I escaped Middle East war for a new life in NZ. We should not be fanning the flames of violence today

Instead of backing US bombs in Syria and feeding perpetual war, we should be applying our energy to the underlying issues, writes the Iran-born human rights lawyer and Green candidate Golriz Ghahraman.

I lived under American (and American sponsored) missiles for the first eight years of my life.

Every day since Donald Trump was elected president I’ve tried not to think about what would it would mean if this happened: America, directly involved in the harrowing violence in Syria, and our own prime minister voicing potential willingness to follow those footsteps into perpetual war.

I was born into the most repressive decades of one of the most repressive Islamic regimes in modern history, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Everyone seemed targeted. Women, religious minorities, political dissidents (or those perceived as dissidents for what ever reason) disappeared into political prisons and mass graves.

But by far the worst scars left on us as a people were left by the bloody eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I remember the sirens, the panic, running to bunkers, people trapped under rubble. I remember the endless images from the frontlines telling us we were winning and the war must continue, contrasted to the endless army of men with missing limbs and visible scars among us. What I remember most, though, because I was such a young child, is the children suffering from shell shock, friends who stopped speaking. The trauma and the physical toll of living under explosions turned them silent.

Like all Middle Eastern wars, our war was not our own. There were greater interests at stake and greater powers in control. Later it was discovered that America, while outwardly supporting and arming Iraq, was privately also arming Iran. Our forces were supported by other regional powers, often the USSR (as it was then). We were trapped between the violent might of these super powers and the violence of the Islamic Republic itself. No one had an interest in ending our war.

A minivan drives past a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 7, 2017.
US forces fired a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to what President Donald Trump called a “barbaric” chemical attack he blamed on the Damascus regime. / AFP PHOTO / Louai Beshara (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

This is the model of proxy-fought perpetual war perfected now in Syria. The violence itself often belies more terrifying problems, like scarcity, lack of medical care or supplies. What I ask myself first when yet another image of attacks in Syria appear is “who is negotiating the aid corridors?” or “who is creating safe passage for the trapped community?” Is this where New Zealand might want to focus our stellar record of diplomacy, rather than in backing American bombs?

The war I was born into meant that Iranians, like the people of Syria, were stripped of our dignity as superpowers sponsored a war that saw us bombed and gassed (together with the people of Iraq), while we were simultaneously shunned as terrorists when we sought refuge with our families. That prejudice and dehumanisation, so very alive in global politics today, is what allows the cycle to continue.

This is the end point of that venomous, divisive electioneering rhetoric that saw Trump win the presidency. It isn’t what New Zealand stands for. This is the land that gave my family and me safety and dignity when we arrived as refugees, because Kiwis stand for peace and for inclusion. Standing up for our values now, when the world is hungry for them, is the only way to change the paradigm that has feeds the harrowing war in Syria into its seventh year.

Golriz Ghahraman, is a former UN prosecutor, human rights lawyer, and candidate for the Green Party in this year’s general election.

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