The Myth of Moderate Mullahs

The Myth of Moderate Mullahs
By Reuel Marc Gerecht
The Weekly Standard | March 14, 2007

If the Reagan administration had learned in 1987 that the clerical regime in Tehran was doing what it is doing today, would Washington have approved of preventive strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities? If Reagan and company had seen Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rapidly constructing uranium-enrichment centrifuges in underground facilities, pushing doggedly ahead on heavy-water research and a plutonium-making nuclear reactor, and spending profusely on the development of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that are effective weapons only if topped with WMD warheads, would more of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment have urged our European allies to support severe sanctions to dissuade the mullahs from developing the bomb? Would leading members of the Democratic party, who then controlled the House and the Senate, have been sympathetic to a military response to the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, or would they have argued for another round of engagement, quickly forgetting their disparagement of the White House’s and the CIA’s 1985 search for bribable “moderates” in a terrorist-supporting state with American blood on its hands?

Even with the Cold War fear of Soviet reactions, Reagan might well have ordered a strike by the United States–probably with the encouragement of his secretary of state, George Shultz, the most farsighted official ever about the dangers of terrorism, and a man not averse to using force in international affairs. The odds are good that many Democrats in Congress would have applauded any aggressive decision–with or without accompanying protests about neglect of the War Powers Act and Congress’s monopoly on declarations of war. The Western Europeans might have expressed their dismay at American cowboyism, although the criticism might have been short-lived since the clerical regime then was regularly unleashing terrorism in Europe. Twenty years ago the Western Europeans had not so fully entered their post-Kantian world where soft power always trumps hard. Also, the French and the Germans were massively invested in Iraq, then at war with Iran. The Soviets, of course, would have been furious, their distaste for American unilateralism checked somewhat by their concern for Saddam Hussein. The U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, Vernon Walters, would no doubt have had to live through a public excoriation of Reagan’s America as a lawless, aggressive, third-world-thumping rogue state.

Things are obviously different now, primarily because the Islamic Republic has changed. One could see the changes beginning in the 1980s, as the wreckage of the Iran-Iraq war was slowly dissolving the violent love affair that young Iranian Shiite males had had with God and the charismatic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But back then it was too early to tell how losing the war would play out on the clerical elite.

For those who believe in “diplomacy first, diplomacy only” for dealing with the mullahs’ quest for nuclear weaponry, the perceived changes in the Islamic Republic are what make the dovish case compelling. Khomeini with a nuke, even more than Saddam with atomic weapons, would have been just too unsettling for us to have reposed our confidence in the theory of deterrence. But in 2007, Ali Khamenei, the clerical leader of Iran, his president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the most politically adept mullah of the revolution, seem somehow less threatening, allowing many to accept what would have been unacceptable 20 years ago. Together, they just don’t have the right mix of charisma, white-hot faith, unpredictable power, and history to make us, and Iranians, tremble the way we all did with the Imam. If Ahmadinejad were the sole ruler of Iran, then American and Israeli fighter-bombers probably would have already annihilated the principal nuclear sites–even with American soldiers in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tied to the other two men, and to the disputatious clerical elite below them, Ahmadinejad just isn’t perceived by many (outside of Israel) as a sufficient threat.

Is this perception correct? Has the clerical regime sufficiently moderated to quell the worst fears? Are the “realists” right when they suggest that we can negotiate with the mullahs–at least more intelligently and successfully than we did in 1979, 1985, and 1999-2000, when President Bill Clinton and his secretary of state Madeleine Albright downplayed Iranian responsibility for the deaths of 19 American servicemen and the wounding of 372 others at Khobar Towers in the hope of reaching out to moderates within the regime? Or is such an opening conceivable, a real possibility for pragmatists willing to offer the right incentives to the clerical elite?

The CIA and the State Department absolutely didn’t foresee the short-lived “Tehran spring” of Mohammad Khatami, a clerical reformist who rose to the presidency in May 1997. Perhaps the U.S. government is again blind and doesn’t see the possibility of a “grand bargain” with a regime that understands the revolution is over and now just wants to be recognized as a regional great power. Nixon’s détente with the Soviet Union looks rather thin in its achievements when compared with Ronald Reagan’s rhetorical and occasionally covert policy of armed confrontation. But the Islamic Republic and the Soviet Union are not the same country. Perhaps there might be a successful détente with the mullahs, a modus vivendi that would neutralize the menace of their nuclear weapons, their terrorism, and their dubious dealings with the Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Iraq’s militant Shiites, and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Let us look at the religious dimension of this problem, and then at its more mundane aspects. Are the clerical elite and their praetorians–the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the thuggish Basij, and the killers of the Ministry of Intelligence–still running a revolutionary enterprise within which they see themselves as the ideological vanguard of the nation and Islam? Yes, absolutely. To a striking degree, the ruling elite has maintained its sense of religious mission, while the Iranian people, especially the young who don’t remember the charisma of Khomeini, have gone cold. That the Iranian people remain faithful Shiite Muslims is beyond doubt. A majority may even remain vaguely faithful to the Islamic revolution and still believe that clerics as a class, no matter how despised for their postrevolutionary greed and despotic manners, retain a special, didactic place between God and man. But for the vast majority of Iranians, an Islamic missionary spirit is no longer happily married to the national identity.

