Bay Area Arab, Persian communities fear escalating Middle East violence following Soleimani death

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- At the Iranian-American Pars Equality Center in San Jose, it was hard to avoid the possible escalation in tension between the United States and Iran, following Thursday's U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

"We have family members in Iran. And with the escalating tension, we are all worried," says Paris Etemedi Scott, who is the legal director at the center.

One of her clients is Melani, who just arrived in the U.S. three months ago after a two-year fight to join her American husband, due to the U.S. travel ban. She says international sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy. Her families, both in the U.S. and Iran, are worried about what could happen next.

"My parents, when I was talking to them (this) morning, they are worried about war. They told me they were worried, maybe (that we) cannot see one another anymore. It's not good," says Melani. "People are worried about that because they don't want war."

Many South Bay mosques are trying to distance themselves from the politics overseas, but many who attended the weekly congregational Friday prayers were discussing the events of the past 24 hours.

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"He is a criminal. He killed way too many Muslims in Iraq and Syria," says one man, who didn't want to be identified. "He was another Bin Laden."

The man, who attends Friday prayer at the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara, doesn't agree with how the general was killed, but he calls Soliemani a terrorist and is happy he is gone. However, he is skeptical that this will lead to war.

"The U.S. is a superpower over Iran, and (Iran) cannot retaliate for something like this," he believes.

But Iran has promised to retaliate.

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"This attack was carried out in this extremely public manner, with U.S. taking credit for this right away. That has been a big slap in the face for the Iranian leadership," explains Karthika Sasikumar, a Professor of International Relations at San Jose State University.

Sasikumar predicts what she calls "sub-strategic violence," such as more targeted assassinations. She thinks what General Soliemani's killing may have done is force those who have been protesting the Iranian government to now rally around the flag.

"Some of them think this was a very rash move by Iran to interfere in so openly in Iraq. And others would say that even though that might be true, it's still illegal for the United States to kill an employee of the Iranian government so openly," says Sasikumar.
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