The Iranian protests and American Islamism: A Muslim reformer weighs in
I interviewed Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser in January 2017, July 2017, September 2018, and May 2019 on a range of topics including Islamism and what he believes is its antidote, the Muslim Reform Movement. This is a follow-up interview.
Jasser is president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement (MRM), and author of “A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith.” He is a practicing Muslim.
He is also an active physician and former U.S. Navy officer whose parents fled Syria in the 1960s, and host of the Blaze Radio Podcast “Reform This!” and founder of TakeBackIslam.com. Jasser and I discussed the developments in Iran and Iranian links to American Islamism.
Postal: Was the US right to assassinate General Qasem Soleimani?
Jasser: This was not an assassination, but a targeted killing of the leader of the world’s most dangerous terror network. The killing of Soleimani was at least as justified as the targeted killings of terrorists Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. Soleimani had been responsible for over 600 dead American soldiers, and countless other attacks on U.S. citizens. Soleimani’s terrorism was more significant than others, as he was able to freely use Iran’s treasury, intelligence, and the military network of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah.
Soleimani’s IRGC had been officially designated a Foreign Terror Organization (FTO) in 2019 by the U.S. government. With that designation, the United States did not need an authorization of Congress to kill him. The IRGC is a major instigator of the ongoing massacres in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It aided Bashar Assad in killing over 600,000 Syrians and displacing over 10 million Syrians. Killing Soleimani deters Iran from projecting its power and terrorism abroad.
Postal: Recent reports show thousands of protesters in Tehran calling on Ayatollah Khamenei to resign. Former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi stated that the world is now seeing “the beginning of the end” of the Islamist regime in Iran. But he called the regime a “sinking Titanic” back in 2009. Why should the U.S. view the current protests in Iran as anything more than the failed protests in the late 1990s and 2009 in Iran?
Jasser: The recent protests are very different than anything before. First, as the post 2011 revolutions in the Middle East have shown, regimes ultimately cannot contain social media and its viral movements once they get to a critical mass. The Iranian regime is very scared of these trends, and in fear has shut down the internet for an extended period of time. Most importantly, this revolution is far more than simply against the government in Tehran. It has encompassed many major cities, including the academic centers of Islamist theocratic control like Qom. The demonstrators have protested increased fuel prices, Iran’s funding of genocide in Syria and Yemen, theocracy, and oppression. The protesters have also supported economic, justice, and feminist reforms.
Postal: News reports highlight instances of civil disobedience in Iran, with people openly protesting the regime, student protests, women refusing to wear headscarves, a taekwondo champion defecting in protest, and people refusing to walk on American and Israeli flags. How should the U.S. interpret and respond to these developments?
Jasser: The sheer diversity of the various groups rising up in civil disobedience against the regime is breathtaking. Frequent and open public displays of affection for America and Israel reveal deep and broad-based dissatisfaction with the theocrats. For a long time, the silent majority of Iranians have ignored and dismissed the demonization of America and Israel pushed upon them by state media and their rent-a-mobs. Now, the protesters are telling their oppressors that they love and emulate the West. When you have women in burqas on state media telling their people “if you do not enjoy the rule of Islam in society then you should collect your belongings and leave,” there is no better sign that the regime is on headed towards collapse. It could take months or years, but collapse is the trajectory. And global isolation and sanctions augment the will of the people.
Postal: Several members of Congress have called on the Trump Administration to investigate the National American Iranian Council (NAIC) for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Among other things, the complaint condemns “NAIC's relationship with the Iranian regime and its role amplifying regime propaganda.” Additionally, M. Hanif Jazayeri, news editor at Free Iran, alleges that a legislative assistant to Barbara Lee is NAIC’s “mole” in Congress, and that Ilhan Omar’s senior legislative assistant, one of Rashida Tlaib’s staffers, and a member of the Democratic National Committee have NAIC connections. What are your thoughts on these developments? What is the connection between the Iranian regime and the Islamist movement in the U.S.?
Jasser: I have said for a long time that Islamist organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) frequently take the side of foreign Islamist regimes over our own government. Now with Iran in the spotlight, folks are finally paying closer attention to NAIC. NAIC’s protégés, like CAIR’s protégés, graduate into pro-Islamist information operatives for congressional offices. As PJ Media reported, yes, NAIC protégés now include Mahya Sorour in Omar’s office and Samira Damavandi in Lee’s office.
NAIC’s talking points frequently mirror the position of the Iranian mullocracy, be it their positions on the nuclear deal to the recent protests. NAIC has fought consistently against sanctions on the regime, and has never confronted the anti-American, anti-Semitic ideology of the Khomeinists. NAIC’s positions have always been on the wrong side of history, morality and humanity. In fact, when NAIC tried to intimidate its Iranian-American critics through lawfare in 2008, the court ultimately dismissed the case in 2012 and repudiated the tactics of NAIC and its President, Trita Parsi. Parsi has now re-located to the Quincy Institute, whose staff has been accused with multiple instances of anti-Semitism.
