Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Uprising Changes Everything, Part II: Hands Off The People's Mujahadeen Of Iran.

In today's National Post, I make the case that Canada should lift the "terrorist entity" designation applied to the Mujahadeen-e-Khalk, also known as the People's Mujahadeen of Iran (PMOI).

Listing the Mujahadeen under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act unfairly encumbers the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has the same leadership as the Mujahadeen and commands the allegiance of tens of thousands of Iranian exiles, including several thousand Canadians.

It's up to the Iranian people to decide whether the military-clerical dictatorship in Tehran is capable of reform, or whether sterner stuff is required. By hanging the albatross of a "terrorist" classification around the NCRI's neck, Ottawa interferes with the mobilization underway in the Iranian diaspora and plays into the hands of the ayatollahs. It's high time we stopped doing things like that. The uprising changes everything. I'm not making a case for the Mujahadeen's politics, but the NCRI/Mujahadeen isn't a terrorist entity and we should stop pretending that it is.

Yesterday in my Tyee column, I noted that if Canadians are going to to play any useful role in supporting Iranian workers, students, and pro-democracy activists, we're going to have to heed their calls to isolate the regime. This will have to start with the isolation of the regime's propagandists, apologists and excuse-makers in Canada. It will require a rude awakening from the pseudo-leftish "second campism" that has so crippled our capacity to build effective solidarity with our friends in Iran, Palestine, Afghanistan, and beyond.

Maybe it's wishful thinking to imagine that this is possible. But what's clearly wishful thinking is the assumption that the Iranian uprising is demanding only a little bit of change, and that it will be happy to settle for some Islamist president other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We need to give our heads a shake, says the Iranian feminist Azar Majedi: "The people do not want this regime. They do not want to live under a religious tyranny. They do not want gender apartheid. People want to be free." This isn't just about stuffed ballot boxes. "This is the beginning of the end of one of the most brutal, heinous and notorious political regimes of the 20th century."

Then there's the assumption, ubiquitous outside Iran, that regime's hand-picked opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is somehow a changed man. Have the years really changed him that much? Has the uprising really changed him?

During his term as prime minister in the 1980s, Mousavi oversaw the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners, purged the universities, ordered the brutal persecution of religious minorities, presided over the mass arrests of activists and the deployment of children as human minesweepers during the Iran-Iraq war. Mousavi was a founder of Hezbollah. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to call him a "terrorist," but that isn't what we call him, is it?

So why do we continue to call the Mujahadeen terrorists? Mostly it's because that's what the White House says, for its own conveniences. But "terrorist" is a serious word, and we shouldn't use it unless we mean business. Evidence matters. Just ask Abousfian Abdelrazik.

The Mujahadeen arose as an Islamic Marxist liberation front during the 1960s. It carried out a cunning guerilla campaign against the American-backed regime of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, and against American corporate targets, during the 1970s. Mujahadeen fighters played a key role in the 1979 revolution, but their secular and feminist ideas immediately put them at odds with the ayatollahs who went through the Mujahadeen ranks like wolves through a flock of sheep. The Mujahadeen nevertheless recovered sufficiently to engage in a spectacular series of bombings and assassinations against the theocracy throughtout the 1980s and 1990s. Its big mistake was siding with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

In contrast to the uncertainty surrounding Mousavi, the Mujahadeen and the NCRI have obviously and unambiguously changed. They renounced violence in 1991, they're now both in favour of a democratic, secular and "nuclear free" Iran. The NCRI has been changed by the uprising, too. Only weeks ago, the NCRI had set itself at odds with the rest of the Iranian pro-democracy movement by calling for a boycott of the farcical June 12 elections. Now, the NCRI is on board with the movement's consensus: Nullify the election and bring in the UN to oversee a proper one, conducted according to democratic norms.

Soona Samsami, executive director of the Women’s Freedom Forum in Washington, D.C. and the NCRI’s unofficial North American interlocutor, says that just as the Iranian pro-democracy movement has evolved, so has the NCRI.

"The Iranian political landscape has completely changed,” she told me last week. “It is completely different, and it will never be the same again.”

Meanwhile, some useful reading:

Billy Wharton exposes Ahmadenijad as an enemy of Iranian workers in Selling Iran: Ahmadinejad, Privatization And A Bus Driver Who Said No. In Pincipia Dialectica, proper leftists confront Iranian propagandist George Galloway, and a broadside adequately explained by its headline: Trad-Marxist Goons Give Ahmadinejad Full-Spectrum Support. More evidence of a Left that hasn't lost its damn mind comes from Dave Osler in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and from Max Dunbar at Shiraz Socialist: How The Light Gets In.

