Abandoning Friends, Appeasing Foes

12/31/2010 09:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Joan Z. Shore Paris columnist, author of 'Saging' and 'Red Burgundy'

In a shocking display of contempt for jurisprudence and human rights, Iran has executed 63-year-old Ali Saremi -- a political dissident since 1979 who spent a total of 24 years in prison, and was hanged on December 28 for "waging war against God". Many European nations have already condemned this brutality, but so far the U.S. government has remained silent.

Coincidentally, a major symposium on Iran was held in Paris last week, featuring an impressive line-up of American and European dignitaries who were pleading for the U.S. to remove MEK (also known as PMOI) from its list of terrorist organizations. Saremi was a member of that group, which has been struggling for several decades to bring a democratic government to Iran.

You've never heard of MEK? No wonder. It represents a large group of Iranian dissidents, the Mujahadeen. They opposed the egomaniacal shah, Reza Pahlavi; they opposed the religious fanatic, Ayatollah Khomeini; and they oppose the current leader, the nuclear-crazed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

MEK's charismatic spokeswoman is 57-year-old Maryam Radjavi, who lives in France and has the backing of numerous European officials and parliamentarians. She spoke to a cheering crowd at the symposium, along with Rudolph Giuliani and several former Bush officials -- Michael Mukasey, Tom Ridge, Frances Townsend -- who denounced the ongoing American policy that demonizes the dissidents and thereby mollifies the repressive Ahmadinejad regime.

About 3,500 exiled Mujahadeen live in a community in Iraq called Ashraf, about 70 miles west of the Iranian border and 40 miles north of Baghdad. It is also called Camp Ashraf, because of its insularity, and its precarious and dangerous existence. (Ali Saremi visited his son there, in 2007 -- another charge against him.)

In 2003, American forces invading Iraq took control of Ashraf, disarmed the MEK members, screened them for past terrorist acts, and assumed maintenance of the facility. This provided a certain degree of security, even though Washington kept MEK on its "terrorist" list, as it had been for three decades -- always with the intention of appeasing Iranian regimes by discrediting the dissident movement.

With the American forces now pulling out of Iraq, Baghdad is claiming control of the camp. This will seriously endanger the people of Ashraf, who are already being attacked by Iraqi military and paramilitary units, and who are being blasted night and day by blaring loudspeakers urging them to surrender to Tehran. It is clear that Iraqi authorities are acting in conjunction with the Iranian regime to suppress, or eliminate, these dissidents. If they are sent back to Iran, they will surely be arrested, and possibly tortured and killed, as were many protesters after the last Iranian elections.

Allan Gerson, a Washington-based lawyer who has represented victims of terrorism and human rights abuses, insists that MEK must be removed from America's terror list, and that these Iranian dissidents "must be supported, not shackled, in their struggle for a democratic Iran." It is a disgraceful and morally reprehensible policy, he says, that essentially appeases the Ahmadinejad regime, and blocks the possibility of bringing democracy to Iran.

Does America have the guts, and the integrity, to finally help these people? Or are we going to continue to play poker with Ahmadinejad, bluffing our way into a deadly showdown?