Cartoons, Dissent, and Human Rights in Iran

20 de enero 2015Cruel anti-Semitic attacks are “never solely about Jews,” Ruth Wissewrote in the Wall Street Journal last week. Jews are the most vulnerable targets at hand to destroy the narrative of democracy that despots disdain—free speech, press, and religion. Such images are particular irritants to Islamists because they are threatened by freedom. And as noted student of Islam, Daniel Pipes argued in the National Review, “Images, not words, most disturb Islamists.”

Now controversy abounds worldwide and in America about whether to support free speech of the cartoonists of the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was attacked by gunmen earlier this month. Their rights should be supported because the satirical drawings reflect freedom from oppression: Gérard Biard, chief editor of Charlie Hebdo, told Meet the Pressthat cartoon parodies of religious figures safeguard freedom of religion, because they “declare that God must not be a political or public figure, but instead must be a private one.”

Despite protests and debate, many quietly laugh at despotic rulers of the directly affected areas, making despots’ lack of legitimacy apparent and erode their assumed right to rule. Cartoons and comedy are frowned upon by al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri and his affiliate in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasser al Wuhayshi; the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed “Caliph” of a new caliphate on Iraqi and Syrian territory; and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “Supreme Leader” of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The latter prevails as if he had a right to rule from God and increasingly enforces his diktats by a brutal morality police force, said Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 and was punished by the regime for her defense of human rights in Iran.

Despotism and cruelty are an integral part of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It seeks to impose a brand of Shiite Islam on uncooperative Sunnis by extending its 1979 Islamist Revolution over the region covertly, as in Yemen,Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. But wait: Saudi is also not a paragon of rights, having sentenced a man to a prison term and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, a “vicious act of cruelty,” according to Amnesty International, which reported the incident earlier this month. A nuclear-armed Tehran, however, is much more dangerous than non-nuclear Riyadh, though they are both serial rights violators.

While President Obama finally seems to see al Qaeda and the Islamic State as the threats they are, he apparently views Iran as a normal state with which to do business. Consistent with the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, Obama views al Qaeda and the Islamic State as perils, but he fails to hold the Iranian regime accountable for facts in the Department’s annual identification of Tehran as main state sponsor of international terrorism. Ditto for State’s report on the country’s human rights practices, which cites: “disappearances, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment…beatings and rape…arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention.”

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Daniel Pipes: Unleash the Iranian Opposition[, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq] and A Call for American Boldness in Iran

As the 23 June rally in Villepinte, France draws closer, one is reminded of Daniel Pipes’ 2007 and 2009 articles on similar events. See following post and 2009 article post that follows later on the page.

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Unleash the Iranian Opposition[, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq]

by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
July 10, 2007

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL POST

[With slight differences from the NY Sun version]

Navigating the fractious currents of émigré politics is never easy, and especially for the Iranian opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran. Simply put, the rogue oil state regime it opposes terrifies one half the West and tempts the other, and the MEK is itself accused of being a superannuated Marxist-Islamist terrorist cult.

These obstacles have not, however, prevented the MEK from trumpeting Islamism as the new global threat, providing important intelligence to the West – for example, about Iran’s nuclear program – terrifying the regime in Tehran, and putting on major displays of anti-regime solidarity.

Participants at a Mujahedeen-e Khalq rally outside Paris on June 30 boisterously welcomed Maryam Rajavi.

I witnessed one such display at a vast exposition hall outside Paris last week, where some 20,000 Iranians from around the world met to hear music from the old country, wave flags and banners, and listen to brief speeches by non-Iranian well-wishers – notably U.S. Congressman Bob Filner, Democrat of California, and former Algerian prime minister Sid Ahmad Ghozali. The crowd then settled in for an 85-minute tour d’horizon by the MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi.

The meeting inspired several observations. First, the slick production, with hints of an American political convention – balloons and chaff falling from the rafters, a televised sequence of the leader arriving in cavalcade – was aimed mostly at an audience outside the hall, especially in Iran.

Second, the event had two apparent goals: reminding Iranians that an alternative does exist to today’s theocracy, plus pressuring the European Union to remove the MEK from its terror list. For Iranians, the music portion included pretty girls in (for them, daring) Western clothing. For Europeans, it pointedly included “Le chant des partisans,” the anthem of the French Resistance during World War II.

Third, Rajavi’s in-depth analysis mentioned neither the United States nor Israel, something extremely rare for a major speech about Middle Eastern politics. Nor did she even hint at conspiratorial thinking, a deeply welcome change for Iranian politics.
Finally, no other opposition group in the world can mount so impressive a display of muscle as does the MEK, with its thousands of supporters, many young, and a slate of dignitaries.

Young singers at the Mujahedeen-e Khalq rally outside Paris on June 30. Many participants wore vests inscribed with the slogan, “Notre choix, Maryam Rajavi,” an allusion to the MEK leader.

These factors, combined with the mullah’s near-phobic reaction toward the MEK, suggest that the organization presents a formidable tool for intimidating Tehran.

Alas, Westerners presently cannot work with the MEK, due to a 1997 decision by the Clinton administration, followed five years later by the European Union, to offer a sop to the mullahs and declare it a terrorist group, putting it officially on a par with the likes of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbullah. A Portuguese member of the European parliament, Paulo Casaca, notes that “Officials on both sides of the Atlantic are on the record as saying that the only reason why the group was put on the U.S. terrorism list in the first place was to send a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the Iranian regime.”

