Tehran tries to justify the 1988 massacre

The tape-recording of Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Ruhollah Khomeini’s would-be successor, describing his objections to the systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 by the orders of Khomeini himself, is echoing increasingly louder despite the fact that the audio-file was online for just one day until the Ministry of Intelligence persuaded Montazeri’s son to delete it (he was then “interrogated” twice for sharing “state secrets” and was “offered” to sign an affidavit that he wouldn’t upload similar content in the future…he refused).

Within 3 months, approximately 30,000 politically prisoners, most of them supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), were executed after short two-minute trials by the “death commissions”, or in some cases weeks of interrogations and torture. The whole process was systematically organized, from cutting off the prisons from communications with the outside world all the way up to transporting the bodies at night in refrigerated trucks to be buried in mass graves.

While most of the buzz outside of Iran is critical of the massacre and the people within the regime who carried it out, especially since some of them hold powerful positions in the regime today, the voices in Tehran are growing louder and more polarized. On the one hand, there are calls from the grass-roots levels and from political leaders who are echoing Montazeri’s objections with their own while other voices call to officially justify the massacre. And then, of course, there is the classic strategy of Tehran to simply blame the West for spreading propaganda – not one leader of importance has accepted the need to at least examine the legitimacy of such a massacre as well as the responsibility of the regime and the people within it.

One of the few politicians who did speak up is Mostafa Poumohammadi, then representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and now the Minister of Justice. At first, Pourmohammadi denied his involvement and his responsibility in this heinous crime but then decided to come clean with a vengeance: “I didn’t even have ONE NIGHT OF SLEEPLESSNESS in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“. It’s a fitting choice of words since on tape, Montazeri says clearly the opposite: “I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SLEEP and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours…what do you have to tell to the families? How much (did the) Shah execute? Compare our executions to his“.

What is more horrifying? The fact that the regime massacred 30,000 defenseless prisoners for their beliefs, or the fact that some of those who were involved are actually proud of what they did, or perhaps the fact that those same proud people maintain top positions in the regime?

 

Listen to Khomeini

Khomeini’s fatwa, a religious decree which is law, was as short as it was deadly:

[In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,]
As the treacherous Monafeqin [Mojahedin] do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance, and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [Mojahedin] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

In reaction to some criticism and objections to the massacre, Khomeini made his position clear: “Those who insist on their position of hypocrisy in prisons across the country, are enemies of God and condemned to death… It is naïve to have mercy on enemies of God… Those gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions, must not allow themselves to have any speck of doubt…Anyone at any stage, if persists on hypocrisy, he/she is punishable with death. Swiftly, annihilate the enemies of Islam. As for the examination of the cases, those measure are preferable that would expedite execution of the verdicts…The decisiveness of Islam before the enemies of God is among the unquestionable tenets of the Islamic regime. I hope that you satisfy the almighty God with your revolutionary rage and rancor against the enemies of Islam. The gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or concern with details. They must try to be as ferocious as possible against infidels. To hesitate in the judicial process of revolutionary Islam is to ignore the pure and holy blood of the martyrs.”

As to Montazeri’s objections, Khomeini was even clearer: “Since it has been made clear that after me (Khomeini), you (Montazeri) will hand over Iran to liberals and through them to the Hypocrites, you have lost the competence and legitimacy for future leadership of the regime…the responsibility (of being Supreme Leader) requires more endurance than you have shown“.

The fact that all this was written by Khomeini in a time of duress as he “swallowed the poison” of making peace with Iraq is crucial: Khomeini, under pressure for not winning the war, focused his frustration on a much easier target – defenseless political prisoners who were serving time for being affiliated to the PMOI. And once again, he covers up any questions regarding the legitimacy of such a massacre with the “God-given” right of “revolutionary Islam” and the “holy blood of the martyrs”.

 

 

Listen to Montazeri

The audio-tape recorded a meeting between Montazeri on August 15th 1988 and Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, then the regime’s sharia judge and now head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges, Morteza Eshraqi, then the regime’s prosecutor, Ebrahim Raeesi, then deputy prosecutor and until 5 months ago Iran’s Attorney General and now the chief of the influential Astan Qods-e Razavi foundation, and Pourmohammadi, then the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and today the Minister of Justice.

