In the last couple of years, I have written three or four articles regarding the Iranian opposition groups, People’s Mujahedin (PMOI) or MEK and the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI). In general, I have attempted to present the views of these organizations as they were represented to me by their supporters. Both of these groups consider their prime objective to be the continuation of the democratic revolutionary impulses of 1979-impulses that they believe were hijacked and destroyed by the Islamic fundamentalist elements among the anti-Shah forces. With this as their fundamental guidepost, these groups conduct outreach to official and unofficial political organizations around the world, especially in the West. Although the groups’ supporters consider themselves progressives, they have had difficulty garnering support from the progressive elements in US politics. In Europe, however, it is among progressives that they find their greatest support.
As things heat up around Iran-with Condoleeza Rice recently touring Europe and making noises about Iran’s nuclear energy program and George Bush making similar noises in DC (all this while Donald Rumsfeld works with Congress to build a “new generation” of US nuclear weapons)-it seems to be an appropriate time to look at the role these groups play in this tempest. One thing is certain, they are on record as opposing any foreign military intervention in Iran. This has been repeated to me on numerous occasions and can be found in the NCRI’s public statements. However, the fact remains that the work of some of the NCRI’s members in publicizing the locations of Iran’s nuclear sites only serves to further the desire of those in the United States who wish to overthrow the theocracy in Iran by military invasion and subversion.
So, how does one reconcile this? If the NCRI and PMOI are opposed to both the Tehran regime and a US endeavor to overthrow that regime, why do they sometimes seem to be helping Iran’s enemies in Israel and DC? According to some of their supporters, it is not the intention of those in the NCRI with information regarding Iran’s nuclear program to help Iran’s enemies; their only intention is to put the theocrats on notice and to hopefully get information through to the Iranian people about how their monies are being spent. As for Iran’s current regime, now that northern Korea seems to have nuclear weapons and Washington is talking diplomacy instead of war, one can easily understand Tehran’s desire to possess them, as well.
In terms of the West’s relationship with the NCRI and PMOI, suffice it to say that these groups are not on any western government’s list of groups they really want to deal with. Indeed, the government of France withdrew its permission on February 2, 2005 for a February 10, 2005 rally in Paris commemorating the 1979 antimonarchical uprising. After the rally was rescheduled for Berlin, the German Federal authorities also banned the demonstration. (However, it took place without incident.) As for the US government, when it comes to existing opposition groups that it is willing to finance and hopefully manipulate, most of their attention tends to go to the group organized around the late shah’s son. Not only is this group’s politics more in line with those of the administration, they are smaller, less organized and more susceptible to manipulation than the NCRI and PMOI, precisely because of their shorter history and considerably smaller size. In remarks concerning Sen. Rick Santorum’s most recent bill called the Iran Freedom Act, rightwing author Stephen Schwartz was asked exactly which opposition groups the US intelligence community would fund should Santorum’s bill pass as it currently reads. His answer was that the PMOI and NCRI were essentially “a Marxist cult” and not a good choice. The most likely scenario should this bill become law, is that the State Department will do as it did in Iraq: it will find exiles willing to incorporate themselves into an opposition group just so Washington’s money can go to some people actually from the country that the Pentagon hopes to overthrow. Washington prefers these so-called “opposition” groups made up of exiles whose primary support (and sole funding) comes from Washington. History shows that this dynamic tends to ensure these groups obeisance and malleability.
In essence, the PMOI and NCRI want to be an important part of the post-theocratic Iran. They have many opponents, not the least of which is the current Iranian regime. They also have the longest history of any Iranian opposition group and the largest membership. On the other hand, their actions around Iran’s nuclear program often play into the greatest enemy of the Iranian people-the United States government. Their politics are fundamentally progressive, very strong on the rights of women, and come from an amalgam of leftist and liberal philosophies, including the liberal tendency in Islam. They are insistent when they state that they are opposed to any foreign military intervention in their country, believing that the only real way to fulfill the hopes of the movement against the Shah is by fomenting democracy in Iran, not by delivering Washington’s version of that political system via war and weaponry. Despite this, they have failed to capture the attention (much less the imagination) of similarly inclined folks in the United States.