For the ruling mullahs and their supporters, just the opposite appears true. The clerics still seem quite determined to see themselves as the elite of Islam, faithful inheritors of Khomeini’s most sacred legacy–political power. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the radical clergy’s indispensable guarantors of the religious order, who in great part shaped the manhood and ethics of Ahmadinejad, put it well when he said: “The geographic heart of the Islamic world is in Mecca and Medina. But, the political heart of the Islamic world is in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] is the flag-bearer of the front of the Islamic awakening and the fronts of the awakening of third-world nations.”

This is a basic point, often not seen by Western “realist” commentators on foreign affairs: The seizing of power by Khomeini and his clerical minions was a sacred act, proof that God isn’t dead. The maintenance of clerical power in Iran is a sacred mission: It is what separates the revolutionaries from the detested traditional clergy, who wanted to hold government to high ethical standards but also to keep their distance from the corrupting institutions and exercise of power.

For the revolutionary clergy, and its loyal minions like Ahmadinejad, power is Allah. In clerical eyes, the new mullahs, led by Khomeini, drove the revolution. They–not the people, who often were unreliable servants of God against the shah and counterrevolutionaries–are the engine of progress. Khamenei and the ruling clerical elite will always thwart the exercise of meaningful democracy in Iran, in part because the people, repeatedly, have shown themselves unfaithful to the religious revolution. Iranians, whose capacity for ferocious religious zeal is undermined constantly by a desire for happy lethargy and little sins, cannot be trusted.

The superiority of theocracy over democracy derives not only from the clergy’s greater knowledge of the Holy Law and its special, frequently charismatic role in Iranian history (Khomeini was not the first magnetic mullah in modern times), but also from the Iranian people’s craving for satellite dishes and morally debased Western programming. This is one reason the early revolutionary reflex to label all Iranians and foreigners who opposed any aspect of clerical rule “criminals against God” or “enemies of Islam” came back with vigor in the late 1990s, when reformist pressure, partly unleashed by the presidential election of 1997, threatened the regime. The Iranian reform movement in the 1990s was, among other things, a self-conscious embrace of the Western conception of civil society. As weak as the reform movement actually was, it was enough to provoke Safavi to warn that the Guards Corps would “rip the tongues” out of reformers who threatened the Islamic Republic’s God-ordained order.

During Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005), leading clerical dissidents like Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former favorite, and his disciple, Abdullah Nuri, the former interior minister who’d become a provocative newspaper editor, were corralled; Nuri, a faithful child of Khomeini who became the boldest clerical dissident, was arrested in 1999 and mentally ruined in prison. It’s worthwhile to note that one of Nuri’s most egregious sins, which he committed during his nationally televised trial (the last time the regime would be so stupid as to give a dissident a national platform), was to mock on religious grounds the regime’s refusal to restore relations with the United States. Was God’s Islamic revolution so weak, Nuri implied, that it could not sustain the reopening of an American embassy in downtown Tehran?

It is astonishing that some Western analysts of Iran, and some senior U.S. government officials, actually believe that Khamenei and his kind–and there are many influential mullahs who are even more perfervid in the belief that America is diabolical–would be willing to restore relations with the United States. Such a restoration would be, as Nuri correctly implied, an end to the revolution as we have known it. For the mullahs and for God, this would be an unbearable defeat. Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Rafsanjani have no intention of letting this happen.

Although they can be obstreperous, and are politically becoming a force to be reckoned with, the Guards Corps, like Iran’s much-feared intelligence service, has been loyal to the clerical regime. There is simply no information anywhere–not even fifth-hand recycled gossip–that suggests the Guards, or as they are known in Persian, the Pasdaran, are amenable to the idea of restored relations with the United States. Just the opposite. Read Pasdaran publications and the speeches (or outbursts) of senior members of the Corps, and the revolution still seems hot and under siege. It’s doubtful there is a single mullah in Iran who would dare tell the Pasdaran to abandon its continuing occupation of the U.S. embassy and stand to attention before a raised American flag.

