Analysis with Political and Social Commentary

The Clergy Challenge

(M. Parvin, 12/11/07)

As long as the religious dictatorship ruling in Iran exists, it will be a challenge for the United States . The U.S. is concerned about the Islamic Regime’s atomic ambitions and is determined to stop it. This is a justified goal. Based on 28 years of human rights abuse and terrorist activities, the Islamic Regime in Iran (IRI) is a danger to Iranians and the entire civilized world even without access to an atomic bomb. Of course, the right of the Iranian people to atomic energy for peaceful purposes cannot be denied. But a regime that is despised by the majority of Iranians and is holding onto power by sheer force, has no right to deal with this vital issue. Fully aware of its widespread unpopularity, the IRI has ignored the challenges of oppositions for a referendum managed and monitored by the UN and the international human rights organizations.  

As justified as it is to stop the IRI’s atomic activities, it is dead wrong to assume that this goal may be achieved by either military intervention or negotiation guided by the carrot and stick policy. Ill-informed about the power structure in Iran and the role of Islamic revolutionary doctrine, as well as the hatred of the Iranian people for this system, the United States government is embarking on the following three paths to enforce the suspension of uranium by IRI:  

  1. Tough rhetorical stand that does not rule out military intervention.
  2. Back door and open diplomacy that promises the acceptance of the IRI by the world community in return for the suspension of uranium enrichment.
  3. Applying sanctions through Security Council resolutions and the U.S. Acts.  

The first two options are doomed to fail and will have disastrous consequences for the Iranians and eventually the entire world. The third option is in the right direction but lacks one major element: “the human rights of Iranians.”

The military intervention, no matter how limited and regardless of its targets, will be manipulated by the regime to further repress any opposition. In the event of a military strike by the U.S. or Israel , the IRI will consider itself the victim of aggression to attract the sympathy of the world community and obliterate the Iranian opposition harder than ever. By standing against U.S. aggression, they will become the champion of the people in the region, gaining the greater support of terrorist groups, and allowing the Islamic Regime to expand its hegemony in the region. Having become more isolated by attacking Iran , and losing the support that it needs to pursue an effective sanction, the United States will be forced to rely more on the second option that is accepting most of the IRI’s terms and conditions of the IRI to suspend its uranium enrichment process.  

In spite of all its rhetorical challenges to the West, the Islamic Regime knows well that it cannot survive and hold on to power without gaining legitimacy from Western states. By pursuing a secret nuclear program, it has placed itself in a position to bargain with the West. The IRI knows well that the U.S. wouldn’t relent on the idea of controlling and suspending its enrichment program but is insisting on it until it gets all the incentives that it wants in return. The Islamic Regime wants the U.S. to guarantee its security, which the U.S. has accepted. They have dropped the “regime change” slogan and presently seek the change of behavior that in turn is reduced to change of behavior with regards to enrichment policy only.  

However, the IRI wants this guarantee not just in words but in deeds. It has a list of the demands in return for suspension of its enrichment program that includes:  

1-     Membership in the World Trade Organization

2-     Removal of all restrictions for obtaining loans from the World Bank

3-     Release of all frozen assets

4-     Removal from the State Department terrorist list

5-     Complete ban on the activities of an exile opposition group, Mojahedin, and extradition of its leaders to Iran

 In return, the IRI will accept the suspension of its enrichment and at best will promise to adopt a non-interference policy in the Middle East and a milder approach to elimination of Israel from the face of the earth!  

Pursuing the first two options (military intervention and engagement) will create a win-win situation for the IRI. When the IRI suspends its uranium enrichment, whether by force and threat of military intervention or by incentives, it will be accepted by the Western states. Consequently, its reign of terror in Iran would continue. This will have disastrous consequences for the Iranian people and preserves a constant threat for the free world.  

The terrorist activities of the Islamic Regime cannot be stopped by making promises. It is written into the IRI’s constitution that fundamentalist Islamic ideology should conquer the world. The severity of this is apparently not understood by the West. The Islamic regime believes that there is a war between militant Islam and the rest of the world. This regime feeds its supporters by using this ideological animosity. By adopting this "god-given" mandate arbitrarily interpreted from the Koran the Islamic regime has become the biggest sponsor of terrorism.    

The United States cannot deal with the clergy challenge by either military intervention or appeasement. The best and only option to remove the threat of the Islamic Regime is to empower the Iranian people to bring about the real change in Iran . It is not enough to say that we share their dreams for a secular democracy. If the West and the U.S. want to empower the Iranian people in their fight for democracy, they should not accept and legitimize their abuser. This should be manifested in a smart sanction that would be enforced until the atomic activities of the IRI and human rights violations have completely stopped.  

There are many obstacles against this basic and humane demand. Iranians in general and Iranian expatriates in particular have a lot to do to remove these obstacles. One of the main obstacles are the lobby groups that work diligently to establish relations between the United States and the IRI regardless of rising human rights violations in Iran and the danger posed by IRI’s atomic ambitions.  

The extreme policies of either attacking Iran or making friendly relations with the Islamic Regime have been mainly adopted and dictated by the Islamic Regime and its Iranian lobby groups and individuals. The rhetorical stand of the U.S. has been masterfully portrayed by the regime’s supporters as the U.S. intention to resolve the conflict with IRI by force. By manipulating the current anti-war sentiment of the American public, they have promoted the other extreme: the policy that advocates friendly relations with a terrorist regime. The IRI and its lobby groups are well-aware of the possible effectiveness of sanctions, which explains the reason they are fighting to prevent it by branding it as military intervention.

The current sanctions imposed by the Security Council and the U.S. have targeted the IRI and its military and financial institutions with little effect on the Iranian people. What it lacks is the acknowledgement that the relaxation of these sanctions is not contingent upon observation of human rights. Contrary to what the IRI’s apologists claim, smart sanctions have always been considered a weapon of nonviolence and civil disobedience and have been advocated by human rights activists and international organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). In his testimony before the Senate Task Force on Economic Sanctions in 1998, Mr. Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of HRW, outlined the elements of smart sanctions and urged the U.S. to impose sanctions against Sudan and Burma [1]. Sudan is still on top of HRW’s agenda for sanction. The U.S. Act of Sanction against South Africa was a good example of smart sanction and the release of all political prisoners was on the top of the preconditions to relax the sanction [2]. Lobby groups with the help of ill-informed American groups and media have succeeded to falsify this issue and claim that smart sanction would mainly target Iranians. Iranians should organize, expose and discredit these lobby groups to remove the obstacles against imposing sanctions related to human rights in Iran .

In summary, the solution to clergy challenge is neither the military intervention against Iran nor dialog with the Islamic Regime. There is a third option that, if adopted, can bring about peace in Iran and security for the entire world. Third option would rely on the Iranian people and empower them with smart sanction to eliminate the danger of ruling clergy and establish a secular democracy.

Mohammad Parvin, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at the California State University , an Aerospace Specialist, and Founding Director of the Mission for Establishment of Human Rights in Iran (MEHR) -  


1.      The role of U.S. sanctions policies in promoting human rights. Excerpts from testimony of Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch before the Senate Task Force on Economic Sanctions, 8 September 1998.

2.      Sanctions Against South Africa (1986)

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