Let me take you through a story on what it feels like to be isolated from the world, not by choice, but rather, by force. This is a story of discrimination, of monopoly, of people shrugging to these issues and of utterances that affect lives of millions.

Living in Iran, or any sanctioned country for that matter, you learn to read “anyone, anywhere” with an appendix of “except you”. You soon learn “worldwide shipping” excludes you, that’s when you start wondering, are you not living in “the world”? Where is this “world” they talk about?

Here is an example of a beautiful, hopeful message from Khan Academy:

Khan Academy's Landing Page: We’re a nonprofit with the mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

“We’re a nonprofit with the mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”

No one probably realizes that this is not true, but yes, Khan Academy is not available to Iranians, Cubans, Syrians, people of Crimea, and some others. That’s because they run on Google Cloud, an infrastructure provider that completely blocks all sanctioned countries from accessing any application hosted on it. Who else hosts their service there? Take a look at 342 notable customers of Google Cloud, but remember, there are thousands more customers of Google Cloud and similar American infrastructure providers.

But the story doesn’t end here, of course. Let’s go through the effects of sanctions on everyday lives of people, who have nothing to do with the politics of the country they are living in, and who are being discriminated only because they were born in geographical coordinates that lie in a certain boundary defined by people they don’t even know.

The Internet

The internet, the tool of the global society for communicating across the planet, the tool for sharing knowledge with the human population across the world.

As if the Iranian government’s blockage and censorship of the internet wasn’t enough, we now have to deal with external sanctions blocking our access as well. Here’s a gallery of blocked access messages we see on a daily basis:

Various websites and their respective webpages seen only by sanctioned countries Various websites and their respective webpages seen only by sanctioned countries

These websites include GitHub, Slack, Kaggle, Docker, GitLab, Amazon AWS, Twitter, Bluemix, Khan Academy and more. Here is a longer, developer-oriented (but definitely not exhaustive) list of hosts blocking our access: freedomofdevelopers/domains.

The websites that blocked our access mostly did it without prior notice, they just disabled our accounts, took our data from us, and did not let us even backup or export our data afterwards, in other words, lost messages, lost files and credentials.

This, in part, is caused by the global monopoly of American companies such as Google, Amazon, GitHub and alike in their respective fields. This means if The United States decides to pressure a specific target, the target population is likely to be left without much of an alternative or option, since a great proportion of the land is covered by American companies.

Iranian users rely heavily on use of VPN services and proxy servers to bypass censorship, but now with most Cloud Providers blocking access of Iranians, we are left with limited, usually more expensive options for setting up these servers.

This is a clear discrimination based on nationality and a breach of Internet Freedom. These websites do not block us because we acted in a wrong way, or even, at cases, because we live in Iran, but because we were born in Iran. Now, you may say this is because of the law and they have no choice. That’s true in some cases, though most of the time the implementation of these laws seem to go further than what the laws actually require. The companies seem to go the easy way by blocking access as much as they can to avoid holes in their system.

Drugs, Medicine, and Medical Devices

There are various sources and articles on how the U.S. sanctions have affected Iranian patients by limiting exports of drugs, medical devices or by indirectly disrupting the pharmaceutical industry by cutting exports of raw material used by these companies to produce medical drugs. Almost every person living in Iran can consciously feel the shortage of drugs and their growing price, but I will refer to an article on NCBI as a proof.

Quoting from NCBI: Addressing the impact of economic sanctions on Iranian drug shortages in the joint comprehensive plan of action: promoting access to medicines and health diplomacy:

Although the revised and current Iranian sanctions regime does not specifically prohibit the export of humanitarian goods and pharmaceuticals, many of the administrative and regulatory processes have made it difficult to export life-saving medicines to Iran. This includes the need to navigate a complex export control regulatory process, the inability of Iranian banks to do business with the international banking system and U.S. corporations, currency shortages, and the inability to secure terms of shipping, insurance and other services needed to facilitate medicines trade [4]. As a result, millions of Iranians that suffer from life-threatening diseases have experienced “exorbitant prices”, stock outs of medicines, and are often forced to purchase drugs from the black market. [...] Severe medication shortages in Iran are diverse and span several therapeutic classes and disease states. This includes drug shortages for other critical areas of healthcare delivery, including organ transplant drugs, and even vaccine shortages.

