Iran’s Mounting Ideological Challenges

12/07/2017 02:54 pm ET

In the past year, the regime of Iran has been dealing with a set of aggravating political and military challenges in the region and across the globe. Tehran is now facing a U.S. administration adopting a tougher stance against its belligerence and a more united Arab front against its expansionism in the region.

However, the Iranian regime’s tougher and more endemic challenges are those threatening its extremist ideology, the main pillar of its existence. With tolerant interpretations of Islam becoming increasingly popular, Iran’s rulers are futilely attempting to maintain their waning hold on power.

Since the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic, the Iranian regime’s main weapon has been the demented interpretation of Islam, based on zero-tolerance for other religions, lack of respect of freedoms and the debasing of women. This ideology manifests itself as misogynistic laws and practices, a record number of executions, and brutal torture of its own citizens.

Tehran has used this extremist ideology to suppress freedom and democracy at home and wreak havoc in neighboring countries. This has rendered sectarian violence triggered by Iran’s Shiite surrogates in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, among others, to rampant levels.

In a nutshell, the Iranian regime’s extremist ideology has been its shield and armor against foreign and domestic threats. That armor, however, is increasingly showing wear and tear.

Last week, in an interview with The New York Times, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reiterated his pledge to reverse the trend in extremism, largely triggered by the rise of the Islamic Republic in Iran. “We are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins,” he said to NYT, referring to a time where musical theaters, mixing between men and women, and respect for Christians and Jews were common in Arabia.

Despite Iran’s undeniable role in establishing the grounds for the formation and flourishing of extremist groups such as the Islamic State, Tehran has constantly been laying the blame on Saudi Arabia. The new efforts initiated by bin Salman will have a positive impact across the region and help roll back Iran’s nefarious role in fanning the flame of sectarianism.

In the same interview, the Saudi Crown Prince specifically targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in strong remarks, calling him “the new Hilter of the Middle East.”

“We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” he said.

In tandem with changes in Saudi Arabia, the bigger challenge Tehran faces is the power rise enjoyed by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition groups and personalities. The NCRI, with the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as its main member, is in every way an antithesis to the ruling clerics of Iran, and vies for the establishment of a secular and democratic state providing equal opportunities to all its citizens, regardless of faith, gender and ethnicity.

In the recent year, the NCRI and MEK have been enjoying increasing support inside Iran and abroad. In the run-up to May’s presidential elections, people across Iran posted pictures of NCRI president Maryam Rajavi in public places and called for the ruling regime’s overthrow . Iran’s rulers are attempting to stem the tide of support directed toward the NCRI and MEK by spreading false news and propaganda in Iran and western countries. An article recently published by Massoud Khodabandeh, a British-Iranian with reportedly known ties to the Islamic Republic, seeks to dissuade people outside Iran from supporting the MEK by portraying an image based on non-existent and insubstantial facts. According to a recent Washington Examiner piece, he “expresses the true nature of his ire in between the reiteration of debunked and unproven claims about MEK: In the past year, Sen. John McCain, a separate U.S. Senate delegation, and several other prominent U.S. politicians have met with MEK’s leadership in Tirana, Albania, where the group’s members relocated to from Iraq in 2016, and voiced their support for MEK’s goals to establish freedom and democracy in Iran.”

These efforts fall in line with the Iranian media’s concerted efforts to portray a demonic image of the group inside Iran by misrepresenting their history and blaming them for crimes committed by the political establishment itself.

The Iranian regime has sought in vain to eradicate the opposition through violence according to Amnesty International and human rights groups. Since 1981, the regime executed more than 100,000 MEK members and supporters, including the 1988 mass murder of 30,000 political prisoners. It has nonetheless been unsuccessful in uprooting them.

As the recent expansion of the MEK’s network of supporters and the changes overcoming the Middle East region hint, the violent ideology of Iran’s clerical establishment is fast approaching its ultimate demise. And no amount of propaganda and/or lies will be able to stop it.

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Harvard-educated, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a world-renowned business strategist and advisor, a leading Iranian-American political scientist, president of the International American Council on the Middle East, and best-selling author. He serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review.

Dr. Rafizadeh is frequently invited to brief governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as speak, as a featured speaker, at security, business, diplomatic, and social events. He has been recipient of several fellowships and scholarships including from Oxford University, Annenberg, University of California Santa Barbara, Fulbright program, to name a few.

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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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