March 26, 2017

Tehran’s Slick Way of Demonizing its Opponents

INTELLECTUAL CONSERVATIVE

Barbara Slavin, who has been highly critical of the Iranian opposition organization MEK, has an awfully cozy relationship with the Iranian government.

Barbara Slavin is proud to have maintained a close relationship with Iranian officials. In fact, one reason she has a claim on being an Iran expert is her “access” to such officials. Anyone with remote familiarity with the ruling theocracy in Iran knows that the high-ranking officials in national security and foreign affairs have previously held positions in the intelligence services and the Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Barbara Slavin, as an “Iran expert,” knows well that the transition from the intelligence units and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to government positions intensified during Ahmadinejad’s tenure and many of the key governmental positions are now run by former IRGC commanders.

Slavin herself has underscored the Iranian regime’s expediency in recognizing and maintaining their interests. Given the above background, one wonders what interest the Iranian regime has in allowing Slavin to visit Iran, not once or twice, but seven times? It is imperative that if Slavin’s visits would not serve its interests, the Iranian regime would not allow a repeat.

So far as it pertains to developments in Iran and Western policy on Iran, Ms. Slavin was for a while nostalgic about the Khatami and Rafsanjani eras (the regime’s former presidents) as though there was some moderation at work and the opportunity has been missed.

More intriguing is Slavin’s claim that the West and in particular the US are to blame for not offering the Iranian regime more concessions, and had they offered more, the Iranian regime would be more reasonable and logical to deal with and would show better cooperation with the rest of the world and treating its people.

When drawing such a rosy picture of Iran (which is far from the reality), Slavin intentionally ignores the fact that Iran is a theocracy and that its supreme leader always has the last word. What about the IRGC domination of all key governmental positions as well as Iran’s economy? What about the medieval court rulings, e.g., stoning to death? And what about the regime’s persecution of its opposition as mohareb (God’s enemies)?

The truth is that Khatami had an essential role in playing the “bad cop, good cop” game with the West, in order to acquire certain concessions and, in particular, having the main Iranian opposition, the MEK, put on the list of terrorists. He neither could facilitate a change in Iran nor was he really interested in doing so, as his best interests were in securing the very regime.

A few years later, when Ahmadinejad was appointed (elected?), it became very clear that the Iranian regime had planned to confront the international community and that the so-called moderation was only a myth, but Slavin encouraged the U.S. to be more “realistic.” She also has been very active in protecting the Tehran regime by participating in the campaign to defend Iran from economic sanctions and diplomatic isolations. Indeed, Slavin not only promoted the Iranian regime as a strong regional power but taunted the U.S. for not recognizing and respecting its hegemony in the region. Less than a year later, internal uprisings in Iran shook the regime’s foundations to the verge of collapse.

Slavin’s super-friendly relationship with the Iranian regime is best reflected in her rants against the main Iranian opposition, which often echo the regime’s itself.

During Rafsanjani’s and Khatami’s era, when Slavin made most of her high-level visits to Iran, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry devised its 80–20 percent formula.

According to this scheme, the Iranian regime’s contacts were encouraged to rant about non-serious allegations against the Iranian government 80% of the time and spend 20% making very serious accusations against the principal Iranian opposition, The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). The rationale was: tell the truth 80% of the time and lie 20%, thus avoiding detection and giving a false image of opposing both while keeping the best interests of the regime in mind.

When reviewing Slavin’s writings against the MEK (e.g., her September 28 Inter Press Service [IPS] piece), one can see many similarities between her claims and the Iranian regime’s official propaganda.

Slavin’s biggest criticism of the MEK is that it is a sect. She complemented her claim with the mullahs’ favorite rhetoric – that the MEK does not have a popular support in Iran.
 
The essence of this message is very simple: the Iranian people are not interested in an organized opposition, and they’d be happy with some reforms within the existing theocracy. That is precisely a key 20% claim that makes Slavin and those like her very profitable for the Iranian regime.
 
The sectarianism label first was leveled against the MEK by the Iranian regime. In a Le Figaro interview in December 2008, an Iranian diplomat revealed that the label was invented during Khatami era and was repeated in diplomatic circles to characterize the MEK as a dangerous sect, not a political party.
 
In fact, last June, multiple high-ranking Iranian regime intelligence officials reiterated in TV interviews that they invented and widely propagated the sectarianism characterization as a means of reducing the MEK’s impact on the society.
 
The fact is that the Iranian regime has used every resource and lobbying campaign at its disposal to throw dirt at its main opposition and has spent millions on “research” and “think tank” firms during the past 30 years to draw an evil image of the MEK. The sect label against the Iranian resistance is one result of such campaigns.
 
With respect to the popular base of the MEK in Iran, suffice it to say that it is the oldest and most popular political organization in contemporary Iran that has fought two dictatorships in more than 46 years. Some 120,000 of its members and supporters have been executed throughout Iran, attesting to its widespread base. After the 2009 uprising in Iran, 11 were condemned to death and all were accused of MEK connections. Those condemned to death were executed precisely because of their MEK affiliations. Many are currently imprisoned in Iran because of their MEK sympathies or family connections in Camp Ashraf.
 
The MEK’s social network in Iran is by far the biggest nongovernmental network through which the MEK has been able to reveal more than 80 of Tehran’s nuclear programs, confidential sites, and secret projects.
 
Outside Iran, MEK gatherings have attracted tens of thousands of Iranians in the diaspora. In a gathering in Paris last June, some 100,000 participated, an unprecedented event in modern history. MEK has offices in most European countries and has sympathizers throughout the world. Its supporters are among the best educated and intellectual of the Iranians abroad, who have an extensive communication network.

