U.S. State Department spokesman Marc Toner was right to recognize the right of the rebellious population of Syria to take up arms against the ruling oppressive regime.
Rightly blaming the regime for the violent flare-up, Toner hailed “a dynamic that has been borne [sic] of the ongoing repression and violence against them” as a matter of “self-defense” by the population.
It is normal that democracies support peaceful demands by populations around the world, whenever those populations have difficulties making their demands heard by the ruling class. Furthermore, in the case of violent repression of those demands, it is a moral obligation to defend those people. Many democracies, including America, were at some point supported by other nations in their struggles for liberty and democracy.
What is not normal is applying double standards in principled positions. How can the Syrian people’s right to armed struggle for liberty be supported, while at the same time the same right is denied to the Iranian people?
Iran’s regime is far more repressive than its regional ally, Syria. Some 120,000 Iranians have lost their lives to this regime on political grounds. A list of at least 20,000 of those victims has been filed as a public document. In 1988, 30,000 political prisoners were massacred in a matter of months.
Iran’s interference in other countries has not been witnessed on the part of Syria. In fact, Iran uses Syria to smuggle arms to Hezbollah and Hamas in order to foment unrest in the region.
The Syrian dictator has not been known to have nuclear ambitions comparable to Iran’s.
Iran’s history of supporting terrorism, the most recent case of which in the United States is making headlines these days, is second to none. Iran is in fact helping Syria to crush its population’s uprising.
Compared to Iran’s ruling clique, Bashar Al-Assad seems an innocent child.
What the Syrian people have now, which is U.S. moral support, is much more than what thousands of Iranians are asking. In sit-ins in front of the State Department, hundreds of Iranian-born citizens urge that Iran’s main opposition movement facing the clerics in power not be labeled “terrorist.” That has been the case since 1997, when Bill Clinton placed, on strict demand of the Iranian government, the main Iranian opposition group (People’s Mojahedin of Iran – PMOI) on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). Britain and the European Union subsequently followed the U.S. initiative to list the PMOI as a “terrorist” entity in 2000 and 2001.
The PMOI fought a legal war in Europe, which obliged the United Kingdom’s government (June 2008) and the EU (January 2009) to remove the organization from their blacklists. Following the judicial precedent, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July 2010 recommended that the Secretary of State revise her decision to list the PMOI as an FTO. Since then, Hillary Clinton is still studying the case and weighing her choices.
In the meantime, hundreds of documents have been released by WikiLeaks showing that far from stemming from security considerations, and much like Bill Clinton’s, the European deal to blacklist the organization had been part of an ongoing, day-by-day bargaining between the EU and the clerical regime in Iran in order to establish and strengthen commercial and political relations with that regime and rein in its terrorism.
From an ethical point of view, the Secretary of State’s decision to blacklist the PMOI is hardly defendable. PMOI’s record during the past three decades is what the United States is recognizing in Syria, which is legitimate armed resistance against a tyrannical regime when no other outlet has been permitted by the latter.
This right has even been recognized by the Catholic Church, which in general opposes the use of violence — by no less than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), stating: “Armed struggle is the last resort to end blatant and prolonged oppression which has seriously violated the fundamental rights of individuals and has dangerously damaged the general interests of a country.”
The U.S. Declaration of Independence, too, recognizes a people’s right, and indeed duty, to topple a tyrannical regime.
So, no ethical principle allows us to deprive the Iranian people of this right.
But, from a politician’s point of view, the policy is even more flawed: The EU’s policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Iran during the 1990s, in a bid to neutralize the clerics’ drive for nuclear power, only resulted in giving Iran adequate time to enrich large quantities of uranium beyond normal levels, according to confessions by former Iranian authorities. And the U.S.’ policy of an “extended hand” to Ahmadinejad only resulted in brazen plans by the clerics to assassinate foreign diplomats on U.S. soil with as much collateral damage as needed. Feeding a crocodile is never sound policy.
One way or another, it seems to be time to change policy toward Iran.
Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights for a variety of publications.