Program puts a human face on Iran

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Tue., Dec. 4, 2012
Dr. Jamshid Marvasti was one of several speakers to address the issue of sanctions against Iran at a Dec. 1 meeting in Storrs. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

The graphic projected onto the screen really helped to put it into perspective. It showed Iran, a country slightly larger than the state of Alaska, nearly completely surrounded by U.S. military bases, represented by small U.S. flags. “And they say that Iran represents a threat,” said Dr. Jamshid Marvasti.  Marvasti, a board-certified psychologist practicing in Manchester, was one of three speakers appearing at the Storrs Friends Meetinghouse on Dec. 1 to discuss the effects of European and U.S. economic sanctions imposed upon Iran.

The evening was sponsored by the Israel/Palestine Peace, Education and Action Group of Eastern Connecticut, formed in the spring of 2009 with a mission to “support a peaceful, just, prompt and permanent end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine...” The group is comprised of people - Christian, Muslim, Jewish and non-faith-based - who are “concerned about the devastating human and financial costs to both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict,” according to a handout.

Marvasti, who was born in Iran, has written several books, most recently “War Trauma in Veterans and Their Families,” published in April 2012. The first of the evening’s three speakers, Marvasti spoke with humor and candor about the subject.

The European Union has imposed restrictions on cooperation with Iran in foreign trade, financial services, energy sectors and technologies, and banned the provision of insurance and reinsurance to Iran and Iranian-owned companies. In January of 2012, the EU agreed to an oil embargo on Iran, effective from July, and to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank.

United States actions include an embargo on dealing with Iran and a ban on selling aircraft and repair parts to Iranian aviation companies. “An unexpected consequence of the economic sanctions against Iran,” according to a handout, “is that potentially six million Iranians will soon be at risk because of Iran’s inability to import necessary medicines and medical equipment.”

Such sanctions kill innocent people, said Marvasti, especially children and the ill. He estimated that Iran has experienced a 245-percent increase in the cost of certain medications over the past year due to sanctions, and shortages of other medications as well as essentials such as infant formula.

Marvasti likened Fox News, in its treatment of first Iraq and now Iran, to the Creel Committee. The Committee on Public Information, also known as the Creel Committee, was an independent agency of the government of the United States created to influence U.S. public opinion regarding American participation in World War I. Via a multi-pronged approach, the committee succeeded in turning around a largely pacifist U.S. population in a matter of months, according to Marvasti, convincing them to support the war effort. “Within six months they wanted to destroy everything German,” he said.

The evening’s second speaker, Talat Azimi, a Storrs resident born in Pakistan, focused on the rich history of the region and on its contributions to the sciences and the arts, fulfilling one of the group’s goals to “learn about contemporary Iran and about its rich and ancient culture.”

The third speaker, Dr. Ali Shakibai, picked up on the themes introduced by Marvasti. Born in Iran and educated in both Iran and the United States, Shakibai has been practicing medicine in Manchester since 1973. His recent trip to Iran provided him with some insight into the ways that sanctions are currently affecting the Iranian population.

Sanctions have led to shortages in  medications, he said, especially for those needed to treat ailments such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and multiple sclerosis. Lack of funding has led to a crisis in the healthcare system, with shortages of medical equipment and other supplies. The cost of chemotherapy drugs is estimated to have quadrupled over the past year, according to Shakibai, leaving them out of reach for all but the most wealthy. “The others must simply be told to go and die,” he said. Shakibai likened the situation to a war, “just lacking the explosions,” and said he’d spoken to people who said they’d prefer a literal invasion over the slow and relentless suffering. The victims of this explosion-less war are “the weakest and most vulnerable,” said Shakibai.

And then Shakibai revealed the purpose of his recent trip. His own brother-in-law, following surgery, had developed an infection. He needed an antibiotic that was not available in Iran due to the sanctions. The drug was located, but did not reach the country in time. Shakibai went to Iran to attend his relative’s funeral.

Juan Cole is an historian of the modern Middle East and South Asia who serves as the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. As a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, he has appeared in print and on television, and testified before the United States Senate. According to a February 2012 post on Cole’s blog (, the U.S. worried about Iran enriching uranium to 3.5 percent when a nuclear bomb requires 95 percent. So why the urgency? Cole had a theory.

“Iran has 150 billion barrels in petroleum reserves, among the largest reserves in the world,” he writes. “U.S. elites, especially Big Oil, dream of doing regime change in Iran so as to get access to those vast reserves. The real objection in Washington to Iranian nuclear know-how is that it makes Iraq-style regime change impossible and so puts Iranian petroleum out of reach of Houston for the foreseeable future.”

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