By Ivan Sascha Sheehan February 20, 2020
-Over the past year, Western media have increasingly repeated the Iran regime’s disinformation seeking to discredit the Iranian resistance. This weekend the New York Times became the latest left-leaning outlet to mislead its readers by repeating a litany of baseless allegations against Iranians who advocate regime change in Tehran.
The article’s salacious claims can be readily traced to well-worn talking points espoused by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and to the paid hands that constitute the regime’s lobby in Washington.
MOIS, in partnership with Tehran’s apologists, have long been instrumental in discouraging Western governments from confronting the Iranian regime or working alongside Tehran’s democratic opposition. The regime’s propaganda has been effective in convincing some legislators that there is no reliable opposition to clerical rule, and that the organized alternative to the mullahs is no better than what they stand prepared to replace.
But there is no credible evidence to support these assertions.
This past summer, after more than a decade of studying the leading Iranian resistance group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), from afar, I joined a bipartisan delegation of senior U.S. officials on a fact-finding mission to Ashraf 3, the MEK’s new home in Albania.
We wanted to meet the dissidents ourselves, and we arrived in Tirana with tough questions and a singular demand – unfettered access to the camp’s facilities and its residents. Our group included four-star generals, Democrats and Republicans, independents, liberals, conservatives, foreign policy experts, sitting members of Congress, former cabinet members, ambassadors, intelligence experts, military officers, governors, academics, and noted human rights advocates.
During our 5-day stay at Ashraf 3, we gathered firsthand insights about the principal opposition to clerical rule, and we concluded what scholars have long understood but many journalists have been reluctant to acknowledge: There is a viable alternative to the ayatollahs.
What our delegation witnessed in Albania was extraordinary and deeply promising. We saw with our own eyes a cohesive, organized political opposition movement, with a long history of struggle against fundamentalism and dictatorship, guided by gifted female leadership, with a well-defined political platform, and an intricate network of passionate supporters inside Iran and across the globe.
It was like looking into Iran’s democratic and pluralistic future.
We concluded that Iran’s autocratic system is not a permanent fixture of the Middle East landscape, and that the regime is more vulnerable to overthrow by its own people than at any point since the 1979 revolution.
Our observations are more important than ever because for decades Washington has ignored the most vital aspect of an effective Iran policy: The Iranian people themselves. Scholars have long understood that the regime fears internal threats more than it does external pressure.
During our visit, we interviewed dozens of residents, met with the group’s leaders, and questioned the organization’s rank and file. The individuals we encountered were gracious and intelligent, capable and independent, confident and deeply committed to the cause of freedom in Iran.
The caricature of the MEK peddled by the regime’s agents – and the gullible journalists who give them oxygen – is so plainly false as to make it absurd.
The opposition members we met shared stories of the unspeakable horrors they and their families encountered at the hands of the ayatollahs. They spoke of the regime’s torture and executions, human rights abuses and violence. But they didn’t want pity. They wanted solidarity. We witnessed their bravery, courage, resilience, and their abiding commitment to bringing about a free Iran.
Our bipartisan delegation’s findings are chronicled in a new book, Iran’s Resurgent Resistance, published by the Iran Policy Committee, which features strong endorsements and advance praise from senior U.S. officials, including former Democratic and later independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, former FBI director Louis Freeh, America’s first Secretary of Homeland Security and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, and others.
What is clear is that the opposition’s broad, bipartisan appeal, organizing prowess, and clarion call for regime change have struck a nerve and put them squarely in Tehran’s crosshairs.
U.S. officials, and the American public, share a duty to examine the unsubstantiated falsehoods directed at the resistance community as part of an influence operation and demonization campaign designed to undermine the dissidents at a key moment, when they are ascendant. And then to evaluate these falsities with the best evidence they can find.
Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the Executive Director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.
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