An Iranian Voice Republicans and Democrats Should Heed
Okay, Let’s face it -- the two presidential nominees have effectively been chosen. The Democratic and Republican National Conventions are ahead of us, and the U.S. is on the precipice of a highly contentious several months of campaigning.
Discord between the two major parties is always evident in American politics, but almost never more so than in the runup to national elections. It would not be surprising if Washington lawmakers and the vast majority of their constituents all found it very difficult to identify common ground on anything in this political climate.
But there are some things that almost all Americans can agree on. There are more situations than you might realize in which Democrats and Republicans want to achieve the same goals, although we struggle to find a shared perspective on working toward them.
There is perhaps no better example than the universal imperative to confront the threat of Islamic extremism. There has been well-publicized discord over issues like the growth of the Islamic State, the response to home-grown terrorism, and attempts to stabilize the Middle East. But this only goes to show that both parties are preoccupied with pinning down a solution.
It may not seem so, but Republicans and Democrats absolutely can find common ground on this area of policy. In a very meaningful sense, some already have. If you look to Paris just about a week prior to the Cleveland RNC, you will see Republican and Democratic policymakers, including officials from several presidential administrations, standing side-by-side to show common cause in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
On July 9 they will take part in the convention (ironically bigger in size than either the RNC or DNC) organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the democratic Iranian opposition. The “Free Iran” gathering in Paris will host a bipartisan American delegation, along with delegations from the EU and various nations of the world.
The consistently broad appeal of the NCRI goes a long way toward demonstrating that the fight against Islamic terrorism and extremism -- and the effort to enlist allies in that fight -- is in no way a partisan issue. Success will depend strongly upon the principle of coalition building. No one president, no one political party – not even one nation – can take on a global phenomenon like Islamic terrorism on its own.
Whoever occupies the White House next year will need help from both inside and outside his or her own administration to do all that will be necessary to undermine fundamentalism – like standing up to the egregious conduct of the Iranian regime, fighting the Islamic State, facilitating the removal of embattled regional dictators like Bashar al-Assad, and making sure that the peoples of that region have strong, recognizable alternatives to the extremist groups currently vying for dominance.
As the Republican and Democratic Parties prepare speeches on global affairs and foreign policy ahead of their conventions, they could learn a thing or two from the NCRI’s rally, in particular from NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, a devout and profoundly anti-fundamentalist Muslim woman leader. With a clear understanding of Islamic extremism, she has maintained that moderate democratic Islam is the antidote to the violent conduct of extremists under the cloak of Islam.
And her movement has paid a heavy price for it. Some 120,000 of the activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), the main constituent of the NCRI, have been executed in Iran in the past three decades for standing up to Islamic extremists ruling in Iran.
The Democratic and Republican presence at that rally means that there will be people from each party who are prepared to convey her perspective to their colleagues regarding the prospects for moderate Muslims in the Middle East; the destructive role of Iran, Assad and Iraqi Shiite militias in the spread of extremism throughout the region; and the means by which that spread can be halted.
Clearly, the NCRI knows a thing or two about bringing people together in common cause. Last year’s rally drew 100,000 people from across the world. Now, as then, the rally will include not just Iranians but also representatives of the moderate Syrian opposition and other anti-Islamist movements.
The ten-point plan of the NCRI includes the establishment of truly democratic governance in the Middle East, the separation of religion and state, an end to institutional misogyny, and the promotion of other principles that hold equally obvious appeal for all Americans, and indeed for all civilized peoples of the world.
Here’s hoping that coming so close on the heels of the NCRI rally, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions will put more focus on these principles that can bring us together in such an important common cause. The message from Paris is one that both conventions would be wise to heed.
Ken Blackwell is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.