But the MEK poses no danger to Americans or Europeans, and has not for decades. It does pose a danger to the malign, bellicose theocratic regime in Tehran. The MEK’s utility to Western states is reflected in the inconsistent, even contradictory, U.S. government attitude toward it over the past decade. One amusing instance came in October 2003, when Colin Powell, the secretary of state, tartly wrote Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense, to remind him that the 3,800 MEK forces at Camp Ashraf in Iraq were supposed to be treated as captives, not as allies.

But there will be nothing amusing as the American presence in Iraq winds down and thousands of unarmed MEK members are left to the tender mercies of the pro-Tehran regime in Baghdad. Belatedly, the Bush administration needs to take three steps. First, let the MEK members leave Camp Ashraf in a humane and secure manner. Second, delist the organization from the terror rolls, unleashing it to challenge the Islamic Republic of Iran. Third, exploit that regime’s inordinate fear of the MEK.

As Patrick Clawson and I suggested over four years ago, “To deter the mullahs from taking hostile steps (supporting terrorism against coalition troops in Iraq, building nuclear weapons), it could prove highly effective to threaten U.S. meetings with the MEK or providing help for its anti-regime publicity campaign.”

That remains good advice, but there’s not another four years to wait.

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A Call for American Boldness in Iran

by Daniel Pipes
Jerusalem Post
June 24, 2009

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL POST

In a striking coincidence, two very different expressions of Iranian dissent took place exactly simultaneously on two continents on Saturday, June 20. Between them, the Islamic Republic of Iran faces an unprecedented challenge.

In a vast exhibition hall just north of Paris on June 20, about 20,000 people attended anevent organized by the largest and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran).

One protest took place on the streets of Iran, where thousands of Iranians fed up with living under a religious tyranny defied Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i’s diktat that they accept the results of the June 12 presidential election, whereby President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly defeated his main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi by a lopsided margin.

The protestors and Mousavi have both shown bravery but the former seem more radical than the latter. Mousavi’s website announces that he does not seek confrontation with the “brothers” in Iran’s security forces nor does he wish to challenge the “sacred system” instituted by Ayatollah Khomeini. Rather, the website declares, “We are confronting deviations and lies. We seek to bring reform that returns us to the pure principals of the Islamic Republic.”

This timidity stands in contrast to the bold stance of the street protestors who shout “Death to the dictator” and even “Death to Khamene’i,” an echo of the regime’s perpetual slogans “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” implying a wish not just to correct Khomeini’s “sacred system” but an aspiration to terminate the regime dominated by mullahs (Iran’s clerics).

The other protest took place in a vast exhibition hall just north of Paris, where the largest and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MeK or PMOI) joined with smaller groups to hold their annual meeting. Tens of thousands attended it, including me.

The assembly’s most emotional moment came when the anxious crowd learned that their peaceful counterparts marching in Iran had been killed or wounded. At that moment, freedom of assembly in France contrasted most starkly with its denial in Iran. Later that day came confirmation of the regime’s obsessive fears of the MeK, when deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, blamed MeK “thugs” for his own government’s violence against the peaceful demonstrators.

The MEK mounted an impressive display in France, as it did at the last meeting I attended, in 2007, with dignitaries, made-for-television pageantry, and a powerful speech by its leader, Maryam Rajavi. Like the street protestors, she also called for the demise of the Khomeinist regime. In a 4,000-word speech, she steered blessedly clear of attacks on the United States or Israel and excluded the conspiracy-theory mongering so common to Iranian political life. Instead, she:

  • Ridiculed the regime for portraying the demonstrators as Western agents.
  • Bitterly complained that corpses of demonstrators were “wrapped in American flags” and then trampled upon.
  • Condemned the regime’s “crimes” in Iraq and its “export of terrorism” to Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, and Afghanistan.
  • Predicted that “the beginning of the end” of the Islamic Republic of Iran is underway.
  • Critiqued the Obama administration for giving yet another chance to the regime, noting that the Bush administration had met its representatives 28 times to no avail.

Rajavi has rightly called for a stronger U.S. policy toward Tehran, explaining in a recent interview that “The West can stop the nuclear program if it stands up to the mullahs.”

Sadly, standing up to the mullahs has never been American policy. Jimmy Carter meekly accepted their rule. Ronald Reagan sent them arms. To win their favor, Bill Clinton put the MEK on the terrorism list. George W. Bush did not foil their nuclear weapons project. And Barack Obama hopes to gain concessions from Tehran on the nuclear weapons issue by distancing himself from the dissidents.

Instead, flux in Iran should invite boldness and innovation. It is time, finally, for a robust U.S. policy that encourages those yelling “Death to Khamene’i” and that takes advantage of the hyperbolic fear the MeK arouses in Iran’s ruling circles (first step: end the MeK’s preposterous listing as a terrorist organization).

As Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Republican of Michigan) notes, regime change in Iran becomes the more urgent if the mullahs will soon deploy nuclear weapons. The vital and potentially victorious movement building both on the streets of Iran and in the halls of Europe better represents not only Western values but also Western interests.