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Iran: Balancing Lopsided Freedom

By Hossein Abedini

The terror attacks in Paris sparked a wave of popular manifestations around the world in defence of freedom of speech and free press that was targeted by religious fundamentalism.. However, amid this strong grass roots mobilisation rebuking religious fundamentalism, there is an inherent risk of victimising Muslims as whole labelling the entire Muslim population or communities as being violent radicals.

It is thus of paramount importance that one looks into the core problem surrounding this cowardly attack on freedom of speech. It would be a mistake to reduce the problem to a simple ongoing struggle between the West and the Muslims as the extremists fiercely advocate or as some in the West depict. Equally, it would be a blunder to simply characterise it as a fight between Sunnis and Shiites, or even a struggle between believers or non-believers. The core problem is actually a clash of ideologies, between those who want popular rule, pluralism and tolerance, against those who seek decline, bigotry and suppression. Hence the ultimate goal here is progress towards freedom of speech and democracy, one that has become tainted by these binaries that have been created between the Muslim world and the West.

Hence,in the search for a solution, it will be a cardinal error to seek the support of one group of extremists like the ones ruling Iran, to neutralise the threat of another. Notwithstanding, there would be dangerous consequence if one were to confine the conflict to military or policing solutions. To remove fundamentalism or religious radicalism from the global society, a reform of ideologies is needed, one that can only be served by a political and cultural strategy. In this battle moderate Muslims with a clear anti-fundamentalist, tolerant agenda and appeal are inevitable part of any solution, consequently an inseparable allies of the West. With their active and prominent participation, the battle against Islamic fundamentalists and the emerging extremism will turn it into an inevitable freedom trail. For this reason, democratic Muslims in European countries and in particular in the Middle East should be embraced and welcomed, rather than being bundled up with the extremists and marginalised into suspected terrorists.

The principal opposition to the current Iranian regime, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCIR), holds firm views against the religious autocracy Khomeini created in Iran and rejects the medieval ideologies it promotes as being totally anti-Islamic. As a consequence, over 100.000 of NCRI members and supporters were slaughtered by the Ayatollahs, for the preservation of their distorted image of Islam. The mere fact that the Iranian opposition is led by a Muslim woman, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi speaks volume and targets the misogamy of the fundamentalists at its core. She advocates a moderate, tolerant Islam, and pursues the separation of Church and State for the future Iran, ideas that are the anti-thesis to the religious fundamentalism the Ayatollahs promote. She advocates peaceful coexistence and a pluralistic governance one that calls the Ayatollahs the worst enemies of all religions, especially Islam.

Mrs. Rajavi explicitly and strongly condemned the ruthless attack on the office of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) in Paris as an act of terrorism, one that denied them the right of freedom of speech. She emphasised that “attacks on innocent civilians, especially journalists, under whatever pretext or excuse, are terrorist crimes and blatantly contradict the teachings of Islam, which in no way condone such atrocities”. For more than two decades, NCIR have been warning the West of this threat of Islamic fundamentalism, however they have only been met with a cold shoulder, all for short term political convenience. As a result, extremists and fundamentalists, whether the ones ruling in Iran in the form of a state or the ones acting as a group, have been successful in seeping into other Islamic countries, and ultimately towards the Western world.

As the leaders and people of the free world come together in search of means to defeat and degrade religious fundamentalism, any sustainable solution must combine a total diplomatic and political isolation of the Iranian regime on the international scene with vocal global support for its anti-thesis, the NCRI led by Mrs Maryam Rajavi. Continuing marginalisation and deliberate ignoring of the legitimate Iranian opposition to the rule of clergy in Iran, will only embolden the godfather of religious fundamentalism in Tehran and by extension every other extremist group in the region and the world that nurture from anti-west rhetoric.

Hossein Abedini is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. He was seriously injured during an assassination attempt on March 14, 1990 in Istanbul, Turkey by agents sent by Tehran.