During this meeting, Montazeri tried to put a stop to the massacre which had begun one month earlier. As Khomeini’s confidante and would-be successor, Montazeri had publicly voiced his objections for which he would be publicly disgraced and lose his shot at succeeding Khomeini. But in this tape, we can hear just how much he was horrified by the massacre:

  • Montazeri explains the historical ramifications: “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals…Beware of fifty years from now, when people will pass judgment on the leader (Khomeini) and will say he was a bloodthirsty, brutal and murderous leader…We will not be in power forever“.
  • Montazeri understands who is to blame: “Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault…the people are now revolted by the Velayat-e Faqih (the regime)“.
  • Montazeri on the planning before the massacre: “(The ministry of) Intelligence wanted to do it (the massacre) and had made investments. And, Ahmad (Khomeini’s son) had been personally saying for three or four years (prior to the massacre) that the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) must all be executed, even if they read their newspapers, publications and statements“.
  • Montazeri shares some grizzly details: “Someone was in prison. They said his sister was also accused. So, they went and brought his sister. They executed the man. Her sister had been imprisoned for only two days. She was only 15. They asked her sister what do you say? She said I liked these people. They said because her brother was executed, execute her as well…In Isfahan, a pregnant woman was among them [those massacred]. In Isfahan they executed a pregnant woman (he adds that in clerical jurisprudence) one must not execute a woman even if she is a mohareb(enemy of God). I reminded [Khomeini] of this, but he said they must be executed“.
  • Montazeri on dealing with the PMOI: “The Mujahedin-e Khalq are not simply individuals. They represent an ideology and a school of thought. They represent a line of logic. One must respond to the wrong logic by presenting the right logic. One cannot resolve this through killing; killing will only propagate and spread it“.
  • Montazeri asks for mercy: “For God’s sake, it is the month of Moharram, the month of God and the Prophet. At least feel some shame from Imam Hussein. Cutting off all meetings and suddenly engaging in such butchery!!… Is something like this done anywhere else in the world?
  • Montazeri on his feelings of guilt: “I haven’t been able to sleep and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours … what do you have to tell to the families?…(I) will not have a response on the Day of Judgment…(It is my) duty to speak up and warn Imam (Khomeini)“.

It’s obvious that Montazeri felt that the atrocity being carried out on Khomeini’s whim was a tragic mistake for the regime and for Khomeini as well. He didn’t accept the legal or religious justifications and he was willing to stand up to try to stop the atrocity as he saw it clearly. Up until now, the regime continues to claim that it wasn’t an atrocity but a shining moment of the regime and of Khomeini.

 

 

Listen to the regime

Two weeks ago, the Assembly of Experts reacted to the furor over Montazeri’s tape-recording in the expected manner of the regime: the 1988 massacre was “a historic and revolutionary decision by his highness Imam Khomeini“, and “a prompt decision” to “deal seriously and decisively with the Hypocrites (the Mojahedin)“, indicating Khomeini’s “deep and insightful understanding.” In fact, Khomeini’s fatwa is described as a decision to have a “fair trial for leaders and some members” of the PMOI.

Many politicians went out of their way to try to remove any stains from Khomeini and themselves but the most vocal was none other than Pourmohammadi who at first denied his involvement but then decided to simply justify his deeds: “We are proud we have implemented God’s order about the ‘hypocrites’ (PMOI or MEK). You cannot show mercy to the hypocrites, because if they can bloody and soil you, they will…We have stood against the enemy of God and people and confronted them with power…I didn’t even have one night of sleeplessness in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“.
So, if the regime isn’t to blame, then who is? The West, of course: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a would-be moderate who supports Rouhani, expressed his regrets over “a new wave of attacks directed against Khomeini…The wave has embraced virtually all foreign opposition media, to the extent that the mayor of Paris recently held an exhibition which recreated the scenes of executions in those days… The extent of support for the Mojahedin Organization at this time deserves to be pondered…The main objective of our international and domestic enemies is to take revenge from the unprecedented role and status of Imam (Khomeini).”

The regime and the people running it seem to have no regrets. The 30,000 victims of the massacre and the systematic organization of this massacre are not even irrelevant but are a testament to the true path of the revolutionary regime which exterminates anyone and anything that stands in its path. From Khamenei to Rouhani, the voice in Tehran over the massacre is clear: no regrets, only pride.