The likelihood of success for any Iranian group tied to Washington is even less than the supposed success of similar groups in Iraq. Even Mr. Schwarz, the writer referred to above, acknowledges that the current Iranian government is more popular than Saddam Hussein was. Because of this, Schwarz suggests that Washington should hide its role in any “internal” opposition it funds and/or organizes in Iran. Other observers with less of an ideological ax to grind than Schwarz just plainly say that any group that hopes to foment regime change in Tehran and has ties to DC automatically suffers from those ties. This fact alone should be enough reason for the NCRI and PMOI to keep its distance from that carrot some in Washington are waving in front of its face. In the minds of most Iranians, the US remains the biggest threat to their existence, understandably so. Should change come to Iran with minimal US interference, it seems likely that those groups and people with the fewest connections to DC will be those held in greatest favor by the Iranian people. While it is essential to the efforts of the NCRI and the organizations it represents that it and the PMOI be removed from the US and EU’s lists of so-called terrorist organizations, these dissident groups would be best served if they kept their distance from the US and British intelligence and military structures.
In a related matter, four Iranian brothers who sit in an immigration prison in California recently rejected a release offer from the US that would have sent two of them out of the US. The other two men are awaiting the decision on their fate. The four men have been held since October 2001 on charges of lying on their applications for political asylum. In the paranoia immediately following the tragedy known as 9-11, the brothers were rounded up along with hundreds of other men and women of Middle Eastern origins. Originally accused of being members of PMOI by the Justice Department, later rulings overturned that decision and urged the US government to release the men. In fact, the only links the four men appear to have with the Iranian opposition is that they attended a rally in support of the PMOI in 1997.
The four brothers, all real estate agents in the Los Angeles area, are in their 30s and 40s. The oldest brother was studying in the US when the Shah was overthrown. He lost his funding and began to work in the real estate business. The second eldest spent several weeks in Iranian prison following his arrest in 1981 at a demonstration against the Khomeini crackdown on popular movements that were opposed to his anti-democratic decrees following the overthrow of the Shah and his subsequent consolidation of power. His younger brothers spent much of their teenage years in Iran dodging the draft because they didn’t want to fight in the Iran-Iraq war-a war that was arguably lengthened by US arms sales to both sides.
Although the four admit to lying on their INS application-they falsified the date of their entry into the US on the advice of their immigration counselor since the actual date of their entry would have made their application for asylum less likely to be heard-the only verified link they have to the MEK is that they signed a petition at an MEK rally in Denver. The petition was later found in an FBI raid of a so-called MEK safehouse. In short, these men have been incarcerated for forty months because they signed a petition at a political rally. Like hundreds of other men and women picked up after 9-11 and in subsequent mandatory registrations, they have been held in prison for no other reason than their country of origin. All of the “terrorism” charges against them have been dismissed, yet the US government still wants to deport them.
The imprisonment of these four brothers should be indication enough that the government in Washington is not the first place progressive-thinking Iranians opposed to the theocratic regime should be looking for support. Although it certainly makes sense for opposition groups to garner support where they can, it is also important that they keep their principles front and center in the process. As for those of us in the US and Europe who oppose imperial war, the most important actions we can be taking right now are those that mobilize opposition to any expansion of Washington’s current wars and (hopefully) prevent the opening of new fronts in Bush and company’s imposition of their vision of freedom. This doesn’t necessarily mean supporting regimes like Iran whose actions we oppose, but it does mean opposing the US regime that wants to overthrow them. This is especially important in the coming weeks and months, as the White House, State and Defense Departments, and Congress attempt to use a line on Iran that is all too similar to the one they used before they attacked Iraq. As most everyone knows, that line was mostly lies, yet very deadly. Any war with Iran is likely to be even more so.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: email@example.com