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Iranian American Community Has Mixed Reaction To Death Of Gen. Soleimani

A funeral march in Iran
People crowd the streets of Tehran paying respects to Gen. Soleimani, who was killed by the U.S. drone strike. Courtesy MARJAN YAZDI FOR NPR

While thousands of mourners crowd the streets of Tehran, the reaction to the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani outside Iran is more mixed.

Some Iranian Americans are celebrating the death of the country’s top military commander in a U.S. drone strike; others are concerned about the escalation of the conflict.

The reaction may depend on when the immigrants came to America, believes an expert on Middle East studies.

“A number of Iranian Americans, particularly those who came during the early years after the Revolution, in 1979 – early 1980s, came to escape not just a political situation but the Iranian government,” said Florida International University professor Eric Lob.

“They are opposed to Iranian government, while others, who came later, more recent generations of immigrants – though I don’t want to generalize because they also have a diversity of opinions – are not necessarily sympathetic to the government but are maybe not as vehemently opposed to the government either.”

The other reason why Iranian Americans may have a mixed reaction to Soleimani’s killing was his complicated politics – even regarding the United States, thinks Lob.

“At different times he worked with the U.S. for common purposes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the wake of 9/11, against ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” Lob said. “But then, on the other hand, he was directly in conflict with the U.S. interest.

“He provided support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, he provided support to the Assad regime in Syria. He also supported Shia militias in Iraq in the waves of attacks against American forces. He is a complex figure in terms of what he did,” added Lob. “And for many in Iran, he is a national hero because of advancing Iran’s interest in the Middle East and beyond and particularly…protecting not just Iran, but the region from extremist Sunni groups like ISIS.”

According to Lob, those Iranian Americans who don’t have strong negative attitudes against the Iranian government are more likely worrying more about the potential of conflict in the Middle East, the implications of the U.S. military action, and the influence that Soleimani’s death can have on the relationship between Iran and the U.S.

They are also concerned about how the escalating tensions between the two countries would impact the status of Iranian Americans here.

“Beginning in 2017, the Trump administration instituted the travel ban against Iranians from coming here, along with citizens of other Muslim countries,” he added. “And on top of that, I am seeing reportsthat there have been Iranians who have been held up by American customs officials at the border between the U.S. and Canada…regardless of their citizenship and visa status. And so, I think, these types of incidents, and events, and policies are creating concerns for Iranian Americans here about their status in the country.”

And Lob worries that if the conflict worsens, Iranian Americans will get closer attention from the U.S. government.

“In the wake of the assassination, obviously, the Iranian leaders consistently vowed for revenge in very strong and unambiguous terms: from the president to other political and military leaders in the country. So the U.S. security officials in the Middle East but also at home, on American soil, are on high alert now,” said Lob. “And as the tensions escalate even further, which they seem like they are going to do, the Iranian American community is going to be even under more pressure. And it is going to be facing a tense and uncertain future here.”

Maria Tsyruleva is the WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news editor for fall 2019.