By Donya Jam
As an Iranian-American, it is very natural that the U.S. policy on Iran matters to me. And as the child of Iranian Christians, the fate of Christians in Iran is of particular interest to me.
The existence of the Christian community in Iran dates back centuries and is a major part of the history of the country. For centuries, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians got along fine in Iran. We were all Iranians and our religion was not an issue at all.
After the ayatollahs took over in 1979 things changed for the worse. The religious persecutions began and restrictions became more and more institutionalized. Many Christians and Jews fled. But some stayed in their native country, where they are given token representation in parliament so the Iranian regime can maintain the illusion of legitimacy.
The situation of the Iranian Christian minority did not see any improvement subsequent to President Hassan Rouhani assuming office. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom confirmed this when its 2015 annual report noted that an increased number of religious minorities have been jailed under Rouhani; the very man that the Obama administration depicted as a “moderate.”
The Obama administration did all it could to sell the nuclear deal as a victory, at best it has deferred the ultimate questions about how to deal with the regime in Iran, and at worst it has emboldened their belligerence in the region. A successful policy vis-a-vis the regime in Tehran has seemingly eluded Republicans and Democrats for the last 16 years.
In all fairness, it is time to try something new, for our own sake and for the sake of Iranians.
While we face the threat of terrorism at home and the increase of sectarian conflicts abroad, there are no easy solutions to these problems.
A common denominator underlying the rise of ISIS, and the spread of instability and fundamentalism is none other than the regime in Tehran. No one can deny this. Yet at every turn in the past eight years we were told that the only solution is one which engages the mullahs and strengthens their grip on power. The time for such thinking is at an end.
The regime has been reluctant to make good on promises of change, and thus far has continued its brutal repression of dissidents while maintaining an aggressive policy in the region. The question of how to guarantee a long term shift in the behavior of the Iranian regime remains unanswered. The only long term policy that can guarantee a fundamental change of behavior in Iran and that sets an example for hope and change abroad is one which recognizes the legitimate rights of the Iranian people to bring about democratic change and topple the theocratic fascist state in Iran.
It is time that the United States firmly aligned itself with the forces in Iran and in the Middle East which embrace democratic change, freedom and liberty, and secular governance. The Iranian people and their organized resistance should be our primary negotiating partners and allies, not the ruling mullahs.
The principal opposition to the Iranian theocracy, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is one such organization. The MEK has long served as an example of an organization whose principal aim has been to combat Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism that emanates from it. Khomeinists engaged in widespread repression of the MEK, and the West remained silent as they executed tens of thousands of MEK activists.
Today the MEK is the most integral part of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition organizations that support a secular future for Iran. One which guarantees freedom of speech, the rights of ethnic and as well as religious minorities, and calls for strict equality between men and women. In fact the NCRI is led by a woman, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, whose leadership and platform stands as the direct antithesis of Islamic fundamentalism.
Mrs. Rajavi advocates for a new future for Iran. This includes a ten point plan for a democratic secular republic free of nuclear weapons, capital punishment, and tolerant to all religions, ethnicities and ideas. This plan would not only end the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, but would usher in a new era of cooperation and stability between the United States and Iran, as well as the entire region. It would address instability from Syria to Yemen and all throughout the region.
The new administration has a historical opportunity for a historical change in one of the hotspots in the world. The new approach is both moral and politically savvy.
Ms. Donya Jam is an Iranian-American Christian and human rights activist. She is a senior studying political science at Shenandoah University in greater Washington, D.C. area.
Originally published in The Hill