are unable to make our voices heard. To me, as an Iranian, it seems like Iran is only a topic worthy of coverage when Donald Trump is somehow involved. I consider myself to be a liberal and a progressive. And I get this - as someone living in the United States - this obsession with Donald Trump. But this obsession is leading us, I think, to oversimplification of a complex topic like Iran.
I can give you an example. Back in November, there were protests in the street in more than 90 cities in Iran, and more than 1,500 people got killed. So during that, the international community, the world leaders, the media outlets of the free world, almost entirely ignored Iran as a topic worthy of coverage. And I think the main reason for that, that no one was listening to us, was that that situation didn't have anything to do with Donald Trump.
Imagine that deafening silence about the atrocities that happened over a course of two or three days in Iran. And all of a sudden the Trump administration took out an IRGC commander and there's nonstop, 24-7 coverage of Iran with analysis and reports.
Rath: We didn't see as much of the protests the last couple of months of last year. But we we saw these images of the state-controlled funeral for General Soleimani.
Sina: Exactly. I got a message from my cousin just a few days ago, after the funeral. He lives in Iran. He left me a voice message and he was so frustrated and aggravated that he was technically shouting, and his voice was shaking. And what he said to me was that, where were all these foreign reporters when people were being killed, shot in the head by the Islamic Republic last month? And now that they're here, why aren't they going to the families, some of the families of those 1,500 people who got killed? What's really happening on the ground in Iran - and it's painful to see as an Iranian - is the voice of the people is completely missing from the coverage.
Rath: Do you think that the assassination or targeted killing, depending on your perspective, of General Soleimani - was that the right decision?
Sina: As an Iranian, it probably was. I know a lot of Americans oppose that idea, and it makes sense to me. But as an Iranian, I feel okay. I'm not happy, but I'm not sad about it either. It's not a secret that he had the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent people on his hands. And also, he was part of the biggest oppression machine in Iran, the IRGC. So I don't look at it as a mistake, as an Iranian.
Rath: That's a perspective we haven't heard. What do you think now with what has happened after the killing of General Soleimani? What's the right path forward?
Sina: So I think the very most important thing is that we should not fall into the trap of false equivalence between the Islamic Republic and the United States, regardless of who is in charge in the United States. The funeral of the IRGC Commander Soleimani, we all saw footage of the huge crowds in the funeral, but what wasn't explained to an average Western viewer is that that's really totalitarian regime 101. It's chapter one, page one. That's what the totalitarian regimes are good at. Nazi Germany was good at putting together huge crowds. The Soviets were good at it. North Koreans are doing it all the time. In the Islamic Republic case, they're targeting Western progressives and Democrats to paint a misleading picture of what's happening in Iran for them, because it serves them in their foreign policy, to have Democrats opposing Donald Trump.
And the other reason they do that is to intimidate people inside of Iran. Unfortunately, what I saw happen over the past week was that the American media assisted the Islamic Republic to portray Soleimani as a national hero in Iran, which is not at all the case, at least from the Iran I know, that I was born in and lived for 25 years.
And this assistance, it unintentionally helps produce propaganda material for the Islamic Republic. A good example of that is like a 10 second, 15 second interview by a foreign reporter that came out just a few days ago with an Islamic Republic supporter in the funeral. That video ended up being shared on Cardi B's Instagram with tens of millions of followers.
The damage that this does to the voice of the Iranian people and to their struggle and fight for freedom and basic human rights is very significant and unfortunately irreversible. And I'm saying it's damaging because it is painting a misleading picture of what Iranian people really think and want. People like Cardi B or Michael Moore, I know they have good intentions, they want the best for their country, but what they've been really doing over the past few days with their social media posts and their activism was probably more damaging to the Iranian people than Donald Trump could have ever been.