OpEd: Iran sanctions come home

 In Accomplishments, Iran

Yesterday The San Francisco Chronicle ran “S.F. shop closes after Iran sanctions ban rugs.” Rebecca Griffin of Peace Action West contributed to the OpEd, which relates how sanctions will force a thriving small business to shutter its doors, and put more Americans and Iranians out of work. It drives home the fact that even though sanctions are unlikely to work and in many ways will benefit the Iranian regime, they do great harm to regular Iranians and Americans.

After nine years, my husband, Dodd, and I will end what we consider to be our life’s work. Our thriving San Francisco felt rug business, Peace Industry, is a casualty of recent U.S. sanctions that include a ban on the import of rugs and other goods from Iran.

When Dodd and I set off to his homeland in 2001 in search of felt rugs, we found an Iranian tradition on the verge of extinction with virtually no written history. Within several months of that first trip, we found a handful of individuals who were still making small felt rugs. We opened a tiny shop on the outskirts of Point Reyes, which doubled as our home and supported us as we put together our workshop in Iran. It was hard work but very rewarding.

We opened our first San Francisco shop in 2005, and it grew quickly. Our work has helped preserve the humble felt rug tradition in Iran, bringing it to the wider world at a time when most of what we hear about Iran is negative.

The Iranians we have gotten to know over the years are average working people making the best of a difficult life. They are extremely grateful for the business and routinely express their love of America and Americans.

While it is devastating for my husband, my assistant and I to lose our jobs, this will be more difficult for the Iranian workers who have large families to support, no other market for their beautiful rugs, and no other jobs to go to. One of our employees supports an elderly mother and is terrified at finding herself unemployed. She calls us every day to find out if anything has changed. Jasem Sadeghi, a feltmaker, supports a disabled father and three sisters. Some of the others talk of the uncertain prospect of going to Kuwait to find work as low-paid laborers.

Our mentor, Agha Halajion, has nearly single-handedly kept Iran’s felt rug tradition alive. It is an art form that speaks from the heart of Iran, where carpet making has been a way of life for thousands of years. When we are forced to close this month, felt rug making will once again be in danger of extinction.

Some well-meaning acquaintances have said that while it’s a shame we must close, sanctioning Iran is our only choice. But the pain of closing our shop is deepened by the fact that the sanctions are not likely to work.

Most Iranians are facing increasing costs for housing, transport, food and medicine, but the Iranian regime won’t feel the pinch. The sanctions do make it harder for most Iranians to do business. Though, as it turns out, those with power and government connections are already finding ways around the rules, and are using their advantage over regular businesses to drive prices up and profit from sanctions.

Dodd and I have made many friends in Iran over the years, and we know the friendship many of them feel toward Americans. I don’t see how continuing a policy that only hurts Iranians who aren’t good friends of the regime makes America stronger. If anything, I think it will backfire.

Melina Raissnia and her husband, Dodd, are the owners of Peace Industry, a felt rug shop in San Francisco. Rebecca Griffin, political director for Peace Action West, contributed to this piece.

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