Ivan Sheehan

Policymakers concerned that U.S. officials have fallen victim to the illusion of reform and strengthened the hand of the ayatollahs through a naïve Faustian bargain can do what the regime’s propagandists fear most and increase their scrutiny of Iran’s domestic policies and, in particular, their treatment of the primary Iranian opposition – the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The NCRI is a coalition of democratic opposition groups, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), who have been instrumental in providing intelligence related to Iran’s nuclear activities. Their revelations are largely responsible for triggering the last round of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and building global momentum for sanctions.

But today some 3,000 Iranian dissidents with allegiance to the NCRI are under detention at a refugee camp near Baghdad ironically called Camp Liberty.

Iraqi security forces, acting as Tehran’s proxies, have been involved in systematic efforts to break the back of the regime’s most worrisome opposition.

A September 1 massacre resulted in 52 execution style murders and the taking of seven hostages, including six women. None have been returned nor have their whereabouts even been confirmed. Amnesty International reports that the individuals are being held hostage in Iraq and remain under threat of extradition to Iran.

The White House – despite congressional pressure – chose to ignore the matter during a recent visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though the aggression was a clear violation of the agreement signed by the Iraqi government and ratified by the U.S. and the United Nations on Aug. 17, 2012. That the dissidents had signed agreements providing for their protection under the 4th Geneva Convention also seemed not to matter.

Since the attack, hundreds of Iranian dissidents have been on hunger strike for more than three months in an effort to keep the world from forgetting their plight. Although this tactic is largely unfamiliar to Americans, Mandela, Gandhi and King used hunger strikes to great effect to build awareness of injustice and promote social change.

By honoring those in the Iranian resistance – whose principled opposition, peaceful protest, and commitment to democratic ideals stands in stark contrast to the regime’s autocratic rule – U.S. officials will position themselves on the right side of history.

Speaking from the White House briefing room shortly after Mandela’s passing, President Obama remembered his fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient as a “a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

Mandela’s principles – like those of the Iranian opposition – were forged in the crucible of injustice, exclusion, imprisonment, and exile. Like the Iranian opposition, he challenged the terror tag used to delegitimize his country’s quest for freedom. And like the Iranian opposition he rejected overtures that failed to address non-negotiable issues of injustice, asymmetry, and human rights.

U.S. policymakers can honor Mandela’s life by acknowledging that his disciples live on in the Iranian opposition.

Ivan Sheehan

Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Negotiation and Conflict Management and Global Affairs and Human Security in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.