In recent weeks, the Iranian American Community of Northern California has been hosting a number of symposiums in Washington shedding light on the need to remove the Iran’s principal opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK).
These events which feature senior officials from a number of previous administrations, with various backgrounds, ideologies, and areas of expertise are calling on the Obama Administration to change its policy in regards to the MEK, and remove them from the FTO. In response, the National Iranian American Council has launched a full-fledged campaign opposing the de-listing of the MEK, complete with an entire section on their web site dedicated to the issue, and even “tweeting” about it non-stop. Is this really the biggest issue on the table for Iranian Americans? And if so whose side is NIAC on?
The arguments used and recycled by NIAC over and over again have almost nothing to do with the legal process which the State Department is currently engaged in. Instead they weave their own narrative, and devise their own criteria as to what qualifies enlistment of an organization, than proceed to explain how it applies to the MEK.
The first and most blatantly inane argument that NIAC continues to assert is that the MEK is not popular in Iran and do not represent the views of Iranians, and as such should not be removed from the terrorist list. Just to be clear, does NIAC believe that one of the criteria for being labeled a terrorist organization is unpopularity? If conversely a group shows itself to be popular does that somehow absolve them of the terrorist label? If so, does NIAC support the delisting of groups like Hamas, HezbollahHezbollah and Al Qaeda based on their perceived popularity in the occupied territories, Lebanon and Afghanistan respectively?
Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s so-called policy director is either very good at distorting an argument or very ignorant as to how the State Department review works in regards to the delisting of organizations. He begins by stating that de-listing them would “free the group to inject violence into Iran's democratic opposition movement.” Making a de facto statement that MEK is a violent organization, though the evidentiary record contains not one instance or act of terrorism in the last decade.
As an example of how the MEK is a violent organization Abdi cites a story in which MEK supporters in Iran chanted “Death to Khamenei” during the 2009 election uprising. This act, according to NIAC shows the groups propensity of incite violence, despite the reality on the streets of Tehran which saw protesters shot in cold blood and beaten by the regimes thugs. Never mind that these were ordinary citizens chanting what would end up being the most repeated slogan during the 2009 protests. Under this criterion I suppose Martin Luther King and Gandhi were also inciters of violence as their words were inevitably met with brutal repression. NIAC doesn’t bat an eye when attributing the brutal crackdown of the Islamic Republic as somehow being the fault of MEK, a classic smear tactic.
NIAC: Fighting for our rights?
In his attempt at presenting arguments as to why the United States should disregard its normal procedures in reviewing the evidentiary basis for the de-listing of the MEK, Trita Parsi the so called president of NIAC offers the following: “The State Department's review of their terrorism status, which is due to be completed by August of this year, must be conducted without the essentially illegal pressure tactics the MEK currently is employing through lobbyists, lawmakers and hired former officials.”
So to be clear, Iranian Americans cannot advocate for their own due process and first amendment rights under the constitution, but Parsi and his pals can begin a full-fledged campaign to lobby for the MEK to remain on the list without the slightest hint of irony or hypocrisy?
Parsi seems to forget that the due process rights of this group were violated according to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which “ordered the State Department to review its designation of the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran as a foreign terrorist organization, strongly suggesting the designation should be revoked.” If the organization’s supporters engage in a campaign to bring attention to the denial of its rights, as is legal under the First Amendment, this amounts to lobbying in Parsi's eyes. However, NIAC dedicating half its web site, 90% of its tweets and what appears to be the majority of its resources to stone walling this review isn’t lobbying? What is NIAC’s excuse and stake in the controversy?
Lastly, Parsi contends: “Third, de-listing will put the rising Iranian-American community in a state of shock. In the last decade, an impressive civic awakening has occurred in this successful but previously politically silent community, with dozens of new groups being formed with the aim of contributing to the American democracy and providing the Iranian Americans in the U.S. with a voice. A U.S. funded and supported MEK will ensure a return to the pre-1997 era.”
As an Iranian American who has continually advocated on behalf of his community, the Iranian American Community of Northern California, nothing could be more insulting and offensive. Parsi’s absurd argument would have you believe that somehow Iranians will have their minds wiped and devolve into incompetent and apolitical buffoons if the MEK were de-listed. Yet in the same story, he maintains that the organization is loathed by all Iranians, and their delisting would incite anger and protest. Which is it?
A series of questions come to mind when reading the materials NIAC has put out regarding the proper criteria for deciding whether to delist the MEK.
1. Would the State Department remove the PMOI if they were in fact a violent organization?
2. Should one of the criteria for enlistment or removal be popularity?
3. Should the enlistment of terrorist organizations be a political decision, based on cost benefit analysis, or strict statutory guidelines and procedural due process that is guaranteed by the Constitution?
