BY Alexane Drolet & Sara Chahrour
“My family watches the news all day now—it’s so fascinating and uncommon for us to see so many Persian names on the news,” says Arian Zarrinkoub. She was born in Iran, but has been living in Montreal most of her life.
Zarrinkoub says she fears the consequences of a potential war between Iran and the United States after the U.S. killed an Iranian leader.
Some in Montreal’s Iranian community are worried about their friends and family back home, while others fear a war between the two countries ignited by escalating fights between leaders on social media.
Persians in Montreal are also fearful about being watched online, as social media in Iran is restricted and monitored by the government. Apps can be used and families are allowed to get in contact, but whatsapp is not permitted and the government enforces the use of telegram for some of their citizens.
“If I post something on Instagram against the government and they see it, which they can, they will throw me in jail. They don’t give us freedom of speech, we are all targets,” says Parisa (not her real name), a stay-at-home mother of three originally from Iran, now living in Montreal.
According to Rafael Jacob, a Researcher in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, tensions increased between Iran and the United States increased at the end of 2019 following the killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani.
“There is a theory evolving that the United States wants to put enough pressure to diminish their regime without having to intervene too much,” Jacob says.
The United States is currently doing that by imposing economic sanctions, and according to Jacob, President Donald Trump will continue to impose stronger sanctions over the next few months.
Parisa fears for her parents every day.
“When I speak to my parents back in Iran, they beg me and say ‘please do not post anything, do not say anything, do not share anything, they will arrest you the moment you land in Iran,'” she says.
This worry is shared by many Persians.
“I am scared to go to Iran, even my young daughters are afraid, they tell me ‘mama don’t bring us to Iran, they will kill us,'” Parisa says.
It also appears to be affecting gatherings of Persians here in Montreal. Turnouts at several public events here have been much lower than expected.
Ann Marie Desrosiers is a teacher at Royal Vale school who is teaching her immigrant students how to spot misinformation in times of crisis. Desrosiers says she is highly aware that misinformation and disinformation can increase fear in children who often don’t have the tools to spot what is true from what is false.
“One of the biggest problems is that parents are afraid of what is happening back in Iran and about the possibility of a war,” Desrosiers says. She adds that this fear is reflected in their children.
“This is the hardest part,” she says. “I have, as a teacher, to reassure kids that ask questions about why their own parents are scared.”
According to many Persian Montrealers, the Iranian government is worried that unmonitored networking could be a major threat to their regime. Arian Zarrinkoub agrees.
“Social media posts indeed create an unease,” Zarrinkoub says, adding that Iran puts a lot of effort into censorship on the internet to try and control online activity.
“Our government is like a constant cyber police,” says John, another Persian who preferred to stay anonymous for fear of reprisals. He says he feels he is being watched in Montreal, too.
“It is not because we are away, that no one is watching us, especially in this time of conflict we are in right now,” he adds.
Thomas Woodley, the president of Canadians for peace and justice in the middle-east, says that “Canada is not at war with Iran” and that Persians living in Montreal should not fear too much.
“I believe some of the fears citizens have of being surveilled or being watched are in some sense overblown,” Woodley says. “Yes, there is surveillance and some are being watched, but I think it’s only a very few.”