The guardians of the revolution–among whom one counts first Khamenei and Rafsanjani–struck hard against Iranian liberals as well as dissident clerics during Khatami’s presidency. These attacks confirm the unchanging religious nature of the regime. Liberals, though they posed no organized threat to the status quo, were regularly murdered, often brazenly. In religious terms, they were seen as a cross between atheists and apostates who openly admired and emulated Western ways. One has to be enormously careful analyzing the commentary of the intrepid and fearless dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, but his suggestion that Rafsanjani had a controlling hand in the organized crackdown in the last four years of Khatami’s presidency should be treated seriously. Rafsanjani, the great revolutionary pragmatist, who has probably done more than any other mullah to ensure clerical dominion, needed to ensure the Islamic Republic’s balance, which was being unsettled by men and women who wanted to transform the country into something like a democracy. This is why more Iranian dissidents were murdered abroad during Rafsanjani’s first three years as president (1989-92) than during the previous ten years under Khomeini.

Many Western observers of Rafsanjani have viewed his attention to more effective administration and his family business empire as evidence that he is a pragmatist who really wants to build a two-way bridge between Iran and the West, but especially between Tehran and Washington. For many Western observers, the cleric who has probably done more than any other to ensure the resources for Iran’s nuclear-weapons program was supposed to be the mullah who was going to halt the program–if he’d only defeated Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2005.

For some Westerners, Rafsanjani and his allies are still the dreamed-of Trojan Horse that would bring more capitalism to Iran and guarantee its admission–if only the United States would allow it–to the World Trade Organization. Rafsanjani would thus become the Iranian Gorbachev, putting the Islamic Republic on an economic slippery slope to greater freedom and responsible international behavior. (Many Western and Iranian observers once embraced Khatami as the Iranian Gorbachev, but Khamenei’s greater power and Khatami’s political ineptitude, spinelessness, and faithfulness to the country’s institutions and elite collapsed this illusion pretty quickly.)

Rafsanjani is the indispensable mullah for those who envision the Islamic Republic as a normal, ambitious regional power. These hopeful souls are untroubled by Rafsanjani’s voluminous writings where he shows himself, just like Khamenei, to be deeply impregnated with the idea of an Islam-destroying, globe-trotting, American tyranny that has its roots in the Jewish capitalist domination of the United States. For the optimistic, Rafsanjani is corrupt and power-hungry (undoubtedly true), and he is therefore not a soldier of God (undoubtedly false). It is as if Henry Plantagenet, because he was a worldly man with enormous ambition, good business sense, an unrivaled appetite for women, and a brood of independent and sometimes decadent children, could not also have been seriously committed to advancing Christendom’s great counterattack against Islam, the Crusades. If Rafsanjani had been a statesman, and not a dedicated revolutionary cleric, he would have tried a bit harder to integrate Iran peacefully into the world; he wouldn’t have killed so many of his own people, at home and abroad, or aligned his nation with the Middle East’s worst terrorist groups, or clandestinely advanced a nuclear-weapons program, or crushed his former comrades who actually wanted to reform the Islamic Republic. Simply put, Rafsanjani is a modern revolutionary cleric-cum-warrior, serving the cause of Iran and Islam against those forces, preeminently the United States, that are antithetical to his conception of progress.

And let us return to the World Trade Organization, perhaps the favorite hobbyhorse for those who think the Islamic Republic can be tamed economically. Whether or not the WTO can be a soft-power engine of democratic regime change, Khamenei and Rafsanjani, who both backed Iran’s admission to the organization in 1996, don’t view it as likely to convulse what they consider holy–at least not before the clerical regime develops nuclear weapons. It’s worth noting that Iran formally made its application to the WTO in July 1996; the clerical regime, with Khamenei and Rafsanjani firmly in command, bombed the Americans at Khobar Towers three weeks earlier. If there is a contradiction between terrorism and trade, it is one that escapes Iran’s clerical vanguard.

Eager to attack the Bush administration, many “realists” and liberals rallied around the “missed opportunity” of a “semi-official” Iranian letter delivered to the United States by Switzerland’s ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldimann, in 2003. The letter, never made public, supposedly details how the Islamic Republic was ready to settle all of its differences with the United States–including terrorism, nuclear weapons, and aid to nefarious organizations–if only the Bush administration would listen. No one was so rude as to point out that it was an open secret in the European diplomatic community in Tehran that Ambassador Guldimann was the primary drafter of this correspondence and that he, “a leftist child of 1968,” as one European ambassador who served with Guldimann in Tehran told me, “liked the Iranians as much as he disliked the Americans.” The “realists” avoid at all cost references to Iran’s pre-9/11 dealings with al Qaeda (see page 240 in the 9/11 Commission report), which make Iran at least complicit in facilitating al Qaeda’s terrorist operations against the United States. When it comes to Iran today, when we look at the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, then consider the gut-wrenching option of striking militarily the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities, many of us play games with ourselves.

