Support moderate Muslims against fundamentalism

Support moderate Muslims against fundamentalism
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I recently had the good fortune to speak at an international gathering in Berlin on Islamic fundamentalism, attended by 20,000 people, mostly Iranian expats and supporters of the resistance movement there.

The massive assembly held on the eve of International Women’s Day under the heading “For Tolerance and Equality against Fundamentalism and Misogyny” saw speeches by many international figures, right to left, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former German Parliament Speaker Rita Süssmuth and former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.


The keynote speaker was Maryam Rajavi, the president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, whose message was very clear: “Women’s power is the greatest challenger to Islamic fundamentalism.”

The world’s attention is very much focused on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its terrorist acts using the banner of Islam. But the emphasis on Iran and the Iranian democratic opposition at the gathering was appropriate.

As the U.S. president and some of his Western allies continue to pursue a policy of outreach to Tehran, partly in hopes of finding common cause against ISIS, it is crucially important that we remember that Islamic fundamentalism does not take only one form and that partnering with one set of extremists against another can be dangerous.

Rajavi’s message to her supporters served as a reminder that opponents of extremism must do more than simply confront the purveyors of that extremism one group at a time. Instead, they must understand it as the multifaceted global phenomenon that it is, and set coherent policy accordingly. And they must provide support for tolerant, democratic Muslim movements in order to offer a viable political alternative to malicious entities like ISIS and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It may be that President Obama and his supporters have the same strategy in mind amid their negotiations with the Iranian regime, but it is a misguided application of that strategy. When Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, he was embraced by many international policymakers as a moderate, but his record both before and since his election has not borne this out. Rather, it has demonstrated that there is no moderate alternative among the established power structures vying for dominance in Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Every day, the global media is swamped with stories of acts of brutality by ISIS, but buried beneath those headlines are the similarly shocking stories of scores of hangings, public floggings and political arrests taking place in the Iran. These trends carry on unchecked, as do trends of censorship, government monitoring, minority persecution and, crucially, repression of women.

For those keeping an eye on Iran, the lack of domestic progress in the country is clear, even when the regime is struggling to endear itself to the international community by keeping its seat at the negotiating table opposite the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s publicly declared policy has been of discouraging women from entering public life, urging them to have large families at an early age. Concordantly, gender segregation has been strongly reinforced and a new bill aims to turn women into “baby-making machines,” according to Amnesty International.

But the attention that has been offered so far is frankly inadequate. And this has allowed much of the world to ignore the truly global dimensions of Islamic extremism, in turn allowing it to ignore the truly moderate Muslim voices that are best suited to rooting out that ideology at its source, as opposed to simply confronting it in a series of airstrikes and half-measures against specific, localized targets.

Even if destroyed, those targets are in a position to be readily replaced by another. In such circumstances, the destruction of ISIS only frees up territory for the expansion of Iran’s Islamic Republic, for the replacement of beheadings with hangings, and for the continued growth in subjugation of minorities and women under another brand of fundamentalism.

I firmly believe that Islamic fundamentalism can best be confronted by progressive Muslims like those who organized the massive rally in Berlin. I hope that next time we will be joined by many more Western policymakers who understand the value of promoting these voices as part of a comprehensive solution to Islamic extremism.

Czarnecki is vice president of the European Parliament.