Oped News.com – By Nooredin Abedian August 18, 2011
Elizabeth Rubin’s op-ed “An Iranian Cult and Its American Friends” in August 13 issue of the NYT is the last in a series of similar articles attacking Iran’s main opposition movement, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and asking the State Department – which is supposed to decide in coming weeks on delisting the aforesaid from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) – to continue keeping it there.
Awkward as was the listing itself, queerer are current endeavors to justify it and to make it last. Tehran’s regime keeps calling “foul” on a daily basis in its official media, calling the eventual delisting a “political step” against it.
The listing of the MEK came in 1997, amid a rush to establish long-sought relations with Iran which had just come up with a new, so-called moderate president, Mohammad Khatami. State Department officials went on the record to confirm that Madeline Albright, then Secretary of States, had included the group in the newly adopted list on specific demands by Tehran. Bill Clinton’s Secretary of States was not the only person taken in by Khatami’s clever maneuvers presenting himself as a “moderate”. The fable has proven wrong long time ago, with Ahmadinejad taking office after Khatami and continuing more than ever in the Islamic Republic’s bloody footprints of Khomeiny, with no moderation in sight.
In the meantime, the MEK fought a long judicial battle in several courts including that of Great Britain, European Union and France to prove that it has never been engaged, nor does it intend to engage, in terrorist activities. Several court orders have given the group a clear bill of health as it comes to terrorism. DC’s Appeals’ court was the last, asking the Secretary of States to reconsider her predecessors’ decision to list the group as a terrorist entity. That is why the State Department is studying the case, and that is why a number of people especially in Washington are preaching to keep them listed. As an observer writing more than 15 years on Iran, I see three parties to this case: The State Department or the US administration, the mullahs’ regime in Iran, and the MEK representing the main opposition movement against the regime. Let us study each player’s points:
The MEK wants to get off the list, because it has a contingent of 3400 people, including 1000 women, in a camp named Ashraf in Iraq who are menaced by the pro-Iranian Iraqi government and has undergone two large scale attacks by the latter in less than two years. Fifty lives have been lost and hundreds of members were left wounded. The Iraqi government, responsible for their “well being” according to its written promise to the United States when taking in charge the military control of the camp in 2009, calls them “terrorists” in reference to the US name-calling. So it is of utmost importance to get off that list, to save those people.
The Iranian regime, wants to continue a game it has skillfully played since 1997, pretending there are people inside the regime willing to establish good relations with the West and the US, but they are not in charge of things and should be given adequate time and means to get there. The time-buying game gives the mullahs much needed time to complete a notorious nuclear program, and consolidate regional hegemony especially in Iraq. Part of the mullahs’ skillful play is a chain of lobbies in Washington who are paid to fuel a policy which can be best named as “appeasement”.
In a bid to distance themselves from a regime well known as the first state sponsor of terrorism, those lobbies pretend they represent the so-called “green movement” of Iran, stating the latter’s fierce opposition to any conciliatory move towards the MEK, pretending that such a move might “strengthen the hand of hardliners in Iran”. The allegation is as false as detrimental to the movement it pretends to defend.
The so-called “green movement” should keep a minimum of distance from the regime in power, if it has to represent any significant opposition to it. The most logical position would be not to antagonize other opposition movements who have been fighting the regime since years. The existence of a movement like the MEK, claiming the downfall of the regime can only strengthen the green movement, although it is not asking for a complete regime change but only reforming that regime. The green movement can say it is not supporting MEK’s goals, but it should not work to have it enchained. That is exactly why the MEK supported the green movement in 2009 instead of trying to put it out of the race.
If those people advocating the continued listing of the MEK on the pretext of not wanting to weaken Iran’s pro-democracy movement are proven to really belong to the green movement, then one should begin having serious doubts on the authenticity of the said movement. Never in any liberation movement or liberation war have different components on one side been antagonistic, as that is the state of affairs between the opposition and the regime. Those who called resistance members “terrorists” during the World War II’s occupation of France by Nazi Germany were called “collabos” — collaborators of the Gestapo- by the French. They could have never claimed to be a viable opposition. So for the sake of the green movement, I would rather put those recommending keeping the MEK listed on the side of the regime than the green movement.
Anyway, only the third player, the US, has the decision power. Hillary Clinton has to decide on the issue soon. I can however propose a wise approach: Instead of playing the mullahs’ hand in over politicizing the decision, the Secretary of States should lean on the judicial leg, and remind everybody that she has neither power nor the legitimacy of neglecting all those court rulings on the nature of the group, by keeping them on the terrorists’ list. The State Department has no word above that of the judiciary, when it comes to terrorism. The whole terrorism list would loose much meaning and legitimacy if groups are kept on it on political and geo-strategic considerations.
In their propaganda, be it by their lobbies out here or their own media, the mullahs tend to over emphasize the political side of such a decision. There is a lot at stake on that side, including the nuclear program of the mullahs, their behavior in Iraq and in the region. Madame Clinton should not let the mullahs set the terms of their bargain, especially so because of the US’s human and judicial responsibility towards the residents of Ashraf, whom in 2004 it considered protected persons under the forth Geneva Convention. Justice is on her side, and she should act accordingly.
Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.