The unprecedented campaign in Washington to remove the Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations represents a critical threat to Iran’s indigenous democratic movement. Unlike Iran’s democratic opposition, which advances through nonviolence the principles of democracy and human rights, the MEK is an undemocratic organization that pursues its agenda through violence. Delisting the MEK and freeing the group to inject violence into Iran’s democratic opposition movement would help derail yet again Iran’s century-long struggle for democracy.
Secretary Clinton will soon make her decision on whether to remove the MEK from the terrorist list; the consequences of her decision could indeed determine whether Iran’s democratic aspirations are once again plunged into the abyss of a vicious cycle of violence.
The MEK enjoys almost no popular support among Iranians, yet it seeks to manipulate Iran’s struggle for democracy to serve their own quixotic end — to install MEK leader Maryam Rajavi as Iran’s next dictator. MEK hopes to achieve this goal by manipulating the democratic struggle into a contest of violence, the arena where terrorist groups and undemocratic regimes prefer to compete. In this regard, there is little difference between the MEK and the regime. However, the heavily armed regime in Tehran has the upper hand when it comes to violence, including against the MEK’s 3,000-man army.
Instead, the only damage the MEK would inflict would be on Iran’s peaceful democracy movement. The rejection of violence has been critical to the democracy movement because it shifts the arena of competition with the Iranian government to a theatre where the opposition enjoys a significant comparative advantage. Rejecting violence provides the opposition the moral upper hand against Iran’s hardliners. Hence, by confronting the regime where it is weak and where the opposition is strong, the nonviolent opposition also has the tactical upper hand. And, at the strategic level, the opposition has the upper hand because, in rejecting violence, Iranians ensure that their efforts will lead to democracy and respect for human rights, not just the shuffling of dictators.
In the past, violence has poisoned Iran’s struggle for democracy. In 1965, the MEK was the first group to take up arms against the Shah, who in turn responded with further violence that unleashed a vicious cycle of brutal reprisals. As the Shah’s repression grew increasingly violent, radical voices rose to the forefront of the opposition, and the voices of reason were marginalized. By the time revolution came in 1979, it was violent and undemocratic. One dictator was replaced by another.
In the aftermath of the June 12 elections, we saw yet again how the MEK seeks to manipulate the struggle for democracy to serve its own violent, undemocratic agenda. Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, just before he was imprisoned by the regime in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for 118 days in 2009, reported firsthand how the MEK tried to “hijack” the peaceful Green Movement protests by launching attacks on Basijis. Bahari writes in his recent book that “MEK sympathizers had acted as agents provocateurs among the protestors, inciting violence.”
He quotes a peaceful demonstrator on June 13, 2009, who says, “Some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation.” She goes on to say, “Thirty years after the revolution and 20 years after the war, the majority of Iranians despise violence and terror. My worry is that if the government doesn’t allow reforms to take place, we will fall into a terrorism abyss like the years after the revolution.”
Injecting violence into Iran’s opposition would turn the democratic struggle into a violent competition on the regime’s terms. That is why the regime would love for the indigenous opposition to become violent and why delisting the MEK would be a gift to hardliners who have sought to smear the democratic opposition as being aligned with the MEK. Green Movement leaders have disavowed the MEK and wisely avoided taking the regime’s bait, but now some in the U.S. want to use the MEK to inject violence into Iran’s opposition movement.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, the people of Iran have learned all too well history’s lesson that violence has only poisoned their democratic aspirations. Now, the U.S. must heed these lessons and resist political pressure to delist the MEK and perpetuating the vicious cycle of violence that has doomed Iran’s century-long struggle for democracy.
Video: “Why Do We Need to Stand Up to the Mojahedin Khalq?”
Jamal Abdi is Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council, the largest grassroots organization representing the Iranian-American community in the US.