 

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Tehran looking everywhere but West

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei inherited his paranoia of foreign interference from his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini who coined his “Neither East Nor West” strategy which was paired up with another dominant theme of Khomeini’s, “Exporting the Revolution”: “Once again, I announce my support for all movements, fronts, and groups which are fighting in order to escape from the claws of the Eastern or Western superpowers“. Standing up to the “arrogant” superpowers and supporting the “oppressed” people/nations was always at the core of the Islamic Revolution and it remains so today as well under Khamenei’s goal of leading a “Global Islamic Awakening”, a “Century of Islam” and a “New Islamic Civilization”.

For decades, these twin strategies were upheld by Tehran but since the signing of the JCPoA, the hatred for the West and specially the US (the “Great Satan”) has even intensified but Tehran is definitely looking Eastward, specially towards Russia and China, as a means of increasing its power in the region. It also in began looking in other directions: first, South to Africa and Latin America where it’s scouting for likely candidates to “Export the Revolution” to and then to its immediate neighbors, mostly for economic reasons but as a means to gain more power in the region.

Although Khomeini would approve of Tehran’s focus to the South and to the neighborhood, he is probably rolling in his grave over the growing ties with Moscow and Beijing.

 

Definitely not West.

Following the signing of the JCPoA, Khamenei forbade dealing with the US but allowed President Hassan Rouhani to try to develop diplomatic ties and trade ties with countries in the EU. The initial response from most EU countries was positive and EU trade delegations landed one after the other in Tehran in an effort to capitalize on the huge potential of the Iranian market which was finally released from sanctions. The enthusiasm of the European delegates and governments was dampened by two unrelated issues: 1) The US’s removal of the nuclear sanctions did not clear Iran from other sanctions which are related to terrorism and human rights and 2) the issue of Iran’s horrific record in human rights and its recurring ties with terrorism resulted in a lot of internal objections. For now, European countries and businesses are waiting impatiently on the sidelines until both these issues are cleared and the US isn’t even on the sidelines.

 

South to Africa and Latin America

A lot of diplomatic effort is being invested to the South, to Africa and to Latin America. These countries hold a lot of economic potential but money is not the main goal here. All the nations in  Africa and Latin America are part of the Non-Aligned-Movement (NAM) and most fit Khomeini’s description of being oppressed, at least in the past, by the “arrogant” West – this makes them good targets for “Exporting the Revolution”. Furthermore, at least in Latin America, many nations hold deeply anti-American sentiment which makes them even better candidates to “Export the Revolution” to.

On his African tour, Tehran’s FM Javad Zarif, “offered” each country he visited, to share in Tehran’s experience at “fighting terrorism”. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this offer sounded hollow since the government of Nigeria cracked down on the subversive efforts of a local Shiite Sheikh Zakzaky who was openly backed by Tehran. Furthermore, Tehran is the current president of NAM (a post which changes every three years) and has used its position to try to mobilize NAM countries to support its agenda.

On Latin America, Zarif made a point of kicking of his tour in Cuba and including in his tour countries with strong anti-American countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela. In his visit in Cuba, he made a point of emphasizing the fact that both Iran and Cuba were under American sanctions. Note how this statement echoes Khomeini’s quote at the beginning of the article: “The resistance of the Iranian and Cuban nations has left the hegemonic countries no other choice but compromise and renunciation of their hostile policies even in their words“.  Zarif’s LatAm tour is particularly worrisome for many countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay who are suffering from fears of Hezbollah’s growing influence in the region, mixing anti-American sentiment with terrorism and Shiite Islam.

 

Close by to Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors

Tehran’s involvement in Muslim neighbors such as Syria and Iraq has been in full force for the past few years but following the signing of the JCPoA, Tehran not only extended its overtures to other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Talks of increased trade were mixed with calls for the unification of Muslim countries in tune with Khamenei’s vision. These potential partners are crucial not only as trading partners but also as a buffer to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to unify all Arab countries against Iran.

But Tehran didn’t stop with Muslim countries – it also began wooing its non-Muslim neighbors. High level meetings between Iran and India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and others led to many trade agreements and the easing of diplomatic restrictions such as visa requirements. Azerbaijan committed to creating a free-trade zone on the border of Iran while Georgia decided to drop visa restrictions.

