The MEK Has Not Changed
Daniel Pipes asks:
How should Western governments deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which Washington labels “the most active state sponsor of terrorism”?
If you guessed that his answer is to lend support to an anti-Iranian terrorist group, you would be right. This is Pipes’ example of meting out “tough” treatment to Tehran. Like all other American boosters of the MEK, he fails to understand that aligning the U.S. with a group that the vast majority of Iranians hates is a gift to the Iranian regime. Even if it were true that the MEK is no longer a terrorist group, that wouldn’t make it a useful ally in building up opposition to the Iranian regime. As far as most Iranians are concerned, the MEK will always be tainted by its violent and fanatical past. Providing any kind of help to them, including removal from the list of terrorist organizations, will be taken as an insult by Iranians regardless of their support for the regime. Going beyond that and attempting to use them to subvert the Iranian government is bound to undermine the legitimate Iranian opposition, and it will solidify the impression that U.S. policy is hostile to Iranians and not just the to the regime.
Of course, it isn’t true that the MEK has really abandoned its old ways. Ray Takeyh testified before Congress on the subject of the MEK earlier this month, and he addressed the idea that the MEK has changed:
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 [bold mine-DL].
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 [bold mine-DL].
Unless the goal is to strengthen the hand of the Iranian regime, sabotage the opposition, and reinforce every negative stereotype Iranians have about the U.S. government, de-listing the MEK would be a horrible mistake. No less important, it would be a disgrace.
Update: One-time Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr has joined the pro-MEK bandwagon:
In fact, the past three U.S. administrations have seriously and expressly weakened the ability of opposition forces in Iran to effect positive change. All three have done this by abusing U.S. law that permits the State Department to designate entities as “terrorist organizations” and thereby deny them recognition and access to resources. This is precisely what the federal government for 14 years has done to the single most important and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
Like Pipes, Barr puts great emphasis on the supposed preeminence of the MEK among Iranian opposition groups, but this is a huge disservice to the legitimate Iranian opposition. No doubt the MEK believes it is the “single most important” opposition group, but why are so many Americans repeating this nonsense? If the MEK is well-organized, this is no coincidence: it is a fanatical political cult.
Second Update: Takeyh also had this to say in his testimony on Iranian attitudes towards the MEK:
Despite its activism in Western capitals, the MEK commands very little support within Iran. Its alliance with Saddam and its cult-like dispositions have alienated even the radical segments of intelligentsia that once found its ideological template attractive. The main opposition force in Iran remains the Green Movement that features not just liberal activists but clerical dissidents, and middle class elements chaffing under the theocracy’s repressive rule. The Iranian populace is seeking ways of liberalizing its society and not embracing yet another ideological movement with totalitarian tendencies.
I suppose one could argue that Iranian public opinion shouldn’t affect what the U.S. government decides to do, but the MEK’s lack of support inside the country where it is supposedly the “most important” opposition group shows that the advocates for the MEK are just repeating falsehoods they’ve been told to say. It is also hard to miss that the sudden surge of interest in the MEK has largely overtaken American hawks’ former interest in the Green movement.
Third Update: The key legal criterion for continuing to designate the MEK as a terrorist organization is this one:
The organization engages in terrorist activity or terrorism, or retains the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism [bold mine-DL].