On April 29, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs was the site of a historic event, as the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade heard testimony from the leader of the Iranian resistance, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. The hearing was not only compelling in terms of it is substantive policy points, but it presented a historic opportunity to examine the course of action currently being taken in response to the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Mrs. Rajavi’s testimony presented the case for a bold new strategy in defeating the plague of religious extremism, without resorting to reckless military intervention or the appeasement of despotic regimes.
Mrs. Rajavi is the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition which has opposed the theocratic regime in Tehran for decades. Her testimony provided a unique perspective that is too often lost in policy discussions on Capitol Hill: that of a progressive Muslim woman, on the front lines of the fight against fundamentalism. Her testimony shed light on the root of the problem posed by Islamic fundamentalists, and on how to combat this threat.
First and foremost Mrs. Rajavi rejected the notion that the United States could successfully conduct a campaign against extremism by enlisting the help of the fundamentalist government in Tehran. Mrs. Rajavi dismissed the flawed dichotomy between Sunni and Shiite extremism, and noted that the political ambitions of the Iranian regime have allowed it to opportunistically exploit these divisions to meet its own ends.
Mrs. Rajavi also shed light on the nature of Iran’s theocratic regime, highlighting its dictatorial style of rule and its expansionist ideology, which has served as the catalyst for extremism since its inception in 1979. This regime has caused widespread repression and suffering inside Iran, and reaped chaos and destruction in the region. One need look no further than the execution rate in Iran (115 reported executions in two weeks in April of this year), or the instability in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to see the truth of this.
Far from being a deterrent to extremism, Iran has fostered it at every turn. The Syrian Civil War and Iran’s continual backing of the repressive Assad government provided the perfect spawning pool for extremist groups like ISIS. These events, coupled with Iran’s support of the discriminatory and repressive government of Nouri al-Maliki enabled Sunni extremists to gain a foothold in the region. The Iranian regime has now sought to cast itself as a partner with the West in cleaning up the mess it created. But as Mrs. Rajavi articulated, Iran is part of the problem, not the solution.
Mrs. Rajavi concluded her incisive analysis with a simple yet revolutionary proposal in dealing with the threat of Islamic fundamentalism: support progressive and moderate Muslims in their fight to defeat extremism everywhere. Mrs. Rajavi called for the United States to support moderate Syrian elements in their fight against the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, as the true solution to deterring groups like ISIS. She also urged the United States to recognize the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people as the only true solution to the problems presented by Iran. Only through empowering those who share our values and goals can we truly win a lasting peace in the Middle East, she explained. This is the message that will be echoed by Iranian expatriates and their international supporters in the major international gathering on Iran in Paris on June 13.
Mrs. Rajavi’s warning comes at a crucial time. We are at a historic crossroads, and our policy choices may shape the region for decades to come. Do we want to appease Iran now, only to be confronted with a nuclear armed fundamentalist regime in the future? The Iranian regime is no partner for peace, and their perverted view of Islam, and expansionist agenda will only escalate conflict within the region. The West cannot afford to make an alliance with a fundamentalist threat in the region, only to fully understand the repercussions decades later.
It is time that we found our policy solutions through understanding and solidarity, not simply through warfare or tit-for-tat negotiations. We cannot obtain a lasting peace through cooperation or negotiation with despotic regimes such as Iran. It is time to recognize the role played by those on the ground who want change for the better. Mrs. Rajavi’s call to empower the genuine, democratic, and tolerant Muslims is the first step to truly defeating long term extremism in the region.
Batool Zamani is a member of Iranian American Community of Georgia, affiliated with Organization of Iranian American Communities (www.oiacus.org)