Paul Pillar corrects a common misunderstanding about the Foreign Terrorist Organization list:

Tanter seems to believe that a group has to have committed terrorist acts within the previous two years to be kept on the list. Not true. (Having been directly involved in the laborious process of compiling the required administrative records for the initial listings after enactment of the law in 1996 that created the FTO list, I know a thing or two about this subject.) Two years used to be the interval between recertifications of listed groups, and it is now the period after which a group can petition for delisting. But no terrorist acts have to have been committed during that period; retaining the capability and presumed intent to commit them is sufficient to stay on the list [bold mine-DL]. If performing terrorist acts recently was a requirement to stay on the list, many of the 49 groups currently on the list would have to come off. Lebanese Hizballah, for example, probably would be one of them. I expect that many of the pro-MEK campaigners would be among the first to scream if that happened.

One of the main reasons the MEK has remained on the list is that they do retain the “capability and presumed intent” to commit acts of terrorism. Violent resistance has been at the core of the group’s identity and methods for decades, and it remains dedicated to the overthrow of the current Iranian regime. I’ll quote Ray Takeyh once again:

The core of MEK’s ideology has always been anti-imperialism which it has historically defined as opposition to U.S. interests. The MEK opposed the Shah partly because of his close associations with the United States. MEK’s anti-American compulsions propelled it toward embracing an entire spectrum of radical forces ranging from the Vietcong to the PLO. Given its mission of liberating the working class and expunging the influence of predatory capitalism, the United States has traditionally been identified as a source of exploitation and injustice in MEK literature. As the organization has lost its Iraqi patron and finds itself without any reliable allies, it has somehow modulated its language and sought to moderate its anti-American tone. Such convenient posturing should not distract attention from its well-honed ideological animus to the United States.

Terror has always been a hallmark of MEK’s strategy for assuming power. Through much of its past, the party exulted violence as a heroic expression of legitimate dissent. One of the central precepts of the party is that a highly-dedicated group of militants could spark a mass revolution by bravely confronting superior power of the state and assaulting its authority. Once, the masses observe that the state is vulnerable to violence, than they will shed their inhibitions and join the protest, thus sparking the larger revolution. Thus, the most suitable means of affecting political change is necessarily violence. Although in its advocacy in Western capitals, the MEK emphasizes its commitment to democracy and free expression, in neither deed nor word has it forsworn it violent pedigree.

While it may sometimes be necessary to put aside a terrorist group’s past for the sake of ending armed conflict through negotiated settlement, that isn’t what proponents of de-listing want. Advocates of rehabilitating the MEK are mainly interested in using the group to destabilize the Iranian regime. MEK advocates seem more than ready to ignore or whitewash the group’s past so that it can be used as a weapon against Tehran, which will be perceived by the vast majority of Iranians as an insult and a threat to all Iranians. Almost all Iranians understandably view the MEK as traitors and enemies of their country. If the MEK is de-listed, it will confirm for most Iranians that the U.S. is not simply opposed to the current regime, but that it is hostile to the Iranian people as well.