All in all, Tehran’s new-found interest in neighbors which had little or no contact with Iran in the past is not strengthening Iran’s power in the region economically and politically. None of these countries have any real powers to “infiltrate” and they might not be likely candidates to “Export the Revolution” to and Khomeini would probably have approved.

 

East towards Moscow and Beijing

By far the biggest development since signing the JCPoA is the rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow and Beijing. These two local superpowers quickly understood the ramifications of the signing of the JCPoA which brought Iran out of its isolation and Tehran’s continued hatred of the West. For Moscow and Beijing, strengthening ties with Tehran served two immediate purposes: cashing in on the economic potential of Iran’s market as well as weakening  the US’s influence in the region and the perception of the US’s influence in the world.

Moscow was the first to jump at the opportunity to fill the vacuum by openly supporting Tehran politically, economically and militarily. Even the issues of the remaining sanctions and the problems of dealing in dollars were easily circumvented as Tehran and Moscow agreed to deal through barters or through local currencies. At the same time, Moscow began supplying Tehran with missiles and joined the Syrian civil war siding with Tehran and Assad. The latest developments in which Russian jets launched air-raids on Syria from Iranian territory exemplifies the nature of the growing partnership.

Beijing was slightly more cautious but quickly understood that if it did not want to leave Moscow in the field alone – there was too much money to be made and weakening the US was an added bonus. Huge deals were signed and Tehran and Beijing are now talking about purchasing Chinese jets.

And suddenly, Tehran became a catalyzer to create a new coalition in the region with Tehran, Moscow and Beijing at its core and other countries in the region as second circle partners. The growing relationships with Moscow and Beijing are still fragile but as long as the money keeps on rolling and the US remains at bay, it will definitely grow and with it one can expect a growing Russian and Chinese influence on the regime and on the lives of Iranians and Khomeini’s “neither East nor West” lost half of its meaning.

The 1988 massacre that continues to haunt Tehran

Last week, an audio-file was added to the website of the late Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the man who was set to succeed Khomeini as Supreme Leader but instead was forced to resign as a result of his voiced objections to the systematic and institutionalized massacre of thousands of political prisoners between July and October 1988.

The 1988 massacre was ordained by Khomeini himself through a fatwa (religious edict) whose victims were imprisoned for being members of “dissident” organizations who criticized the regime – mostly members of the Mujahedin Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and mostly Sunnis (as opposed to the Shiite regime). The men and women were imprisoned for crimes as small as distributing pamphlets and some were meant to be freed within the next few months.

During those five fateful months, a total shut-down of communications between the prisons and the outside world was implemented: TV’s and radios were confiscated, family visits and phone privileges were abruptly stopped people within 100 meters from the prison could be shot. During this time, tens of thousands of political prisoners underwent short, on-sight, interrogations following which they were either executed, tortured, flogged or exempt from the fatwa. The executions were held within hours of the interrogation, hanging six prisoners at a time in order to carry out the fatwa more efficiently. The bodies were then transported by trucks to mass graves. Firing squads were used on some occasions, but the noise of the shots only resulted in increasing the tension in the prisons. By November, the authorities began informing the victims’ families while warning them not to carry out funerals or wakes and in most cases, the authorities did not divulge the burial sites of the victims.

What made the massacre so horrifying was the planned madness of it all and the fact that the victims of this massacre died for simply being affiliated to a “dissident” political organization or for not being Muslim enough. The issue of the audio file and Montazeri’s ardent objection to the massacre have brought to light another shameful episode in the history of the regime’s brutal, secretive, systematic and deadly behavior to anyone who it deems as an “enemy of the state” or an “enemy of Islam”.

Within days of the issuing of the fatwa, Montazeri wrote three public letters in which he vehemently protested the massacres. He beseeched Khomeini to recall the fatwa because it of the great injustice it would cause, calling it “the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be condemned by history, happened by your hands”. In the audio files, he also claims that he could not have kept silent because if he had, he would “not have an answer on Judgment Day and I saw it as my duty to warn Imam (Khomeini)”. He also worried about the effect of the executions on the families of the victims and the criticism of the world since the act would be interpreted as an act of revenge or of unchecked exasperation. According to Montazeri, somewhere between 2,800 and 3,800 people were executed although eye-witness testimonies point to a much higher number (5,000 – 6,000) and the MEK claims the real number was closer to 30,000. He “resigned” (more like forced to resign) in March 1989.