The common and optimistic view that the clerical regime is capable of flexibility is now lethally playing out in our discussions of Iranian operations in Iraq. Without a doubt, the Bush administration could have been more organized in presenting its case against Tehran, particularly with regard to the delivery of explosive devices that have killed Americans. But this isn’t rocket science. Principal questions: Is the Iranian-manufactured weaponry found in Iraq available in sufficient quantities in the global arms bazaar? Is there any evidence that groups that have used this weaponry against American soldiers in Iraq have imported other sophisticated weaponry from outside Iraq? Do we have strong evidence of arms shipments from Iran over a protracted period of time?

If the answers to these questions are “no,” “no,” and “yes,” then the case is closed. The idea that the Revolutionary Guards Corps or the Iranian intelligence ministry–both of which have proven themselves overseas to be faithful and lethal servants of the clerical regime–is delivering weaponry to groups in Iraq without the approval of Iran’s leadership just isn’t believable. This is not how these two institutions work. Over 20 years we have certainly gleaned sufficient information about the hierarchy, rules, and personnel of the Pasdaran and Iran’s intelligence service to know that they are not rogue warriors. The clerical regime, following in the footsteps of the shah, likes bureaucracy. Its national security council isn’t a social club. When it comes to killing people abroad, the Guards and intelligence operatives do what Ali Khamenei tells them to do. The idea that the Qods Force, the nasty elite of the Pasdaran, is delivering materiel to Iraq without Khamenei’s approval makes the clerical regime sound like a banana republic–casual about the security services essential to its survival. There is a reason Khamenei has an ever-expanding private office overseeing both the Pasdaran and the intelligence ministry: When so inclined, he runs them.

The real question for the Bush administration is, When did it learn about these arms shipments? President Bush decided to take a harder line against the Iranians in Iraq in September 2006. Did the administration know earlier that the Iranians were delivering lethal supplies to anti-American Iraqi groups? If so, the administration ought to be scorched not for its bellicosity, but for its timidity. (The same question might be asked about al Qaeda camps in northern Pakistan. Is the administration sure of this information? Do we know where they are? If so, then have we informed the Pakistanis that if they don’t deal with this problem promptly, we will, through a continuous bombing campaign?)

It’s damning if an administration that has defined itself by its vigorous, preventive approach to terrorist groups and state-sponsors of terrorism has reverted to a Clintonian policy of caution where American lives are at stake, doing nothing or too little too late. One must hope that we have conveyed to the Swiss, who look after our interests in Tehran, or to Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who knows the Iranian ruling elite well, that America can make life very difficult for Iran, in Iraq and elsewhere, unless these shipments stop.

It’s likely that Iran will get itself into serious trouble in Iraq. The temptation to meddle–to try to spread radical thinking in Iraq and create organizations the ruling clergy is comfortable working with, along the lines of Hezbollah–is very great. Like Lebanon, and unlike the rest of the Sunni Arab world, Iraq has a clergy that it may be possible to coopt. The Iraqi clergy could conceivably, if properly formed, fed, and intimidated, see the world more or less as the Iranian revolutionary mullahs do. Clerical Iran in Iraq has a chance. It’s not a big chance, given the Arab-Persian and intra-Shiite historical baggage, but it’s more of a chance than the regime has had elsewhere since 1982, when Hezbollah started to consume the Lebanese Shiite community.

The odds are that Tehran’s mullahs are going to try to pick a winner in Iraq. If the Iranians can “take” Mesopotamia, then they will finally have a substantial opening to the Arab world. Religiously and geopolitically, they will have their day. Iran’s ruling elite and their Iraqi friends, along with their Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian allies, will then define the anti-American/anti-Israeli rejectionist camp. They could conceivably cause enormous problems for the Jordanians, assuming the Hashemite regime survives the Sunni exodus from Iraq. Ditto for the Saudis and Egyptians. This picture is complicated by the Sunni-Shiite bloodletting in Mesopotamia. But it’s foreordained that Tehran would respond by being even more anti-American and, among Muslims, even more ecumenically radical. (Khamenei has always been much more careful to avoid uniquely Shiite allusions in his calls for Islamic solidarity against the United States and the West than was Khomeini.)

