Despite the anticipated moment, he spoke with sadness in his heart. He knew simultaneously with the arrival of that moment in Villepinte, France, death awaited courageous countrymen three thousand miles away.
He is Farzin Hashemi — an official of a coalition of Iranian opposition groups largely consisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq or “MEK.” I spoke with Farzin on the floor of a hall where the coalition’s convention was being held.
The anticipated moment for 90,000 attendees was the arrival of MEK’s president-elect, Maryam Rajavi, an electrifying speaker. But as we spoke, Farzin shared the reason for his sadness — a blog from students in Iran preparing to participate shortly in demonstrations banned by the government. As the sun arose over Tehran on what would be the eighth straight day of protests in the aftermath of a sham presidential election, these students bid farewell, not knowing if they had witnessed their last sunrise. The day held uncertainty for them, but they held no fear for the day’s outcome. Having been oppressed to the limits of human tolerance, they had come to realize fear of death no longer posed an impediment in their fight for freedom.
Farzin’s sadness over what would come that day was well warranted. That evening, we watched a video taken on the streets of Tehran. A young female student, Neda, marching innocently beside her father in the protest, was felled by a single shot fired by a security force sniper. Collapsing to the ground, she was surrounded by wailing protestors seeking to render assistance. But this innocent young girl had taken her life’s last breath — her eyes still open as if locked in a final gaze of the hell into which Iran’s theocratic rulers had led her people — a hell from which she, finally, was escaping.
Watching the video, a young American Iranian woman next to me silently began to weep. She too was familiar with Tehran’s brutal regime — imprisoned at the age of 13 as a “hostage” to ensure her family paid ransom for her eventual release three years later.
Historically, when democracy-minded people are challenged, leaders with great oratory skills seem to emerge. Such is the case in MEK’s struggle for democracy in Iran.
MEK’s history has seen many challenges. Founded in 1965 initially to oppose the Shah of Iran — which made U.S. interests a target of its communist-dominated wrath as well — it shifted focus after shedding its communist influence when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. But taking on Khomeini caused MEK to flee to France, which was then manipulated by Tehran to kick MEK out of the country, and its settling in Iraq, along the Iran border at Camp Ashraf, at the invitation of Saddam Hussein.
Ever since then, MEK has remained a constant thorn in the side of the Iranian theocracy. Despite the fact MEK had not conducted terrorist acts against U.S. interests for two decades, in 1997 it was placed on the U.S. terrorist — at Tehran’s request — simply to curry favor. The U.K. and EU followed suit.
In 2001, MEK renounced terrorism. In 2003 as U.S. forces invaded Iraq, MEK voluntarily disarmed, gaining status as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions. Protected by U.S. forces until January 1, 2009, when responsibility fell to the Iraqis, MEK remains confined at Camp Ashraf where their future is uncertain. Currying favor with Tehran, which is determined to eradicate MEK, Baghdad threatens to send members back to Iran or to any third country willing to take them.
Meanwhile, in a series of legal battles, seven verdicts rendered by U.K. and EU courts have caused the de-listing of MEK as a terrorist organization — one strongly worded verdict finding MEK never should have been so listed. Yet the U.S. continues to do so in false hopes Tehran will negotiate with Washington over its nuclear weapons program.
A most telling point in Mrs. Rajavi’s speech was that in almost every discussion between Tehran and Baghdad and 28 overt and covert discussions between Tehran and Washington, MEK at Ashraf has been the priority topic. Tehran has done a tremendous job in misleading Western powers, convincing them MEK members are terrorists. But the mullahs’ real concern is the threat MEK presents to their own control.
She went on to explain the current struggle against Tehran’s regime has been aided by Ashraf residents. Iranian leaders traveled to Baghdad in the months prior to the presidential election to pressure the Iraqis to close Camp Ashraf. Khamenei’s desire was for a soon-to-be re-elected President Ahmadinejad to have free reign in running the final race leg to win a nuclear weapons capability, unfettered by concerns over MEK. But Ashraf’s perseverance proved inspirational back home.
As MEK encouraged Iranians not to participate in the presidential election, it warned Khamenei was preparing to inflate voting numbers to discredit MEK’s influence. The pack of lies Tehran created by its sham election was evidenced by its fivefold inflation of those numbers. (Numbers in some areas indicated a 120%-130% voter turnout — the oversight of an overzealous Khamenei attempting to get his pre-determined election results out within three hours after polls closed.) These lies empowered a regime of “criminals” to steal the election.
It was clear from Rajavi’s comments there was both agreement and disagreement with President Obama’s statements concerning events in Iran. She fully agreed with his assessment little difference exists between Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh. In fact, she suggested all four presidential candidates are cut from the same ideological cloth and thus evolved from the same pack of “wolves” — all of whom had already proven themselves, in various capacities, willing and able to execute those opposed to Tehran’s theocracy.
Where Rajavi disagrees with Obama is his unwillingness to directly support the Iranian people for fear Tehran will allege U.S. interference. From Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s June 19 speech, Obama should shed this concern. Khamenei, announcing a crackdown on protestors, claimed the uprising was fueled by the U.S., MEK and others. It is time for Obama, as leader of the free world, to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people. To Rajavi’s supporters, the real surprise after the protests started has been the strong endorsement of the Iranian people by the EU and the lack thereof by U.S. leadership.
Rajavi challenged Tehran to agree to a U.N.-supervised free election — something the mullahs should not fear in light of the alleged “landslide” victory of Ahmadinejad. She called for a democratically elected government that would separate church and state, built on a foundation of respect for human rights.
Towards the speech’s end, Rajavi asks of Obama, “Does the minimum respect for the struggle of the Iranian people for freedom not require that any concessions or dialogue with the ruling criminals, which would occur at the expense of the Iranian people, be halted?…giving another chance to the Supreme Leader and his crony, Ahmadinejad, is to give the viper another opportunity, (but) the viper never gives birth to a dove.”
It is time the U.S. understands, in dealing with Tehran, it faces a viper incapable of transforming into a dove. If we fail to grasp this now, not moving to fully support the Iranian people and opposition, we will only learn after the viper makes a fatal, nuclear strike.