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How Are Iranian-Americans Reacting To The Death Of Gen. Soleimani?


Iranians in Tehran are on the streets today demanding vengeance for the U.S. killing of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Reaction outside Iran is more mixed. Southern California happens to be home to the largest group of Iranians outside the country. That's where member station KPCC's Robert Garrova spent some time over the weekend. And a warning to listeners - some of the descriptions you will hear in this story will be disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Farsi).

ROBERT GARROVA, BYLINE: On Saturday, about three dozen people publicly celebrated the killing of Soleimani in front of a federal building on the west side of Los Angeles. Several held signs which had a picture of the general with the words rot in hell written in red across his face. Iranian American Mike Dolati (ph) translated the chants that were shouted at this busy LA intersection.

MIKE DOLATI: The death of the murderers are the beginning of the freedom of Iran.

GARROVA: Dolati first came to the U.S. in 1974. He says he got an engineering degree at the University of Texas. Then, after the Iranian Revolution, he went back to his home country to help rebuild. But he didn't stay.

DOLATI: When they start executing the political prisoner without knowing their name, that's when I came back to America.

GARROVA: Dolati says when he heard about Soleimani's death, he immediately began handing out treats to his household in celebration. And in this crowd, Dolati wasn't alone in his rejoicing.

MITRA SAMANI: To me, he was worse than Osama bin Laden. So that's why we are very happy.

GARROVA: That's Mitra Samani (ph). She's lived in the LA area since 1996. In the '80s, Samani says, she was imprisoned in Iran for advocating for women's rights.

SAMANI: I got tortured. So many friend of mine were tortured in front of me. I was raped. I witnessed people getting executed in front of me. I did, like, around a year and a half therapy to be normal again - if I'm normal. I don't know.

GARROVA: Samani blames General Soleimani and the current regime for the intense suffering she experienced. She says she doesn't want current political prisoners in Iran to go through what she did. Samani doesn't want to see a war between American and Iran. Still, demonstrators like Mike Dolati are not opposed to lethal action.

DOLATI: You first hit them with a two-by-four upside the head. You get their attention, and then they will listen to you. And they only understand the language of force.

GARROVA: The majority of people in the celebratory crowd were in their 40s and older. But less than a mile away, in a neighborhood known as Tehrangeles because of the concentration of Iranian Americans that live there, a younger generation had a markedly different reaction to Soleimani's death. Around the Persian bookstores and hookah lounges of this area, several younger Iranian Americans I spoke with were worried. That includes Nader Shoaibi.

NADER SHOAIBI: I'm just very surprised at how people are happy and might be celebrating this. I would think that this is just a clear sign that there's going to be escalation in the conflicts.

GARROVA: On the street, near a Persian ice cream shop which is a longstanding staple of this neighborhood, I asked Shoaibi if there is a generational disconnect in the Iranian American community when it comes to Soleimani's death.

SHOAIBI: We had some guests over. And these were people in their, like, 60s and 70s. And they were basically expressing the sentiment that this is actually a good thing. And I was completely taken aback. I was like, how could this be? How could this be a good thing? Frankly, people from that generation seem to think that this is - you know, really there's no other way than to do it by force.

GARROVA: His generation, Shoaibi says, is hopeful something more civil might solve problems facing Iran.

For NPR News, I'm Robert Garrova.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "THEY'LL LIE TO YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Garrova