Confronted with dissatisfaction and dissent at home, Iran’s ruling clergy will, the odds are good, go abroad to seek victories and fulfill their undimmed mission to be God’s true vanguard in the Muslim world. The American presence in Iraq impedes this task because it gives Iraqi Shiites a non-Iranian option, particularly in the face of the Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shia.

If the United States can develop a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis, Iraq’s Shiite clergy may grow more independent and open in its internal debates about proper governance and its own role in an Iraqi democracy. Friendly and dependent Iraqi groups like SCIRI may fairly quickly become difficult for Tehran. Right now, SCIRI has no firm idea of what it is. It has had no test of its democratic commitment. It doesn’t really know what its relationship will be with Iraq’s moderate senior clergy in Najaf. This process of discovery for SCIRI, and for other Shiites in Iraq, may come with speed if the Sunni violence can be checked. This could go badly for Tehran. In any case, the Iranians will do what they can to prevent the success of moderate Shiites next door.

We may well be on a collision course with Iran in Mesopotamia. But what the clerical regime and many Western observers have been slow to appreciate is that Iraq raises the odds that Washington (and Jerusalem) will view Iranian actions in Iraq as inseparable from the nuclear question. If American and European sanctions don’t make the clerical regime give up its atomic ambitions–and especially if the Iranians gain the upper hand in Iraq–Iraq may well become the factor that tilts the Americans or Israelis toward preventive military strikes against Tehran’s nuclear installations.

What should be clear, however, is that a clerical Iran sensing victory in Iraq–victory defined by the withdrawal of U.S. forces–would have no incentive to negotiate on its nuclear-weapons program. The United States should not fear talking to Iran–we have done so repeatedly since 1979. But in the past, we have almost always done so poorly. It’s hard to imagine U.S. diplomats being any more successful today, unless the Bush administration underscores its willingness to use force against the mullahs (the exact opposite of the approach many senior officials in the Pentagon and State Department have so far used). If we do this, the clerical regime will certainly respect us more. And unless they respect us–unless they fear us–diplomacy will have no chance. This is Middle Eastern Politics 101. If we don’t know this rule–if we unlearn it because of Iraq–the clerical regime will again painfully educate us about what “constructive engagement” means for men who still believe they are the cutting edge of a new Islamic civilization.

Iran’s Non-Persian Ticking Timebomb

Iran’s Non-Persian Ticking Timebomb
By Joseph Puder | March 14, 2007

It was flattering to read Edward Luttwak’s piece in the Wall Street Journal (February 27, 2007) titled Persian Shrug. In the opinion piece Luttwak repeated this writer’s argument, expressed a year ago on the pages of the Philadelphia Bulletin that U.S. strategy with regard to Iran must involve the various ethnic minorities in Iran that account for almost 50 percent of the population.

The idea of utilizing the Iranian ethnic minorities to topple the Iranian theocratic regime developed in my mind last year during the Intelligence Summit in Alexandria, VA, where I discussed the idea of mobilizing the non-Persian ethnics with exiled Iranian ex-patriots. I then offered the idea to Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (Ret. Deputy Chief of USAF) one of the keynote presenters dealing with Iran.

The minority non-Persian ethnic groups have little love lost for the theocratic regime in Tehran. The Kurds in northwestern Iran adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan comprise 7 percent of the Iranian population. The Kurds have had previous insurrections against Tehran and now, with their ethnic brothers in Iraqi Kurdistan enjoying virtual independence, the urge for autonomy is greater than ever.

But it is not only the Kurds who are resentful of the Persians “cultural imperialism.” The Arabs (many of them Sunni Muslims) have been in open rebellion against the Shiite regime. Based in the oil rich province of Khuzestan in the Gulf region of Iran, the Arabs account for 3 percent of the population, generating 100 percent hatred for the ayatollahs, who have been practicing ethnic cleansing in the region by displacing Arabs with ethnic Persians.

The Baluch (2 percent of Iran’s population) in Iranian Baluchistan represent another ethnic group with long and simmering grievances towards Tehran. Located in Southeastern Iran, the Baluch have more in common with their Baluch brothers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, than with the Iranian regime. They too seek cultural autonomy and dream of a free Baluchistan that would incorporate all Baluchis.

Turkman Sunni Muslims (2 percent of the population) are another disaffected group in Iran.

And then of course there are the Azeris who count for 24 percent of Iran’s people. They speak a Turkic language and strive for an Azeri nation that would join them with their brothers and sisters in neighboring Azerbaijan- a country that not only speaks their language but is freer, more secular, and growing ever more prosperous.

