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A Wake-Up Call From YouTube

A horrifying video forced Pantea Sotoodeh to focus on what's going on in Iran, her parents' native country

One day in June, I checked my Facebook page and casually clicked on a link that one of my friends had posted. What I saw absolutely blew me away.

It was a video of a young Iranian woman named Neda Agha-Soltan being shot to death on the streets of Tehran, Iran's capital. She was watching thousands of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the disputed results of the June 12 presidential election.

As Neda, a 26-year-old music student, watched the protest—she wasn't even participating—she was shot by a man believed to be part of a militia group backed by the government. He was standing on the roof of a nearby building, and Neda died in less than two minutes.

Both my parents grew up in Iran and left around the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. I speak Persian fluently, and my family observes traditional Persian holidays, so I still feel very connected to Iranian culture. But I was born in the U.S. and have grown up in Southern California, so in some ways I'm quite removed from what goes on in Iran.

By the time I saw the Neda video, I knew that a number of Iranians had been killed protesting the election results, but the news about the disputed election didn't really affect me.

Seeing the video—which has been viewed on YouTube by hundreds of thousands and has come to symbolize the government crackdown against the protesters—was my wake-up call. I began paying attention to conversations my parents and other relatives were having about politics in Iran. And just as important, I started asking questions—of my parents, who were trying to get information from the few relatives they have left in Iran, and my grandmother, who has a show on a Persian radio station in Los Angeles in which she talks about how Iran's history relates to current events.

I have a couple of friends who visited Iran with their families before the election. They enjoyed their trips, but they all came home and told me how horrible they felt seeing people constantly harassed by the religious police.

I've never been to Iran. I've heard that it's very beautiful, and it would be amazing to see where my family is from.

But then I think about how oppressive Iranian society can be—especially for women—and I don't think I want to visit any time soon.

It stuns me to think about young women in Iran my age who don't have the right to walk outside their homes without wearing a veil, and it's hard for me to imagine living in a country where men and women are so segregated.

The recent crackdown in Iran made me realize that Iranians have to fight for even the smallest freedoms I take for granted in the United States, and it makes me feel very grateful to be here.