And on the topic of weakening of the pharmaceutical companies:

Inaccessibility of vital medications and their raw ingredients combined with Iran’s weakening domestic pharmaceutical industry has also resulted in an influx of counterfeit, fraudulent, and substandard medicines into Iran’s health care system. An unregulated black market has developed as a byproduct of drug shortages, introducing medications whose origins and authenticity are often unknown, and has led to expired medications’ distribution and sale, even at potentially very high prices [8]. Hence, the global counterfeit medicines trade, recognized as a serious public health concern, is one that is currently being enabled as a consequence of drug shortages and ongoing Iranian economic sanctions

Foreign Policy also writes U.S. Sanctions Are Killing Cancer Patients in Iran:

Washington claims that maximum pressure won’t stop the supply of medicine and other humanitarian necessities, but banking sanctions are driving up import prices, blocking supply chains, and creating deadly drug shortages.

Although U.S. sanctions are engineered in a way that may appear not to target humanitarian access to food and medicine, in practice U.S. sanctions function as a tool of economic war.

Health is a fundamental human right, but the embargo clearly goes against giving people access to life-saving medicine. It brings tears to my eyes to think about people losing a loved one over inability to access a drug or medical device that’s no longer available in Iran.

Currency Fluctuations: An Unpredictable Life

I’m pretty sure most of the people reading this blog post, unless they are Iranians, will not find this section familiar. It’s [fortunately] not a common experience across the planet, but let me tell you about living a life of zero predictability.

Imagine this: You sell your car today, and you start a hunt for a new car to buy as a replacement. For the sake of the example, you are looking for a second-hand car. I will use a dummy currency unit here to simplify the example. You sold your car for 1000 units, and during the week you are looking for a new car, you start to see the car you just sold and every other car on the market, is gaining price exponentially. After a week, the same car that you sold is priced at 1800 units of currency and it’s growing. It’s like putting a car on neutral in a downward slope and seeing it go up the hill! Now you are left with 1000 units of currency, and you are only able to buy the same car if you put in your extra 800 savings, otherwise you are going to ride a car with significantly less quality or no car at all. More on Iran’s inflation as a result of tighter sanctions.

I am pretty sure no matter how much I try to help you visualize this, you can not comprehend what it means to live in such a situation. I always use the metaphor of being a circus actor trying to balance on a moving cylinder to describe what it means to survive the fluctuations of our currency, which in turn affects all your expenses, but not your income.

Circus actor balancing on cylinders

This is also an effect of the sanctions on the economy that we people feel with our every inch and are pressured by. This in turn causes a rippling effect on every other part of the society. Quoting Explainer: the collapse of the Iranian rial

Has the US decision made things worse? Yes. Mr Trump’s decision to exit the US-Iran nuclear agreement signed in 2015 has dented Iran’s economic outlook and set in motion a cascade of damaging effects. It has deterred global companies from doing business with Iran, leading to a liquidity crunch and a lack of foreign exchange in the country. US measures also put pressure on a banking system already strained by the previous sanctions regime before the adoption of the JCPOA in January 2016. A re-imposition of sanctions is expected to cause a drop in Iranian oil exports, with severe repercussions. Iran is home to the world’s largest reserves of gas and is the Middle East’s third-largest oil producer. In May, BMI downgraded its GDP growth forecast for Iran to 3.1 per cent in 2018 and 0.8 per cent in 2019, from 4.3 per cent and 4.5 per cent previously. “Iran is likely to experience depreciatory pressures on the rial and rising inflation as a result of lower foreign currency inflows that will constrain domestic investment and consumption,” BMI said.

Unpredictability is only part of the story, in general a high inflation rate means a degradation of life quality over time, and a lower quality of life includes a lack of access to even the most basic needs. It means having to put your children in less qualified schools, it means avoiding doctor appointments by any means necessary, it means cutting corners in every section of your life, it means a less balanced environment to live in, an environment where people get angry more easily since they are under a constant pressure as a cause of their degrading lives. No matter how hard you try, your life quality only goes downhill, never up.

A Weak Economy’s Rippling Effect

You have probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is what it looks like:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. A pyramid, from top to bottom: Self-Actualization, Esteem, Love/Belonging, Safety, Physiological

At the bottom, there are physiological needs, like health, food, water, sleep, shelter and sex. Only once these needs are fulfilled properly, you get motivated to even think about the next level. That means, if your physiological needs are not properly safisfied, you will not even think about safety, love and belonging, self-esteem or self-actualization.

Now, what all these physiological needs have in common is that they are fulfilled when there is a stable economic backbone in the country you live in. Once the economic backbone is broken, you begin losing access to these physiological needs. Slowly, but surely, you lose your motivation for self-actualization, for self-esteem, for love and belonging and for safety and you hunt for your physiological needs. Once this happens for a whole population in a country, you are left with people with only one goal in their lives: to survive by any means.

