This February marks the anniversary of a momentous event in the modern history of democracy and extremism. Protests swept the country and the Shah who lived in tremendous excess and enforced a repressive, unpopular agenda by way of secret police, torture and executions was overthrown.
The 1979 revolution was certainly a time of hope and the Iranian people were grateful for it, defying curfews and taking to the streets, chanting slogans against the Shah’s dictatorship. But these chants turned into chants against the West, against secularism and against anyone who opposed the equally radical and oppressive agenda of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
By usurping the leadership of a genuine revolution seeking freedom, the Ayatollah planted the seeds of Islamic extremism and the foundations of global terror. The Iranian regime has long been a major supporter of terrorism, from the bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Lebanon in 1983, to the Jewish Community Center bombing in Buenos Aires in 1993, to its campaign of terror through its Shiite proxies in Iran since 2003, and to its support for the Assad regime and beyond. But today, the regime’s support of the Assad regime is at unprecedented levels, it has stepped up sponsorship of Shiite militias and deployed troops in Iraq and backs the Houthi militia, which just took over the government in Yemen.
As with most actions and especially with violent actions, a reaction can be expected. Iranian meddling in Iraq and Syria has given rise to the emergence of ISIS. And in Yemen, the regime’s destabilization has provided a fertile breeding ground for the growth of the same Al-Qaeda affiliate linked to the recent attacks in Paris. Two lessons can be drawn from the Iranian revolution.
The first is that the opinions of the Iranian people are important, something which the West has ignored thereby enabling a brutal despot. The opportunity to again empower the Iranian people presented itself following the 2009 election sham. But the West chose not to act, emboldening the radical rulers. As Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, has said time and again, “insisting on a tolerant and democratic Islam” is the only path to permanent change. Rajavi has called for a secular, democratic, non-nuclear republic in Iran.
In the meantime, the West faces an Iran that is increasingly desperate with the price of oil plummeting and the sanctions biting. The recent escalation in Iranian sponsorship of terrorism abroad is a survival tactic to maintain power. Supreme National Security Council Secretary, IRGC Admiral Ali Shamkhani admitted as much at a recent funeral of a top ranking Iranian general, who was killed in Samarra, Iraq.
Given the regime’s intentions and its dire economic situation, instead of offering concessions to the mullahs, it is time to stand with those who are striving for change in Iran. If history is a judge, the mullahs of Iran only understand the language of firmness.
Whether Sunni or Shiite, ISIS or Al-Qaeda, in Iraq or Syria, the extremists have similar goals and they help one another grow. But the epicenter of terror is in Tehran, as Tehran’s role in the sustaining and spreading Islamic extremism is similar to the role Moscow played to spread communism during the Cold War. In a recent speech, Rajavi underscored the importance of confronting the regime in Tehran, noting, “Without uprooting the Iranian regime and its militias from Iraq, even if the war against ISIS were to weaken the group in Iraq, it cannot stop its influence from spreading.”
Arizona senior senator and Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain was spot on in saying that the Iranian regime is presently, “either dominant or extremely influential in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.”
And he was not alone. Addressing a bi-partisan conference, “Countering Islamic fundamentalism, nuclear-armed Iran,” in Phoenix on February 13th, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich underlined the need for a firm stance against Tehran as the epicenter of Islamic fundamentalism. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton, Congressman Paul Gosar, State Senator Adam Driggs, Representatives David Livingston and Rick Gray, as well as GOP chairman Robert Graham underscored that it was imperative to support the secular Iranian Resistance as a counter-balance to Islamic fundamentalism.
To enhance the global security, now is the time to step up the pressure on the Iranian regime and empower the voices of moderation in the region and bolster the forces of democracy. Arizona is ready for that.
-Abby Ameri is executive director of the Iranian-American Community of Arizona, a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIACUS.org)