Those have a deep understanding of the term sect know that it does not fit the MEK and is used against it to justify repression, killings, and restrictions of Camp Ashraf residents.
 
The above said, let me ask Slavin a few questions about the popularity or lack thereof the MEK:

• On what poll or survey is your opinion based? Is it possible under the Iranian regime for the people to freely express their opinion about the opposition? Don’t the Iranian constitution and its supreme leader make it a crime (“mohareb”) punishable by death to have any connection or affiliation with the MEK? Have you conducted a free survey on the campuses during her seven trips to Iran? Or do you expecting your contacts in the Iranian regime to offer a fair assessment of the MEK and its popular support? The main issue in Iran has been and continues to be freedom of expression. That’s is precisely why the Iranian regime resorts to widespread imprisonment, torture, rape, executions, has established so many oppressive units, and spends millions of dollars because it cannot tolerate freedom of expression.

• If the MEK does not have a popular base in Iran, why do high level Iranian regime officials continually warn about the MEK’s threats and its impact on the youth? According to the Wall Street Journal of May 7, 2008, the Western diplomats dealing with Iran have stated that Iran’s number one demand during the meetings has been restricting the MEK.

• If the MEK does not have a popular base in Iran, why are mullahs so concerned about Camp Ashraf and constantly conspiring against it? Didn’t Slavin characterize the Iranian regime as logical? Is it logical to campaign so hysterically against camp Ashraf? How does she explain the contradictions here?

The personality cult charge leveled against Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian resistance President-elect, has been one of the anchors of Tehran’s propaganda against the Iranian resistance, one that Slavin repeats.
 
Doesn’t Slavin recognize the right of resistance against the mullahs? If she you do agree that resistance against a tyranny is a right, then an organized resistance will have leader to represent it. Mrs. Rajavi represents the Iranian people’s hope for a regime change and symbolizes a democratic Iran, just as de Gaulle symbolized the French resistance against Nazism.
Another propaganda charge that Slavin levels against the Iranian resistance is that the Ashraf residents are kept in camp against their will. This is an absolute lie propagated by the Iranian regime and its agents in Iraq.
 
How could these individuals be forcefully kept under most horrible and inhuman conditions imposed on Camp Ashraf by Tehran’s Iraqi agents and under a 24/7 emotional torture via 300 loudspeakers deployed around the camp? The truth is that these individuals have made a decisive personal choice to live in a most democratic and modern environment that Ashraf has provided for them, despite all external risks.

All Camp Ashraf residents have been interviewed multiple times by various U.S. officials and government units and were given an opportunity, with U.S. and Iraqi officials present, to exit Ashraf; each and every individual in the camp chose to – indeed insisted – to stay.
 
At the official hearing of the U.S. Congress on July 7,2011, retired Army Colonel Wesley Martin, former base commander, Camp Ashraf for 2005 t0 2006, testified: “One perpetual rumor worthy of specific address concerns members of the MEK being held against their will. I was able to validate through specific occurrences anyone wishing to leave has that choice.”
 
Colonel (now General) David Philips wrote on May 27, 2005: “I am the commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade and in that role was responsible for the safety and security of Camp Ashraf from January-December 2004. Over the year long period I was apprized of numerous reports of torture, concealed weapons and people being held against their will by the leadership of the Mujahedin-e-khalq. I directed my subordinate units to investigate each allegation.  In many cases I personally led inspection teams on unannounced visits to the MEK/PMOI facilities where the alleged abuses were reported to occur. At no time over the 12 month period did we ever discover any credible evidence supporting the allegations raised” … I would not have sanctioned any acts on the part of the MeK/PMOI to hold people against their will. The MEK/PMOI in fact notified us on a routine basis of people who desired to leave the organization and then transported them to our gate … I’ve visited male and female units on a routine basis. Sometimes these visits were announced, but most frequently they were unannounced inspections … Not one time did they (my subordinate units) discover any improper conduct on the part of the MeK/PMOI.” At the end of his letter he stated: “I would like my own daughters to someday visit these units for the cultural exchange.”
 
Col. Julie Norman, the U.S. Commander responsible for protection of Ashraf in 2006, in a Memorandum For Record on August 24, 2006, wrote: “There exists no prison or any obligation to stay in Ashraf; everyone is free to leave PMOI anytime he/she wishes to.” She added: “Normally, PMOI members invite their families, friends, and colleagues who live in Iran or foreign countries to Ashraf for visits.”
 
The above three official statements by three US commanders in charge of Camp Ashraf during 2004–2006 are very telling and contradict that of Slavin.
 
While Camp Ashraf was accessible to outsiders, six Europeans parliamentarian delegations visited Ashraf and documented their observations and talks with the individual camp residents, and all of them contradict Slavin’s baseless claims.

Slavin further blames the MEK for a lack of access by the camp residents to the UNHCR. But the truth is the opposite. The Red Cross did visit the camp and interviewed hundreds of its residents. Lastly, while the camp has been under the Iraqi blockade during the past three years, it has been the camp officials who repeatedly have called for a visit by international organizations, news media, parliamentarian delegations, and camps residents’ families.

As an Iran “expert,” Slavin knows that her reporting on the Iranian resistance best fits the 80–20 formula.

Antonio Stango, a political scientist, lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, is the founder and the Secretary General of the Italian Helsinki Committee, member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. In 2003 he served also as an expert for the EU / TACIS Project “The Legal Protection of Human Rights in the Russian Federation.”