In 2007, the turmoil in Pakistan culminated in the gruesome assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27. Although the epicenter of this political tremor shook Pakistan, its ripple effect was quickly felt throughout the world.
The incident was especially worrying because it demonstrated that, as the second most populous Muslim nation, Pakistan is seeing a sharp rise in Islamic fundamentalism. This trend has marred the country’s political process in recent months with more bloodshed as a consequence. Aside from mounting concerns over the safety of Islamabad’s nuclear stockpiles, the resulting violence has also tended to spill over into neighboring countries like Afghanistan.
These worries, along with Pakistan’s strategic significance, have led to questions about who benefited most from Bhutto’s assassination and what can be done to prevent the further rise of Islamic fundamentalism in that region?
Pakistan’s western neighbor, Iran, is perhaps the only major country in the world where Islamic fundamentalists are at the helm of political power. Access to multi-billion dollar oil revenues coupled with Iran’s unique geographical location have endowed the ruling theocracy with opportunities other fundamentalists could only dream of. The regime has both the formal intent as well as the practical tools for exporting its extremist ideology to neighboring countries.
Bhutto’s rise in Pakistan had the potential of obstructing the mullahs’ attempts to darken the political horizon of that region, and especially Afghanistan. This explains why Tehran stood to benefit the most from her assassination.
Preventing the rise of fundamentalism, then, starts with an understanding of the essence and influence of the Iranian regime in this regard. More notably, unable to conform to the economic and political imperatives of the 21st century, the regime’s senior leaders have for years emphasized the need to utilize unconventional tools in order to maintain a balance of power with other states, including the use of terrorism, which they described as "a new leverage of power." The theory was put into practice, for example, with the creation of the extraterritorial Qods (Jerusalem) Force, recently designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
Not surprisingly, today every major hot-spots in the Middle East bear the vile stench of the Iranian regime. Iraq was a major target even before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Despite recent tactical setbacks, the mullahs have not abandoned their strategic plan to create a sister Islamic republic there.
Indeed, there are now additional reasons for the mullahs to foment violence in Iraq. In May 2006, a deputy at the foreign affairs commission of the regime’s majlis (parliament) told the official news agency, ISNA, "A single car exploding in Iraq would equal a month-long setback for America’s plots [against the Iranian regime]."
But, Iraq is only a stepping stone. Implying the importance of obtaining regional hegemony (or an "Islamic empire"), the daily Kayhan, the mouthpiece of the mullahs’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wrote in August, "The fate of Iran’s nuclear dossier will be determined not at the negotiating table, but in the streets of Baghdad and Beirut." Undoubtedly, the streets of Islamabad have rapidly moved up on the list.
Therefore, as long as a lively heart beats in Tehran, attempts to rid the Middle East from Islamic fundamentalism will go in vain. To stop the poison from spreading throughout the region we need an antidote.
There is currently widespread opposition to the mullahs inside Iran. As the largest and most organized opposition, the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is the tip of that spear. The PMOI espouses a tolerant and democratic interpretation of Islam, which has placed it in the unique position of being the most effective antithesis to the mullahs’ medieval ideology.
Regrettably, however, keen to appease Tehran, Western countries have shackled the PMOI by labeling it as a "terrorist" group. In a landmark ruling in November 2007, a specialist court in Britain, the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission, having examined in detail all open and classified material before it, ruled that the British Home Secretary’s decision to refuse to de-proscribe the PMOI was "perverse" and "must be set aside." Earlier, in December 2006, the European Court of Justice had determined that the EU was wrong to place a "terrorist" label on the PMOI.
Despite these definitive verdicts, both the EU and the British government have refused to implement the judgments, effectively making a mockery of the rule of law in Europe. Obviously, such blatant defiance is meant to mollify the turbaned terrorists in Tehran with the ultimate expectation that it would compel them to modify their behavior at home and abroad and also avert another military confrontation in the turbulent Middle East region.
Ironically, this misguided approach, which is reminiscent of the disastrous policy toward Nazi Germany in the 1930s, has only resulted in blocking the path to democratic change in Iran and emboldening the mullahs to dramatically step up domestic repression. Needless to say, Tehran’s training of terrorists and the dispatch of lethal weapons and munitions to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its pursuit of nuclear weapons have also continued unabatedly.
For their part, the Iranian people and their organized resistance movement have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. Despite the regime’s attempts to spawn unprecedented terror among the population by hanging at least 297 people in 2007, including dozens of minors, Iranian cities were rocked with some 4,500 anti-government demonstrations and protests, in which the enraged citizenry were chanting, among other things, "death to the dictator."
Today, the specter of fundamentalist ghoul spans from the Horn of Africa to South Asia. Tomorrow, it will cover the Western hemisphere. So, it is certainly naive to feed it through appeasement now and hope that it would eat us last. The real solution is to target Islamic fundamentalism’s heart in Tehran by standing with the Iranian people and their resistance movement. The first and most effective step in this endeavor would be to de-list the mullahs’ greatest nemesis, the PMOI.