I pointed out to Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney that his idea of military action against Iran to destroy its capacity to weaponize its potential nuclear arsenal must coincide with an effort to remove the current Tehran regime. To eliminate the regime, I reasoned, the U.S. and its allies must use the non-Persian ethnic minorities as a weapon against the mullahs.

Gen. McInerney to his credit understood that military action must be carried out simultaneous with regime change. He asserted, moreover, that with a fatwa by a leading mullah, which declared the use of nuclear weapons against the West permissible, the Iranian regime had crossed the Rubicon. He accepted the premise of using the disaffected minorities as a weapon. Whether the Bush administration has given weighted consideration to this idea is still unclear.

Aside from minority grievances in Iran, the extremism of the Iranian theocracy and the treatment of its own people has created deep internal divisions. Students, women, and liberal thinkers and writers are harassed and imprisoned. The Iranian economy is in shambles. In spite of Iran being an oil exporting nation it has to import gas from Turkey, and, with an inflation rate of 30 percent a year and unemployment at over 20 percent, life has become much more difficult for the average Iranian.

Religious persecution of non-Shiites in Iran is the least talked about story out of Iran. The Jewish community, or what is left of an ancient and once-thriving society, is held hostage by the regime. The Bahais fled Iran following their bloody persecution. Bahai temples can now be found in suburban Chicago and in Haifa, Israel, but are absent in Iran. Zoroastrians, too, have been persecuted, as well as Christians. In more recent years the ayatollahs have dealt harshly with the Muslim Sufi movement as well. The most striking fact however, is the presence of more than a million Sunni Muslims in Tehran without a single Sunni mosque. Both the “Big Satan” America and the “Little Satan” Israel have numerous Sunni mosques, while Shiite Muslim Tehran has none.

Even among the ruling elite, a so-called anti-fascist front has begun to emerge. According to Ray Takeyh, author of Inside Iran-Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, a younger generation of activists led by reformers such as Muhammad Reza Khatami, the brother of the former president of Iran, and Gholam Hussein Karbaschi, a former mayor of Tehran and a protégé of former Iranian president Rafsanjani, oppose the current regime’s extremism. They, too, are seeking change.

These two, and other like-minded liberal and pragmatic thinkers and activists, are seeking to restore the original draft of the Islamic Republics constitution, which calls for the separation of powers, a strong presidency, and defined responsibilities for the elected institutions. They seek to reclaim the early promises of the Iranian revolution and bring democracy to the people of Iran and, to relegate the Supreme ruler (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) to matters of faith.

A much better alternative to bombing Iran as Lt. General McInerney advocates, is to consider bringing down the regime from within. As Edward Luttwak suggests, instead of seeking a “détente with the repulsive regime…it is to be true to the Wilsonian tradition of American foreign policy by encouraging the forces of national liberation within Iran.”

Threatened by the Jihad

Threatened by the Jihad
By Steven Emerson | March 14, 2007

On January 26, 2007, I appeared on Fox News Channel’s Hannity and Colmes program to discuss a January 8, 2007 meeting between the Attorney General of the United States and various Muslim and Arab groups, some of which have a long history of supporting terrorist groups and extremist ideologies. In response to a question from Alan Colmes about the importance of “good relations” between Attorney General Gonzales and the Muslim community, I stated, “[b]ut when you say the ‘Muslim community’ – [the Attorney General] is anointing them representatives of the Muslim community, when in fact there are many others who support the war on terrorism, who don’t tell their members not to cooperate with the FBI, who don’t support Hamas and Hezbollah, unlike members of this group. So, in fact, I think it’s wrong to confer legitimacy on those very organizations that inhibit cooperation with the FBI, that support Hamas or justify Hezbollah, and who are radical in terms of portraying the war on terrorism as a war against Islam.”

On February 16, 2007, MPAC’s lawyer sent me a letter demanding an apology for my allegedly “[f]alse statements about the Muslim Public Affairs Council on Hannity and Colmes.” The letter demands that I “immediately issue a public apology and … cease and desist from making false statements about MPAC,” and that “MPAC is willing to pursue all available legal remedies” should I not comply with MPAC’s demands.

And what are the allegedly “false statements” MPAC is claiming I made? That “MPAC told its ‘members not to cooperate with the FBI,’” and that MPAC “are the ones radicalizing their community.” Now let’s analyze those charges by looking at MPAC’s own words.

