Published on the Hill
As the fight to neutralize, rollback and eventually eliminate the threat of the extremist group Islamic State rages on, the international community – in particular the West – should not forget that the policy in dealing with the extremist regime ruling Iran can have a crucial role in either seeing the campaign’s success – or its utter failure.
The Islamic State, a group also known as ISIS or ISIL, has in past months occupied swaths of Iraq and Syria and aims at establishing a Caliphate based on a twisted and violent interpretation of Islam. It strives to expand its borders, and through highly-publicize violent methods tries to intimidate the international community into recognizing its hegemony in the region.
Today, Iran continues its efforts to remain a nuclear threshold state and is prodding its counterparts in the ongoing talks over its illicit nuclear activities to recognize its “right” to obtain nuclear weapons. In past years, Iran has proven that it will not back down on its nuclear activities, and considers the dismantlement of its nuclear project – the only way to make sure the world will not be threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran – is an ultimate red line.
The Iranian regime continues to be among the worst human rights abusers and the leading state in per-capita executions across the globe. With over 1,000 executions in the past year, the Iranian regime’s new president Hassan Rouhani has proven that he is anything but the “moderate” figure he proclaimed to be when he assumed office – a fact unfortunately touted widely by the West.
Iran is infamously renowned for cracking down on opposition members and peaceful protests, including the 2009 popular uprisings following the fraudulent presidential elections. Moreover, the Iranian regime has over the past decades executed tens of thousands of dissidents, the majority of them members and supporters of the opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a popular movement that strives to found a free, democratic and secular state in Iran. What’s worth noting is that Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who now serves as Rouhani’s justice minister, has personally overseen the execution of 30,000 opposition members in the summer of 1988.
Iran is one of the biggest prisons for journalists across the world and among the most restrictive regimes on the use of internet inside the country. Among others, Washington Post journalistJason Rezaiian continues to be detained in solitary confinement for undeclared reasons. Also, seven Iranian youth have received heavy sentences for having posted a music video clip on YouTube. This adds to the constant suppression of women, and religious and ethnical minorities.
Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism and the main source of instability in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon,Yemen and other countries in the Middle-East. And if the Islamic State is a potential threat to American national security, Iran has already targeted the national security of the United States and other countries on numerous accounts in past decades. The 1983 bombing of the U.S. marines’ barracks in Beirut, the bombing of Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia, the plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and the killings of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are just a few examples of the Iranian regime’s contribution to global terrorism, not to mention its safe harboring, training and provision of advanced weapons to terrorist elements and groups, including support for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks against the World Trading Center in New York.
By all accounts, the Iranian regime is just as bad as the Islamic State – if not worse. Yet, the appeasement policy adopted by the West toward this autocratic regime has had a major role in allowing it to preserve and expand its reign of terror in the past decades. This will definitely have a bad influence on newly-emerging extremist groups like the Islamic State, which strive to establish a rule that – if slightly different in name – is in effect no different from Iran’s despotic regime.
So when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph and purported leader of the Islamic State, sees Rouhani shake hands with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and chat on the phone with U.S. President Barack Obama, the first thing that occurs to him is, “Why not me?”
Bottom line is you can’t hope to fight the extremists in Iraq and Syria and at the same time appease the extremists next-door in Iran.
A tough stance in dealing with the evil deeds of the Iranian regime at home, in the Middle East and across the globe will send a strong message to extremist groups like the Islamic State, asserting that the international community will not recognize nor tolerate extremism and Islamic fundamentalism one bit. Embracing a democratic and secular alternative to the Iranian regime will be a crucial first step in this regard. Fortunately, such and alternative already exists in the PMOI and the National Council of Resistance (NCRI), which have been promoting democratic regime change in Iran for decades.
Alternately, the continuation of the failed rapprochement approach in dealing with the Iranian regime will have a bad influence on Islamic State extremists and their lot, and will convince them that in time the West will tire from fighting them and will eventually recognize them and give in to their nefarious goals and deeds.
Amir Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and supporter of democratic regime change in Iran. Follow him on Twitter: @Amir_bas