Three days after the sharing of the audio file, the son of Montazeri received a phone call from the Ministry of Intelligence requesting that the audio-file be deleted from the site. He agreed to do so.

To date, the regime in Tehran has refused to talk about the massacre, to take responsibility for it and/or to recompense the families of the victims. To date, the regime continues to execute political prisoners simply because they believe in ideals which diverge from those of the regime. To date, there are still family members and survivors who are afraid to share their tales of suffering and oppression, knowing full well how the regime treats people who do.

 

The fatwa that led to the massacre

The summer of 1988 was tense in Iran: the eight war with Iraq had taken its toll and on July 18th, Khomeini had finally accepted to “swallow the poison” and to a cease-fire which was to come into effect in August. On July 22nd, Iranian dissidents fighting from within Iraq, members of the MEK, launched another attack onto Iranian soil but were forced to retreat by July 29th. At some time during this week, some believe on the July 28th, Khomeini issued a fatwa which would lead to one of the worst cases of systematic executions of political prisoners in the history of the world:

(In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,)
As the treacherous Monafeqin (a derogatory name by the regime for Mojahedin meaning “hypocrites”) do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance (Western countries, specifically the US/UK), and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

This fatwa, issued in the name of a God who seemed to be anything but “Compassionate” or “Merciful”, sealed the fate for thousands of Iranians, men and women who were imprisoned for being members of the MEK or other “leftist” (read “secular” and “communist”) organizations.

The MEK was designated, until today, as a terrorist organization but one should note that the MEK was instrumental in helping Khomeini rise to power until a fall-out between the regime and the MEK occurred in 1980 when it refused to take part in a plebescite on the new constitution, being disillusioned by the growing power of hardliners in the regime who advocated harsher Islamic rule and more power for the unelected regime. During 1981, the MEK did carry out terroristic activities but within the year, the MEK was outlawed and the string of terrorist attacks was brought to an end with the executions of about 2,000 MEK members.

Montazeri claims that Khomeini was not only sick at the time (he would die within one year of issuing the fatwa) but that he was emotionally dejected from having to accept the cease-fire with Iraq but whatever the case may be, the fact remains that in Iran, a Supreme Leader can seal the fate of his citizens without the need for the political or popular support of his government or his people. The situation remains the same today under Khamenei.

 

The systematic organization of the massacre

The systematic nature of this massacre cannot be ignored and points to preparations long before the actual fatwa was issued. For months preceding the fatwa, interrogations took place within prisons to isolate the members of the MEK, member of “leftist” organizations, secularists and atheists etc…Nothing was done except to herd the prisoners together according to their “crimes”, ie, their beliefs.

But once the fatwa was issued, the machinations of the massacre went into high gear: field trials headed by a three-man “death committee”, an Islamic judge, a revolutionary prosecutor and an intelligence ministry official, “interrogated” the prisoners and decided on the spot (some interrogations lasted less than two minutes) who would be executed, who would be tortured and who would be exempt from the fatwa.

At first, the “death committee” focused only on Mojahedins. The interrogation was based on a number of questions, the first being the political affiliations of the prisoner. If the prisoner answered that he or she was a “Mojahedin”, the interrogation was abruptly ended and the prisoner would unknowingly be escorted out to his or her death. If the prisoner answered “Monafiqin”, a derogatory word meaning “hypocrite” used by the regime to call the Mojahedins, the prisoner, would then have to answer an onslaught of questions not knowing that one “wrong answer” would mean a death sentence. The first set of questions were meant to weed out the hard-core dissidents from those who were willing to cooperate: “Are you willing to denounce former colleagues? Are you willing to denounce them in front of the cameras? Are you willing to help us hunt them down? Will you name secret sympathizers? Will you identify phony repenters? Will you go to the war front and walk through enemy minefields?”.

