04 October 2012

The enemy of my enemy is not a terrorist

It's a truism: The other guy's terrorist is my freedom fighter. A recent example of this arbitrary logic in action is the removal of the militant Iranian group the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq or MEK from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

The MEK was originally involved in the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah but then parted company with the government of Ayatollah Khomeini. It has cut a long and bloody swath of bombings and assassinations that have killed thousands of civilians, Iranian politicians and at least half a dozen Americans. It was befriended by Saddam Hussein who allowed it to set up armed camps in Iraq and who used its fighters against the Kurds and the group's fellow Iranians in the Iran/Iraq war.

It now claims to have abandoned violence, but this may be a bit disingenuous. The MEK was on the U.S. terrorist list so when the Americans invaded Iraq, they disarmed its camps. This has not however dissuaded them from terrorism. They are, for example, suspected of collaborating with the Israelis in the murder of Iranian scientists.

And then there's the terrorism of their own members. The organization is run by the husband and wife team of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi (although Massoud has not been seen for years and although Maryam insists he's alive won't say where he is). The couple has been accused by Human Rights Watch of brutal treatment of dissenters and MEK is frequently described as a cult.

Nonetheless, after lavishing largesse on American politicians, holding rallies that featured prominent U.S. politicians and officials (often well reimbursed) and extensive lobbying, the group has been removed from the U.S. terror list by the State Department. Ted Poe, a member of Congress who has received political donations from wealthy MEK supporters, has dutifully described the group as "freedom fighters."

Some members of Congress have gone so far as to agree with the MEK that it should be considered the official opposition to the Iranian government—a ludicrous idea considering its support for Saddam Hussein and its own autocratic nature. John Limbert, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran, is more realistic, calling the delisting a "strange and disappointing decision," adding the group has "a very dubious history and a similarly dubious present."

Nonetheless, the MEK will no doubt prove useful to the U.S. (and Israel) in its quarrel with Iran, so it is, almost by definition, no longer a terrorist organization. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt said about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza that "he may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." Apparently not much has changed except the sons of bitches.

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