Via Hossein Derakhshan, an upcoming rally in New York calling for the release of imprisoned Iranian-American reform advocates and activists Haleh Esfandiari, Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima and Ali Shakeri will feature a speech by controversial Iraqi exile Zainab Al-Suwaij. Al-Suwaij is the founder and Executive Director of the American Islamic Congress, which is co-sponsoring the event along with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Hossein provides some background on Al-Suwaij (who campaigned for and supported the US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime in 2003), and this 2006 post by Lenin goes into further detail on the AIC. In short, she, along with her colleagues, are the usual Neocon suspects (in ‘moderate’ Muslim drag).
Or, as Lenin puts it:
“Essentially it’s a coalition of the pitifully purblind with the obviously charlatan, one that provides an alibi for US aggression under the rubric of an American-as-apple-pie campaign for individual liberties. At best saps, at worst ruthless apologists for imperialism: you’d really have to be retaining water in the head to take these people seriously when they talk about freedom for Iran or anyone else.”
Like Hossein, I too am curious why traditionally non-partisan groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would align with such a suspect outfit. But it’s quite clear to me why the AIC would want to establish a visible working relationship with AI and HRW. As Hossein and Lenin point out, some see the AIC as being joined at the hip to the imperialists in Washington. By joining with organizations like AI and HRW that did not back the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the AIC can refresh its tarnished pro regime change image (via AI/HRW’s unspoken endorsement). This will allow the AIC to participate as an ‘honest broker’ in the ongoing dialogue on Iran, mitigating the stigma of its dubious history with regards to the war in Iraq.
As such, AI and HRW should pay heed to the company with which they keep. Bringing groups like the AIC on board only promises to overshadow and unnecessarily politicize important events like this rally. The imprisoned pro-reformers need a focused, independent campaign to direct attention to their plight if they are to be released by the Iranian government. The AIC and its ilk are almost certain to selfishly misappropriate these and other human rights violations on the part of Iran, furthering the pro-regime change line. It will also, thanks to its ideological connection to the hawks and Neocons in the Bush admin, continue to give the impression that Western NGOs have a compromised relationship with the US government, providing (admittedly dubious) justification for more crackdowns on freedom by an Iranian government fearful of a US-backed ‘velvet revolution’.
Whether the participation of the AIC in this event signifies a general ratcheting up of anti-Iran rhetoric on the part of the pro-regime change faction in the US (including the Vice-President’s office) remains to be seen, although expect to see a lot more of this sort of context-free hyperventilation from the US right blogosphere in the coming weeks. If Iran continues to be singled out for egregious human rights violations–and for its alleged role in the ongoing Iraq insurgency–don’t be surprised if, come September, a new imperial product is officially launched (so to speak).
Update: related – Brad Plumer has more on how the US government’s hapless attempt at supporting democratic reform in Iran has backfired.