By August, the “death committee” widened their focus to include all dissidents: leftists, Marxists, secularists, atheists etc…Here, the interrogation was more religious in nature and prisoners were asked if they grew up in religious Muslim families or not and then they believed in the Koran, if they prayed, if they believed in Heaven and Hell etc…What they didn’t know was that the first question, the level of religion in their family split them up into two distinct groups: those prisoners who grew up in religious Muslim families but moved away from Islam, “murtad-i fitri” and those who grew up in non-religious families “murtad-i milli”. The prisoners who grew up in religious families and who answered that they were secular or atheists were, once again unknowingly, singled out for execution on the same day. Those who had grown up in secular families were then given a choice: become a practicing Muslim or get flogged five times a day (in coordination with the five times of prayer for devout Muslims).

In most cases, the prisoners were herded to their interrogation blindfolded and remained so until they were herded back to the groups of prisoners outside, not knowing that their fates had been sealed. There were numerous mix-ups as prisoners joined the wrong groups or when wardens would try to punish or protect a prisoner by sending him/her to another group. Most of the surviving prisoners speak about being beaten and tortured during their interrogations. Those that weren’t were usually the ones who were sentenced to death from the first question.

In all cases, there were no defense lawyers, no application of international and Iranian laws, no fair trial – only an interrogation followed by an execution, floggings or a miraculous exemption.

 

The cover-up of the massacre

The details of the massacre remain hazy to this date. The massacre was carried out under a heavy cloak of secrecy with on-site executions and disposal of the bodies under the cover of darkness. Some of the survivors, as did the families of the victims, shared their ordeals but most preferred to remain silent for fear of retribution by the regime. Political opposition leaders remained silent as well after seeing what happened to Montazeri who was the second most powerful Iranian leader at the time. Human rights organizations were in any case not allowed into prisons and those that did condemn the massacre were ignored by Tehran. The men who carried out the massacre on an administrative or physical level went on with their lives and some rose to prominent posts, such as Khamenei who was president at the time.

For all intents and purposes, the massacre was presented by the regime as a minimal punishment to enemies of the state, as Khamenei so eloquently explained: “In the Islamic Republic, we have capital punishment for those who deserve to be executed … Do you think we should hand out sweets to an individual who, from inside prison, is in contact with the munafiqin who launched an armed attack within the borders of the Islamic Republic? If his contacts with such an organization have been established, what should we do about him? He will be sentenced to death, and we will execute him. We do not take such matters lightly deemed as punishment”. The fact that these prisoners had little contact with the MEK in Iraq was meaningless since they were guilty by association.

Tehran continues to oppress, imprison, torture and execute any person or group which voices criticism against the regime or simply belongs to a minority viewed as harmful to the regime. Fair trials are the exceptions and not the norm and hardliners continue to press for harsher punishments and for a stronger adherence to Islamic and Revolutionary ideals.

At the same time, this same regime continues to claim that critics of its human rights are politically motivated and complain about atrocities carried out by other countries, specifically the US and Israel. What’s clear is that this particular atrocity is more horrifying not only because it was carried out by the regime in the name of the regime but because, for all intents and purposes, it is still being carried out today, alebit on a smaller scale.

 

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Iranians Desperately Need a King or a Ghandi

Millions of Iranian people would like to see far-reaching changes in the amount of freedoms accorded to them by the regime. These are the same people who voted for Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election 2013 and who voted for reformists in the parliamentary elections in 2016. These are the same people who are being oppressed by the regime because of their sex, their religion, their values and their political ideals. They are forced to live in a manner which doesn’t suit them but they feel powerless to lead a change out of fear of another crackdown such as the one in the botched elections of 2009. And yet, too many Iranians have had enough:

But without a leader, from the “inside”, one who could lead these dissatisfied people to demonstrate in the streets, to demand their rights, to challenge the unelected regime, they will remain hopeless and no amount of foreign pressure can help them. It’s time to find and support an Iranian Martin Luther King or an Iranian Mahatma Ghandi, someone who will stand up to the regime and drum up enough support before he, or she, will inevitably be killed.

 

Rouhani’s voters voted for change

shattered hopes in tehranNo one knows exactly how many people in Iran would like to change the nature of the regime and many Iranians are obviously hardline supporters of the regime since the regime is in power without a popular election. The hardliners in the regime would like the world, including the Iranian people, to think that the Iranians who strive for change are a small marginalized minority but one can intuitively find them within the people who voted for Rouhani (nearly 19 million people) in 2013 and for the “List of Hope” (41%) in 2016.