First, that MPAC has instructed American Muslims not to cooperate with the FBI:

MPAC and its lawyers claim this to be untrue. But at a July 1, 2005 ISNA conference in Dallas, MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati did just that. Al-Marayati, speaking of the FBI’s terrorism investigation in Lodi and the use of Muslim informants in that case, California, told the assembled crowd of Muslim-Americans, “[c]ounter-terrorism and counter-violence should be defined by us. We should define how an effective counter-terrorism policy should be pursued in this country. So, number one, we reject any effort, notion, suggestion that Muslims should start spying on one another.” Right there, Al-Marayati is instructing Muslim Americans to not even attempt to observe any extremism or terrorist activity in their community, and even if they should observe something troubling, to not inform law enforcement authorities, that the duty owed to the Muslim community by the government is greater than to society at large.

And Al-Marayati continued, “Law enforcement is going to come to your mosque. It already has as far as I can tell. Everywhere I go, either somebody tells me that officials have met with them publicly or they tell me that they know who those folks are that are representing law enforcement. So we know they have communicated one way or the other with the Muslim community. The question is how do you deal with it in a healthy, open, transparent manner. That is why we are saying have them come in community forums, in open-dialogues, so they come through the front door and you prevent them having to come from the back door.”

Here, Al-Marayati is instructing Muslim Americans not to cooperate with the FBI’s preferred methods of investigation, and that, as he stated earlier, it is the Muslim community, and its so-called leaders, that should define the terms of the FBI’s investigation. That approach can hardly be described as full-fledged cooperation with law enforcement. Far from it, in fact. Al-Marayati used the Lodi case as an excuse to tell Muslim Americans not to deal with the FBI directly. Demanding that the American Muslim community only work with FBI agents and other law enforcement in public forums clearly detracts from the ability of investigators to do their job, which is to protect American citizens from the threat of radical Islamist terrorists. MPAC, and groups like it, are also clearly seeking to intrude into and ultimately to dominate the relationship between the law enforcement and the Muslim community, ensuring that the degree of allowable cooperation is regulated by these self-appointed leaders.

And why did Mr. Al-Marayati not urge his listeners in Dallas that they should extend full cooperation to the FBI and law enforcement community at every instance, rather than to demand a specific approach which is debilitating from an investigatory standpoint? Or that law abiding American Muslims need some sort of self-appointed intermediary when working with the FBI? And how can people feel comfortable providing information to law enforcement if they can only do so in an open forum? I will leave that to the reader to decide. But one thing is clear: MPAC is on the record telling American Muslims not to directly cooperate with the FBI, while at the same time advocating an impractical or impossible way for those who actually have information to relay it to law enforcement.

Now let’s analyze the other alleged “false statement”: that MPAC serves to radicalize the American Muslim community:

This claim is even easier to demonstrate, as MPAC officials give speeches and quotes to the media that can only serve to alienate and radicalize Muslims who hear them. The constant refrain: a conspiracy theory that the War on Terror is a contrivance of the U.S. government and is really a “War against Islam.” Such a conspiracy dismissed legitimate efforts by law enforcement to fight terrorism and terrorist financing perpetrated on U.S. soil. By virtue of the sheer number of times MPAC officials (and, for that matter, officials of other U.S.-based Islamist groups,) have made that claim, it is impossible to include them all here. But here are several instances that easily serve to make the point:

· Aslam Abdullah, MPAC Vice Chairman and Editor of the MPAC-linked magazine, the Minaret, in a 2002 online forum entitled, “The Truth behind America’s War on Terrorism,” wrote, “[t]here are three specific lobbies that are turning the ongoing war on terrorism against Islam. The Christian Evangelicals who want to see Muslims converted, the political Zionists who want to see Muslim [sic] politically obliterated, and the Hindu Extremists who want to see Muslim [sic] humiliated…Mr. Bush and his administration have not been able to challenge these lobbies. Many members of these lobbies are in the administration and in FBI, law enforcement and even Congress.”[1] (emphasis added)

· MPAC “hate crime prevention coordinator” in May 2004, speaking to the Inter Press Service article reported, “The war on terror is a war, really, on a community that is being connected to the (9/11) hijackers.”[2]

· In a January 2002 article in the Minaret, stated that, “[s]ince the Sept. 11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the U.S. government has pursued a policy where it has targeted Islamic, Arab and Palestinian organizations and individuals, in a manner that often lacks legal legitimacy.”[3]

· And al-Marayati, in the Los Angeles Times in March 2003, blasted “the FBI’s policy of targeting people because of their race and religion.” He added, “That’s what they’ve been doing since the attacks, and we don’t know of any case that has resulted in the arrest, indictment or prosecution of a terrorist.”[4]

A recent study conducted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has concluded that the repeated use of “War on Islam” mantra is directly related to the radicalization of the “homegrown” jihadists.[5]

Al-Marayati also infamously told an L.A. radio station after 9/11, “[i]f we’re going to look at suspects we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list,” engaging in the very kind of conspiracy theories heard in the most radical quarters around the globe. Additionally, MPAC officials have defended Hezbollah, blasted the U.S. government for actions taken to stop the funding of Hamas by U.S. front organizations, and repeatedly defended convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami al-Arian, downplaying his jihadist exhortations and claiming that his prosecution was merely “political.”