With no motivation for building strong friendships and relationships, no motivation for security and safety, for feeling of accomplishment and for creative acts, the population transitions towards becoming one unsafe, cold, threatening, untrustable environment with no sense of joy or creativity.

I’m driving from my friend’s house back to mine, it’s roughly 10pm and streets are a little crowded. I’m going through streets of Azadi District, when I see two children who are probably between 15 and 17, punching each other in the face and kicking each other’s stomach over a large trash container at the side of the street. They are fighting, as if for their lives, with a ferocity you can hardly imagine to find in a child of their age. These children do not look anything like your children, their hands are black from their fingertips to their elbows from collecting trash all day long; their clothes are not new, they do not change their clothes or take showers daily, and their backs are arched for hauling a large bag of trash for a whole day over their shoulder and back. They are fighting to win a trash container. This is what happens when you put pressure on the economy of a country. This is what the media is not telling you about the effects of sanctions. This is what needs to stop about these sanctions. This is what needs action from every person knowledgable to do something to stop it. Abuse, rape and misuse of children and adults alike is a significant, visible effect of sanctions that’s often overlooked.

It’s sad that I can not find any content regarding this matter in the media by searching. I think more content on these topics is necessary to help people be aware of the unethical and inhumane effects of sanctions on lives of innocent people.

A teenager collecting trash in Iran A teenage collecting trash in the streets of Tehran.

The rippling effects of a weakening economy are far worse and far-reaching than what the sanctions are supposed to do. I think it’s too optimistic to think sanctions to weaken an economy will prevent a country from spending money on something they want to spend on. What ends up happening, or at least has happened in case of Iran, is that the money is drained from places where it affects peoples lives, but I doubt anything has changed at the actual target.

Of Rolling Eyes and Shrugs

Often when similar stories of this kind are shared, I am ready to see comments of people shrugging to the issue with responses like “they have to comply because it’s the law” or “that’s how you respond to a country that wants to build nuclear weapons” or similar. They just roll their eyes and shrug it off like this is how it’s supposed to be.

Sometimes, that’s true that it’s the law and the companies have to comply (though most of the time the application of the law goes way beyond necessity). What these responses get wrong is that there is no involvement by us, the people, in the decisions and policies of our country. Solely because I live my daily life in a geographical location that resides in the boundaries of a place on Earth known as “Iran” doesn’t mean I agree with the politics of this country, or that I should be isolated from the rest of the world because some people in my country make certain decisions.

What these replies get wrong is that in democratic countries, laws can change based on what people demand. Instead of shrugging these humanitarian issues off, please hear us out, and help echo our voice. You may not realize, but we, the people of Iran, do not have a say in what what politics our government follows or how it interacts with other countries, but you do have a say in yours. The only thing we can do is to spread the word.

What we feel when we see these responses is: “They are terrorists so let them be”, but we are not. We are normal people like you, with less privileges, solely because of our living region.

It seems like the Iranian people are now the common enemy of all sides of a global conflict. The ever-increasing pressure we feel is not from a single source, but rather, from all sides. We have internet censorship from the inside and restricted access from the outside. We have economic pressure from the inside, with a direct influence from the outside, and the same applies to every part of this conflict.

Final Message

Racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed towards other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity”. Sanctions, likewise, are a clear case of prejudice, discrimination and antagonism directed towards people because they are born in a certain country, or reside in a certain part of the planet.

If a person is jailed, or killed because of the color of their skin, you feel furious and protest against the act to show that racism has no place in your country. Sanctions are a case of jailing a whole country, killing the people inside by cutting their lifelines and causing lifetime distress for innocent people who didn’t do anything wrong. It’s discrimination on the scale of a whole population of millions. Although the people who are being effected by these sanctions are far away from your home, their misery is caused by your country’s policies and actions, and you have the right to stand up against these discriminations.

Ron Paul, former congressman touches on topic in an interview:

I think sanctions are really really bad, because it brings people in to think that “well I’m not quite as violent as other people who would use a drone”, well, hopefully it is a little bit less violent, but it’s every bit as dangerous, it’s still attacking personal liberties and it’s undermining the principle of trying to get along with people with free trade.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2, states:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

That doesn’t sound like what’s happening now by enforcement of sanctions. Silence on this massive case of discrimination against people around the world must be broken, it must be recognized that discrimination, in any form, is not to be tolerated by humans.