Tracking events in Iran with reports and analysis: The Rise of the Iranian People, also Iranian Freedom.

For the miraculous spectacle of a risen people in the language it demands, a letter to the world from Saeed Valadbeygi in Tehran, at Revolutionary Road:

I am writing this letter on behalf of a starred (prohibited from studying) PhD student.
I am writing this letter on behalf of a flogged worker on first of May.
I am writing this letter on behalf of a sentenced to death teenager.
I am writing this letter on behalf of a sentenced to death by stone woman.
I am writing this letter on behalf of Saeed Valadbeygi. . .


Blogger IceClass said...

The old guys around these parts say that if you're not learning something new all the time, you're actually dying.
I guess today, you're keeping me alive Terry.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Sohrab said...

Except here's the problem Terry: the Mujahedeen are incredibly unpopular in Iran and among Iranians around the world, including those who advocate for regime change.

This is a discredited group with a bizarre ideology. It has carried out terrorist attacks against Iranian civilians and worked with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War. The rest of the opposition, be it reformist/liberal, monarchist, or even leftist, will have nothing to do with NCRI.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Sohrab said...

By the way, thanks for the linking to my blog (Iranian Freedom)!

1:44 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I don't think we disagree about the NCRI, Sohrab. My point is that if the rest of the Iranian opposition wants nothing to do with the NCRI, that should be up to the Iranian opposition. If people can find a way to work with a reformed NCRI, it's not up to the Canadian government to stand in the way. That's the European Union position. It's a good position.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Sohrab said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Sohrab said...

But Terry, the MEK does indeed continue to field a military arm, one which has committed heinous terrorists acts against Iranian civilians since 1991. These are facts.

So I think that, by classifying the NCRI as a terrorist group, the US and Canada actually make a principled stance, one which prevents the IRI from discrediting other opposition groups or accusing the West of hypocrisy, e.g. "they only brand those groups which oppose it as terrorists and not those with whom they share an agenda, etc.!")

3:14 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


A British court, a European court, the European Union and a cross-section of American and Canadian politicians insist that the "terrorist" classification of the NCRI/Mujahadeen will not withstand scrutiny. The NCRI swore off violence in 2001, and the remnants of the Mujahadeen (the NCRI's "military arm" surrendered all its weapons (including hundreds of tanks) to the US military in 2003.

I know of no facts contrary to these, Sohrab. All the investigations into the MEK's alleged "terrorist" activities since 2001 - including an exhaustive review carried out by Britain's Proscribed Organization Appeals Commission, which was privy to classified information along with arguments and evidence disclosed by the British government - have concluded that there is no basis for any claim that the MEK is currently engaged in any terrorist activity whatsoever.

Again, this does not mean I endorse the NCRI/Mujahadeen over any other Iranian "resistance" or "opposition" group.

It's also worth remembering that the IRI will accuse its detractors of hypocrisy, meddling, subversion, terrorism, and any number of transgressions no matter what its detractors do or say. The regime is fully prepared to demonize and criminalize any and all of its critics, no matter what the evidence provides.

I do see the American reluctance to consider removing the NCRI/Mujahadeen from the roster of "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," though,and I have some sympathy with it. If the White House "de-listed" the Mujahadeen without being forced to do so by the American courts, it's quite likely that the pro-Tehran elements in Maliki's government in Baghdad would respond in ways the U.S. would not want.

Canada has no direct interests in Iraq, however. That may be the main reason why the context is so different.

Keep up the great work, Sohrab. Your website is terrific.


12:40 AM  
Blogger Sohrab said...


I didn't mean to be argumentative. It's just that I personally despite the NCRI. But I can see your point.

Anywho, thanks for the kind words about my blog - obviously I'm a big fan of yours and I've been visiting for a long time.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Raphael Alexander said...

There's a wealth of important links and research in this article. I've been looking for such insight in the Iranian situation for a while. I was not aware of the NCRI, but this is a good introduction to their existence.

We should always be looking for pro-western pro-democracy allies in countries like Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

They don't have to be pro western, because pro democracy is all that matters. Everything else will sort itself out. If we keep our hands off. And stand in solidarity with those who should have their hands on the wheel.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Conor Foley said...

I agree with Sohrab: the Mujahedeen are basically mad - an impression that they have reinforced on me every time that I have met them over the last 20 odd years. Having said which I take your general point . . . .

12:26 PM  

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