Andre Maurois once said, “If you create an act, you create a habit. If you create a habit, you create a character. If you create a character, you create a destiny.” So seems to be the case with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Last week, the friends and families of Hane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal - three University of California at Berkeley students who ended up hiking on the wrong mountain - did the Google-era thingto mobilize support for the hikers’ release - they released a YouTube video. The three students, caught on July 21, were accused of spying and are being held hostage along with hundreds of other political prisoners who could perhaps be used as a future negotiation card. While the students’ parents are responding in a 21st-century way, the hostage-taking tactic is an old tradition in the Islamic republic.
On Nov. 4, 1979, less than a year after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 70 Americans captive, 52 of whom were kept for 444 days. The goal of the hostage-takers was to prevent American intervention in the Islamic regime’s internal affairs and the return of the late Shah of Iran, who was in America for cancer treatment.
Between 1982 and 1992, in what became known as the Lebanon hostage crisis, nearly 96 foreign hostages of 21 national origins - most of whom were Americans and Western Europeans - were taken hostage by the Islamic regime’s proxy, Hezbollah, and its master terrorist leader, Imad Mughniyah. President Reagan, despite his promise of not dealing with hostage-takers, was dragged into trading arms for hostages with Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
A new batch of hostages is again filling Iranian prison cells, but this time, it is mostly Iranian citizens who have been taken. In a move perhaps unprecedented in Iranian history, the Islamic regime is systematically intimidating, arresting and even assassinating family members of its outspoken critics.
Since June’s rigged presidential election, many family members and key supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have been arrested or assassinated to put pressure on the opposition campaign.
Two sons of Ahmad Shirzad, a former member of Parliament and a physicist at the University of Isfahan, were arrested and later released for no apparent reason but to put pressure on their father. Mr. Shirzad had publicly supported Mr. Mousavi and criticized the policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In another case, Ali Behzadian-Nejad, nephew of presidential contender Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign manager, was sentenced to six years in jail.
Even clerical supporters of the Islamic regime are not immune. Recently, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Khalaji, whose son Mehdi Khalaji is a scholar with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a critic of the Islamic regime, was arrested with no apparent reason except for being the father of his son. Ayatollah Khalaji, unlike his son, is a staunch supporter of the Islamic regime with impeccable revolutionary credentials - yet none of that seems to have mattered.
In an open letter to the Ayatollah Khamenei, Mehdi Khalaji warns the supreme leader not to use him and his views against his father. According to him, the passports of all members of his family, including his 15-year-old daughter, who was about to come to America for a visit with her father, have been confiscated by the regime’s officials. At the time of this writing, the whereabouts of Ayatollah Khalaji are unknown.
If intimidation and taking family members to prison doesn’t work, the Islamic regime seems to be willing to go further to silence its opponents.
On Dec. 27, Ali Mousavi, the 35-year-old nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main presidential contender in the June election, was shot to death in what is widely believed to have been a targeted assassination to serve as a strong warning to his uncle.
Physicist Masoud Ali Mohammadi was assassinated in a bomb blast in what many believe was a warning to university professors and students. Mr. Mohammadi was a strong supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s and played an important role in getting 400 other scientists to publicly support the opposition leader while encouraging his students to participate in peaceful demonstrations after the June election.
History of the past 30 years clearly shows that old habits die hard for the Islamic regime. But let’s hope appeasement or looking the other way has not turned into a habit - or worse, a necessity, for the international community.
Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and a co-founder of CyberDissident.org. Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran.