Yesterday, Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, which lies in the shadow of U.N. headquarters in New York, filled with Iranian ex-pats and human-rights activists protesting the arrival and reception of Mahmoud Amadinejad. The event was organized by supporters of People’s Mujahadin of Iran (PMOI, also referred to as MEK), who plastered the sidewalks with portraits of executed dissidents and posters gruesomely detailing the abuses of the Iranian regime. Many protesters covered themselves in fake blood; three nooses were set near the stage as a reminder of Iran’s executions of minors. More than half of the attendees wore purple t-shirts and baseball caps to express support for Maryan Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance in Iran, and her husband, Massoud Rajavi, leader of the PMOI. The crowd alternated between chants in Farsi for “azadi” (freedom) and chants in English of “Rajavi, yes! Ahmadinejad, no!”
Rudy Giuliani, the first major speaker, was animated and loud: “Where’s our Ronald Reagan when we need him?” He continued, “Ronald Reagan would have stood with the people of Iran…when they sought to protest the illegitimacies of the elections…as he did with the Solidarity movement in Poland.” Giuliani recalled the fall of the Berlin Wall and Leonard Bernstein’s trip to conduct Beethoven’s Ninth on Christmas Day, 1989, a comparison that became a theme for the day. “I hope that you and I, soon, can go to Iran together.”
When Marya Rajavi herself appeared via video-cast, the purple-shirted youths pressed up toward the stage went practically delirious — triumphant music accompanied chants of “Rajavi! Rajavi!” She commended protesters’ perseverance in “rising up to the shameful presence of the murderous regime of Ahmadinejad at the United Nations headquarters,” and called Ahmadinejad “the enemy of Iran and not its representative.” She reminded “Khomenei’s loathed puppet” that “you cannot put a lid on the demands of the Iranian people for the overthrow of the ruling theocracy.”
She then turned to the U.N., condemning those who “invited these murderous henchmen to address the General Assembly: This unjustifiable decision is a testament to your disregard for the violations of human rights in Iran.” As for the U.S., and the State Department in particular: “After three decades of pursuing conciliatory policy, what have you accomplished…other than emboldening the regime? After the most recent U.N. Security Council resolution, the mullahs are still pursuing nuclear weapons. The only solution for the Iranian crisis is democratic government.”
Finally, she said, “The most significant obstacle to changing the religious fascism in Iran has been the terrorist label placed on the main Iranian opposition group, the PMOI.…This is why Congress should support removing the terror label. This is a great chance for the United States to stand with the Iranian people.” She requested that the U.N. condemn the Iranian regime’s stoning of declared “enemies of God,” and that the U.S. return troops to protect Camp Ashraf. Located in northern Iraq, Camp Ashraf is the seat of the exiled PMOI, and it has been under siege at the behest of Ahmadinejad ever since U.S. troops ceded control of the area.
John Bolton was next. Compared to the previous speakers, he was sober and academic, saying that the purpose of the General Assembly was undermined by the principle of “sovereign equality,” under which “illegitimate regimes, such as Ahmadinejad’s, are treated like they have the full legitimacy of a democracy. This approach, that every regime is equal with every other regime, every regime is fully legitimate, is one of the reasons why the United Nations itself has lost moral authority.”
He then recounted the history of the PMOI’s terrorist listing. “During the Clinton administration, the MEK was put on the terrorist list because it was thought of as a way to open dialogue between the U.S. and Iran.” He said that labeling groups as terrorist should be done according to objective reality, not political expedience. He reminded protesters, “There’s enormous support in the United States [for] the opposition to the regime in Tehran.…In the House now there are over 100 sponsors of a resolution to demonstrate support for the Iranian opposition.” For the sake of peace in the Middle East, for the safety of all nations and religious groups, and for international security, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be overthrown.” And with that, Bolton was drowned out by cheers. (Complete video of the event can be found here; Bolton’s speech is here.)
The young Iranian expats I interviewed at the protest each spoke a variation on a theme best expressed by one girl: “He’s not our president. He comes here and he calls himself the president of Iran, but he’s not our representative. The Iranian people showed very clearly last summer that he wasn’t. And we want the U.N. to recognize that.”