Living with the fear of impending conflict

Leyli Granmayeh

When the news that an Iranian plane was shot down, I was met with unparalleled fear. My uncle and his wife were taking a flight out of Iran just one week later: 7 days, 168 hours, 604800 seconds. I have flown out of the Khomeini International Airport countless times in my life. I was supposed to travel to Iran to visit my family this summer. One of the 176 passengers on the flight could have been me or my family.
As a debater, I know how easy it can be to emotionally disconnect from an international crisis. To view people as numbers and watch with excited eyes as history unfolds, but when you and your family are the collateral damage of that history, you start to view things differently. People are often treated as the byproduct of one’s macro lens through which we view history. Reduced to numbers, 176 people died when the Iranian military mistakenly shot down a plane on January 8th, 2020. But, in reality, the lives of millions were altered that day. From their families to friends to teachers to neighborhood store clerks, a person is not just one number, they are the center of a network of impact.
To diminish a person’s life to a measly digit in a statistic that will be referenced for years to come is to gravely miss the significance of an event. Many of the 176 passengers that day were young students, newlyweds, parents, and children. They were not just singular persons. They were the start of a million different waves that are still rippling.
I am part of that ripple. I wince every time my phone buzzes, terrified that the next notification will be that of an attack on the Iranian city where my family lives. I FaceTime my uncle to try and compensate for the fact that I have yet to meet my one-year-old cousin because it is too unsafe for me to visit her. I count down the minutes whenever my aunt flies in and out of Iran, hoping her plane is not another one accidentally struck down. I release a breath after passing through US customs when traveling with my parents and four other adults who were born in Iran, grateful that we were not “randomly” selected to be questioned for eight hours. I nervously shake my leg while taking a test because an unimaginable amount of damage can be done in just 45 minutes.
Iran is home to my favorite ice cream shop, jewelry store, and amusement park. I think about walking through the crowded streets of a bazaar cluttered with small stands, animated with the shouts of customers trying to bargain the price down. I see communities of people coming together to jump over fire and celebrate the new year. But, in the media, Iran is portrayed very differently. A country and culture are not just a few frames shown on television People are not their government. The media only cares when a major event happens. Even a few days after, it is ancient history and the next juicy story unfolds. But, people in Iran do not get to switch the channel.