According to the Rouhani Meter, Rouhani made 20 distinct promise in domestic policy in his successful campaign to the presidency: these include freeing the leaders of the Green Movement who are still under house arrest, increasing the support to NGO’s, respecting and allowing minorities to practice of religious rituals, assuring equality for men and women, assuring equal rights for all Iranian ethnicities, encourage and welcome criticism of his administration etc… To this date, he has achieved 2 of these promises – 10% in 3 years. As opposed to domestic policy, Rouhani fulfilled 2 out of 7 (29%) of his promises in foreign policy.

The truth is that Rouhani, although rightly portrayed as a moderate in Iran, is actually helpless when it comes to fighting for the rights of the Iranian people quite simply because the regime, and specially, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, wants to maintain the status quo.

The upcoming presidential elections in Iran are already heating up as hardliners are proposing none other than Qods chief Qassem Suleimani to run against Rouhani. The problem is that Rouhani cannot be judged for all his good intentions, since he is cobbled by the regime, and the regime is working overtime to place the blame on Rouhani himself.

 

Pressure from abroad is not enough

There’s no doubt that many leaders and organizations are pressuring Iran into change. There isn’t a day that goes by without a new call on the regime to change. But since the regime is not listening and is so paranoid about “foreign influence”, the chances for such a change to reach fruition is minimal.

The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) is upping the pressure by presenting the world, and the Iranian people, with an alternative: a “Free Iran”. Tehran’s response to this alternative can be summed up in one word: fear.

Following the “Free Iran” rally in Paris on the 9th of July, the regime in Tehran went into “attack mode“, accusing the NCRI of being a terrorist organization (only Iran has designated it as such), accusing the French of allowing such a rally to take place (that’s the wonder of democracy), accusing Saudi Arabia of using the rally in its regional conflict with Iran (it did), accusing Egypt of sending a delegate to the rally etc…Not one word was expressed in regards to the claims of the NCRI. Such an attitude reflects Tehran’s response to any criticism in internal affairs: first, denial (“nothing’s wrong, everyone’s happy”) and then counter-accusations (“they”, meaning everyone but the regime, are the “bad guys”).

Such a stance is a result of the inherent weakness of the regime: the regime may legally retain its power “forever” but it will fall apart the instant that enough people within Iran will be disillusioned by the regime. In order to maintain the perceived support of the Iranians, Tehran cranks up its propaganda machine and presents any opposition to the regime as “un-Islamic”, “counter-Revolutionary” and “anti-Iranian”. The regime’s worst fears are that enough Iranians will actually consider an alternative to the regime. The NCRI is just such an alternative although its leader, Maryam Rajavi might find too many hurdles in her path to returning home as did Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

There have been numerous instances when pressure from abroad did lead to positive results but most of these cases are isolated and are not widespread enough to make a crack in the regime.

 

Pressure from within is needed


What Iran needs now is a leader who will be ready to stand up for the rights of the Iranians who feel oppressed by the regime. Such a leader is bound to find himself or herself in jail or killed, just as King and Ghandi were, but if he or she has enough time and enough support, a movement can be started, the masses can make their voices heard and the regime might either panic and fight back too harshly, which would only strengthen such a movement, or might lose the will to fight at all.

This is not a task for the faint at heart but for a person whose belief in the struggle for change is unstoppable.

It could be an Iranian man, someone who was in the regime but is now disillusioned by it, someone like Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who tried to run for parliament but was disqualified by the Guardian Council or someone like Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s reformist ex-president who is now under a strict “media ban”.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance that such a person might be a woman. Women represent the largest group of legally and morally oppressed Iranian citizens. They look about them and see that women around the world enjoy freedoms which they can only dream of since they live under the laws of a gender-segregated regime. For them, being forced to wear hijabs or not being allowed to ride a bike might be trigger to rise up against the patriarchal regime which will be place in an unbearable situation: if it allows such women to openly demonstrate against the regime, it will look weak and if it crushes these women by either imprisoning or killing them, it will look desperate.

Whoever it may be, the people of Iran are waiting.

 

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Does Iran Want Peace or War?

peace or warThe upcoming nuclear deal with Iran has optimists and pessimists clearly on two sides of a fence with barely any remaining middle ground.