4. If the United States does remove the PMOI, and they do in fact begin a campaign of terrorism in Iran, wouldn’t the State department just as easily re-designate them as a terrorist organization?
5. Why is NIAC launching a full-fledged campaign in regards to this issue, yet dedicates so little energy or focus on the horrendous human rights situation in Iran.
Parsi and his group have a checkered past. In 1997, he created Iranians for International Cooperation, which according to its official website, had the objective of campaigning for “the removal of U.S. economic and political sanctions against Iran, and the commencement of an Iran-U.S. dialogue.” Before that Parsi had begun his career working at Congressmen Bob Ney’s office, another outstanding example of integrity who is now in prison for corruption. In Ney’s office Parsi even allegedly acted as courier for Tehran, receiving proposals from the regime to be relayed to Congress.
Last year, dozens of documents including internal NIAC e-mails, were released, as part of the discovery process during a defamation lawsuit. The evidence showed that Trita Parsi, arranged meetings between Iranian regime officials and members of Congress, including Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif.
All one has to do is to read any of the numerous published statements by Parsi to see the line NIAC is trying to push. Regardless of the current situation, he will conclude his elaborate analysis with the two points; that we need to continue to engage Iran, and that sanctions should not be imposed on the regime. What he doesn't mention is how NIAC and its associates stand to benefit financially from lifting sanctions against the mullahs. The evidence released also indicates policy coordination between Parsi and a Tehran-based company with ties to the Iranian regime.
NIAC has largely ignored the human rights situation in Iran, only after the brutal summer of 2009 was it forced to make a few half hearted statements condemning the violence. In January 2008, during a meeting on Capitol Hill, Parsi publicly denied that NIAC had a human rights role. He said, “NIAC is not a human rights organization. That is not our expertise.” He added elsewhere, “The current choice Iranians face is not between Islamic tyranny and democratic freedom. It is between chaos and stability.” For NIAC stability is a pseudonym for the Iranian regime and chaos a pseudonym for democracy. Just as protesters who chant down with Khamenei are instigators of violence.
A number of other news outlets and reporters have covered this issue. The Spectator, caled NIAC the “de facto lobby” for the Iranian regime in Washington: It opposes sanctions on Iran, soft-pedals any controversial events in Iran, and counsels ‘patience’ regarding Iran's stance towards its nuclear program. In November 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic said, “A couple of weeks ago, I retracted my assertion that Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council, did "leg-work" for the Iranian regime. … But now I may have to retract my retraction.”
Since the 2009 uprisings in Iran, the group has tried to re-invent its image by trying to paint itself as an advocate of “human rights” and the so called “green movement.” Before that, according to Politico, the majority of NIAC’s internal “minutes include almost no mention of a human rights agenda inside Iran.” Instead the organization seemed adamant to create campaigns such as "send Hillary to Iran" even as the Iranian regime committed horrendous human rights abuses. Not only did the abysmal human rights situation not come up in NIAC’s agenda, it actually worked to silence opposition as much as possible. According to the Weekly Standard, in fact, “the emails suggest that [Parsi] worked to dissuade dissidents from speaking out.”
Learn the Constitution
Apparently the majority of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution have been lost on NIAC and Trita Parsi, though to his credit it may be because he never had a high school civics course in the United States due to the fact that though he is the so-called “President” of the National Iranian American Council, he is a resident alien in the United States and in fact a citizen of Sweden.
Let’s imagine hypothetically that NIAC was a group which sought to defend the rights of Iranian-Americans. A simple glance at its web site and positions seems to allude to the fact that one of its main objectives is to protect the civil rights of Iranian’s residing in America in the post 9/11 era. One would imagine that the ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the due process of an Iranian opposition group was violated when they were enlisted as a terrorist organization would be of some significance to their desire to protect the rights and liberties of Iranians.
As a supposed representative body for Iranian Americans, perhaps NIAC might consider the First Amendment rights of free association for Iranian Americans who may want to support the MEK, regardless of their greater popularity. Does NIAC seek to uphold due process and constitutional rights only for those who it agrees with? Or is standing up for the constitutional rights of Iranians not part of the agenda? NIAC might also take it into consideration that the designation of the MEK is a major obstacle to the re-location of 3,400 refugees in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, never mind the fact that this designation is used as the basis to execute and imprison dozens of MEK sympathizers in Iran.
Perhaps Parsi was referring to NIAC when he talked about the delisting of the MEK as a major setback. If so then that is just one more issue in which they share common grounds with the regime in Tehran.