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Supporting the Democratic Opposition in Iran Is Essential | Commentary

In Paris recently, the comfort of everyday routine was shattered as terrorists slaughtered 12 innocent French people under the banner of Islamic extremism. Armed only with pens, pencils and ideas, the victims were considered combatants whose criminal actions merited a death sentence. This attack on Charlie Hebdo wasn’t just an attack on cartoonists and the police, it was an assault on democratic values, freedom and human decency.

This isn’t the first time the wrath of Islamic extremism has been felt: the 9/11 attacks, the 2004 Madrid train bombing and the 2005 London train bombing are just a few examples. The attack in Paris won’t be the last. In our response to these attacks, we must always differentiate between Muslims in general and radical Islam.

After all, Muslims such as Ahmed Merabet died trying to protect France from those who killed in the name of his religion. Honoring Merabet’s life and the lives of all victims of these deadly attacks means bringing to justice those responsible — radical Islamists. This doesn’t just mean jailing attackers, it means confronting the ideology at its source.

Islamic fundamentalism around the globe in the ’70s was nothing compared to today. It was an ideology in existence, but one lacking global reach and support. Not only were liquids allowed on planes, you could bring them up to the gate yourself without going through security — an unimaginable scenario nowadays. This all changed in 1979 when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini hijacked peoples’ revolution for freedom and came to power in Iran. Islamic fundamentalism got a major sponsor and source of inspiration and it has been growing ever since.

The ayatollah threw decency and international norms aside, sponsoring an embassy takeover and holding hostages, combating free speech via fatwas against people such as Salman Rushdie and espousing an Islamic State concept pre-dating the terror group ISIS or ISIL. The Iranian regime’s globalized struggle against non-believers and Western freedoms by way of terror and suicide attacks has been and continues to be the root of international Islamic terror.

Islamic fundamentalists’ beliefs are based on the destruction of our values and their replacement with the most extreme forms of Sharia law. An effective strategy against extremists must include supporting their alternatives.

In the case of the Iranian regime, a well-established opposition that shares our values already exists. Members of this group, The Mujahedin-e Khalq, are Muslims who advocate tolerance, freedom of expression and separation of religion and state. Moreover, the organization has never wavered in its commitment to the principles of democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law. Despite tens of thousands of their members being killed by the regime, they have not renounced their beliefs. As part of a democratic coalition led by Maryam Rajavi, they offer a cultural challenge to the fundamentalists.

Rajavi is a Muslim woman leading the resistance for freedom and democracy in Iran against the fundaments regime ruling the country. The mere fact that a charismatic woman can hold the highest position of leadership based on her merits is a testament to the values of this movement and a serious challenge to fundamentalists’ misogynist world view. Rajavi has outlined a 10-point plan for the democratic future of Iran. She and others who are courageously standing up to Islamic fundamentalism must be taken seriously.

It is high time for a comprehensive policy of dealing with this global challenge. In this regard, it is time to look to Iran’s democratic opposition.

Patrick J. Kennedy is the founder of the Kennedy Forum and is a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island.

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