Optimists are betting on two and a half outcomes from a nuclear deal:

  • 1) Iran won’t INCREASE its meddling
  • 2) Iran won’t BUILD a nuclear bomb
  • 5) Iran won’t USE a nuclear bomb

Pessimists, or realists, depending on the outcome, don’t buy into any of these premises…here’s why.

 

Iran Will (not) Increase Meddling

iran saudiAt the base of Iran’s tendencies to meddle in its neighbors politics is Ayatollah Khomeini’s insistence to “export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle. Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belong to the great goals of the revolution“. Khamenei’s vision an imminent global “Islamic Awakening” reflects his predecessor with his promise that “this century (21st) is the century of Islam“.

But this isn’t just some religious edict, it is a military one. According to General Jaafari, the chief of the IRGC, “the mission of the Qods Force is external, to help Islamic movements, to expand the revolution and to provide “assistance” to suffering people across the world and to people who need help in such countries as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq“. The Qods leader himself, Suleimani, is quite happy to take on this task: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa“.

Iran is meddling in neighboring countries by supporting factions which are closer to the Islamic Revolution – Assad in his civil war in Syria, the Houthis in their civil war in Yemen and Hezbollah in all its fronts.

But meddling requires cash: Estimates of Tehran’s meddling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen are estimated at $30 billion a year while under heavy sanctions. Once those sanctions are lifted and hard cash fills up the state coffers, one can only surmise that the extra cash will not only be funneled to the Iranian citizens but will be directed to citizens of other countries who might influence their governments to support Tehran. The first countries on Tehran’s short list will probably be Bahrain (73% Shiites), Kuwait (40% Shiites), and then the UAE and Saudi Arabia (15% Shiites). From there, Tehran will most probably look East (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and North (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan).

 

 

Iran Will (not) Build a Bomb

circlesIran’s nuclear program symbolizes Tehran’s ability to conquer science. Science, once a forte of the Arabs in the past, has been dominated in the past few centuries by the West. But not for long, warns Khamenei: “They (the “arrogant powers” = the West) kept us scientifically backward for many years. They destroyed our independence. Today we have awakened and we will conquer the arenas of science one after the other“. Furthermore, oil and gas exports may put Iran on par economically with Western countries but it is science that will place Iran on par intellectually: “In an economy which is based on underground resources, no need will be felt to identify or attract the elites. Therefore, no real progress will be made in the country”. ” Instead, Khamenei believes that “Iran should be run with its domestic and surface resources which are the intelligence and talents of its young generation and elites as well as by producing science and knowledge in the country. In that case no world power could play a game with our economy.”

Science is progress, independence and power that exemplifies the minds of those who master it and building a nuclear bomb is the pinnacle of progress, independence and power.

The nuclear deal will not be able to prevent Iran from dashing to the bomb at any time and with a sunset clause in effect, Iran may “legitimately” build a bomb within ten years. The extra money from the relief of sanctions, the increased trade with Russia and China and the inability for IAEA inspectors to monitor military or hidden bases will only contribute to achieve Khamenei’s vision. Khamenei himself may not be alive by then but he can rest assured that no “arrogant power” would ever “look down its nose” at Iran ever again.

 

Iran Will (not) Use a Bomb 

PeaceBombsWould Iran use a nuclear bomb if it had one? Firing a nuclear weapon on a country with nukes is bound to trigger a reprisal which could lead to the mutual destruction of both sides. This fear had kept the Russians and the Americans from pulling the trigger during the long cold war. Nukes, it seems, are meant more as a form of deterrence than a form of attack.

Once Tehran will have a bomb, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries will be forced into obtaining their own nuclear weapons as well. Were Iran to fire a nuclear device at Israel or the Gulf States, the retaliation would be fierce and the destruction in Iran, horrendous.

But then again, the Islamic Revolution idolizes martyrdom. According to Khamenei, martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and, perhaps more importantly, “this is what frightens the enemy“. In this context, losing a few hundred thousand Iranian lives to martyrdom would be a small price to pay for eradicating the Zionists (Israel) and the terrorists (Saudi Arabia). As we wrote in an earlier post, “Nuke and Wannabe Martyrs Are Scary“.

 

Of course, nobody knows how Iran will look like in the future. Perhaps by then, Khamenei’s vision will seem like a horse buggy on a highway. But if his vision will live on, the pessimists will have the unfortunate luck to be right about what a nuclear deal with Iran can lead to.