I can tell you as a Syrian-American, Syrian-Americans for decades have seen a similar network of Syrian government sympathizers shape pro-Assad positions through its foreign agents, useful idiots, and propagandists inside the United States. Prior to the Syrian revolution, it was conventional wisdom among Syrian-American expatriates that somewhere around one in ten Syrians in America provided information to the Syrian government on the activities of Syrian-American families. After the revolution began in 2011, some of that network became stronger and more entrenched. However, most of the network has since fallen apart and the United States was able to convict Mohamad Soueid of Leesburg, Virginia and others. Similar networks existed during Saddam’s Iraq, and a similar network exists for the current Iranian regime.
It is long overdue for us to investigate the tentacles of foreign Islamist regimes and movements in our government. The Islamist influence from many regimes of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation dwarfs any domestic intelligence threat we experienced during the Cold War.
Postal: Recent reports discuss that Iran has sleeper cells of terrorists in the United States as well as Central and South America. How should the U.S. respond to this reality? Should the U.S. fear reprisal attacks on its soil?
Jasser: The threat from Hezbollah has always been significant in the U.S. The only thing that has prevented Hezbollah attacks similar to what Sunni jihadists have done in 9-11, Fort Hood and San Bernardino has been the presence of sanctions against their benefactor, Iran. We should continue these sanctions, and continue to apply the rule of law against those that seek to harm us.
We won a major victory recently when the United States convicted Ali Khourani for 40 years for being “recruited, trained and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism around New York City.” An operative for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad, he was nabbed “[a]fter spending years conducting surveillance on the City’s critical infrastructure, federal buildings, international airports, and even daycare centers.” Politico also reported on Hezbollah’s major cocaine funneling operation in the U.S. that also included Central and South America, Africa and Europe. Their impressive investigation revealed how the Obama administration ditched over a decade of heroic agency work dubbed Project Cassandra exposing Hezbollah’s cocaine operation in the United States — as collateral damage of the nuclear deal. These Hezbollah drug runners are likely just the tip of the iceberg of Hezbollah operations in this hemisphere. The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Nicholas Rasmussen, believes that “Hezbollah is determined to give itself a potential homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook.”
Postal: The Muslim Reform Movement (MRM), which you co-founded, just celebrated its fourth anniversary last December. Do you see any possibility of the MRM arising in Iran?
Jasser: Our dream is for the MRM to gain traction in countries where people truly understand the threat of Islamist theocracy. One such country is Iran. There are currently thousands of courageous dissident leaders in Iran promoting many ideas central to the MRM. Their messages on social media sound like ours, and vice versa. But other Muslims in Iran that would be sympathetic to the MRM are trying to stay alive because their leaders are torturing, murdering, or disappearing those that openly express those ideals. As Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad said, “we are not fighting for a piece of cloth, we are fighting for our lives.” She also asserts that the legacy media is lying to Americans about the revolution now in Iran. “Don’t fall for Iranian regime propaganda,” she exclaimed on Fox News and in the Washington Post. I don’t understand how our “liberal” media, presumably champions of feminism, gay rights and free speech, marginalize the activists who share those values and the values of our MRM here in the U.S.
Postal: In our first interview, we discussed how Saudi Arabia In the last 30 years has spent more than an estimated $100 billion to fund the spread of Wahhabism worldwide (in contrast to the $7 billion the USSR spent spreading communism from 1921 through 1991). Does Iran have similar global ambitions for its own Islamism? What, if anything, should the U.S. do to counter this?
Jasser: There can be little doubt as to what the regime’s goals are. Through their words, ideologies, crimes against humanity, and their domestic, regional and global spread of terror, Iran’s regime is in no way content with only domestic oppression. They see themselves ushering in the 12th Imam and with him the End of Times. Their government, military, and economic is geared towards proselytizing an anti-freedom and anti-American mission. While Shia and Sunni Islamists may differ on many things, their raison d’etre is the same: establishing Islamic states across the world that would unite into a Caliphate to which the whole world will submit.
The only thing preventing Iran from building a similar global network as Saudi Arabia has been the vast resources the West has expended on effective sanctions and unraveling Iran’s global networks of terror, ideology, and drugs. In contrast, the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal, removal of sanctions and economic normalization for Boeing and others only served to enable the global spread of Iran’s Islamism and war machine. You can see Iran’s hateful propaganda they are spreading globally on PressTV or Hezbollah’s AlManar TV. To counter this, we need continue “maximum pressure” against Iran’s regime and also proactively engage in an information war against the theocrats and their Islamism. We need to support reform-minded Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and Lebanese.
Your reference back to Saudi Arabia is timely. As Iran’s clerics try to prevent a growing revolution, Saudi Arabia recently announced that they would stop funding mosques beyond its borders. This is surrender, coming from the Wahhabis who believe in a mandate of global da’wa (proselytization) and offense. But perhaps even more importantly, this surrender presents an opening for ideological antagonists: Muslims who oppose the idea of any Islamic sharia state and promote liberty and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps changes like this will give the West momentum to support allies of liberty — Muslims who support freedom and the defeat of the theocrats — like our Muslim Reform Movement and its Declaration.
Steve Postal has been previously published in The Federalist, American Thinker, The Washington Post, The Times of Israel, and The Christian Post.