As a well-known analyst of militant Islamist groups in the United States, I have been a target of a vicious smear campaign by organizations which are afraid of having the bright light of day shone on their words and deeds. For example, in December 2004, MPAC, published a “policy” paper titled “Counterproductive Counterterrorism,” in which more than 20 of the 48 pages were at their core a personal hit piece against me. And after failing to de-legitimize me through character assassination, MPAC is now threatening to silence me using the court system.

Legal action has become a mainstay of radical Islamist organizations seeking to intimidate and silence their critics. In September 2005, journalist Robert King, writing in the Indianapolis Star, outlined the strategy[6]:

Sayyid Syeed, the secretary general of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), a group generally less vocal than CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), earlier in the weekend said his organization is considering filing defamation lawsuits against some of its sharpest critics.

King goes on to write that one of the potential targets frequently cited by America’s Muslim leaders is yours truly. And why is that? Because I have spent more than a decade exposing radical Islamists in the United States, many of whom are functioning in leadership capacities in these very groups in question. CAIR by the way, as King noted, has repeatedly taken to the courts, fortunately with very little success, to stifle criticism. Thankfully, the First Amendment protections granted by the U.S. Constitution do not favor this latest tactic employed by the Islamist groups.

MPAC cannot stand to have its agenda exposed, especially when it comes in the form of having its own words, and the words of its officials, used against them. In their minds, any such efforts need to be stifled. MPAC’s smear tactics have not worked, and as such, their lawyers have now stated that “MPAC is willing to pursue all available legal remedies” to silence me. MPAC’s bullying attempt to stifle free speech will not stand. Such tactics should be vigorously opposed, and MPAC, like CAIR before it, must learn that legal threats will not work to stifle legitimate criticism, especially when the facts underlying the criticism are both well documented, and as is often the case, straight out of the horse’s mouth, so to speak.


[1] Aslam Abdullah, “The Truth Behind America’s War on Terrorism,” November 30, 2002,

[2] Amantha Perera, “US Muslims Fear Second Term for Patriot Act,” Inter Press Service, May 7, 2004.

[3] “Relief Groups Shut Down,” The Minaret, January 2002.

[4] H.G. Reza, “FBI Has a Pledge and a Request for Muslims,” The Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2003.

[5] Stewart Bell, “Jihadization of youth a ‘rapid process’; CSIS: Study Of Extremism,” National Post, January 26, 2007.

[6] Robert King, “Muslims aim to challenge critics in America; Convention seminar focuses on best ways for followers to respond when their faith is attacked,” Indianapolis Star, September 5, 2005,

“How Many Jews Did Mama Kill?”

Lionizing — actually canonizing — a mass murderer. “Children of Palestinian Suicide Bomber Rim Al-Riyashi on Hamas TV: Mama Killed Five Jews and She Is in Paradise,” from MEMRI:

The following are excerpts of an interview with the children of Palestinian suicide bomber Rim Al-Riyashi, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on March 8, 2007.

“How Many Jews Did Mama Kill?”

Interviewer: “Let’s talk with the two children of the jihad-fighting martyrdom-seeker Rim Al-Riyashi, Dhoha and Muhammad. Dhoha, you love Mama, right? Where did Mama go?”

Dhoha: “To Paradise.”

Interviewer: “What did Mama do?”

Dhoha: “She committed martyrdom.”

Interviewer: “She killed Jews, right?”

Interviewer: “How many did she kill, Muhammad?”

Muhammad: “Huh?”

Interviewer: “How many Jews did Mama kill?”

Muhammad: “This many… ”

Interviewer: “How many is that?”

Muhammad: “Five.”

Interviewer: “Do you love Mama? Do you miss Mama?

“Where is Mama, Muhammad?”

Muhammad: “In Paradise.”

Interviewer: “Dhoha, what would you like to recite for us?”

Dhoha: “In the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate: ‘When comes the help of Allah, and victory, and you see people entering the religion of Allah in troops, then celebrate the praise of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness, for He is ever ready to show mercy.'”

That’s the Qur’an, of course — sura 110:1-3.