By James Morrison
As a teenager, she spent 2½ years in an Iranian prison, fearing for her life and watching other dissidents dragged away for execution.
Today, Shirin Nariman is a naturalized American citizen, a mother of two daughters and a U.S. resident for 27 years. She has no plans to return to Iran, but she is still trying to help overthrow the brutal, theocratic regime that she thinks is bent on world domination through the export of Islamic extremism.
"The regime wants to kill all hope," she said during a visit to The Washington Times yesterday to promote a gathering of Iranian-Americans and Iranian exiles today in Washington.
"One thing I learned in prison is you never lose hope."
Mrs. Nariman said she is keeping her promise to her fellow prisoners, the ones who did not survive their captivity.
"I had friends being led to their execution, and they would say, 'Remember, never give up,' " she said.
Mrs. Nariman, who was accompanied by a colleague, Majid Sadeghpour, hope administration officials and members of Congress will listen to the messages that will be delivered today at the second annual National Convention for a Democratic, Secular Republic in Iran.
Mr. Sadeghpour, whose brother was killed and sister tortured in Iran, said diplomatic efforts to negotiate with the regime are futile.
"The appeasement of the mullahs is responsible for the empowerment of the Iranian regime and its projection of power around the globe," said Mr. Sadeghpour, also a naturalized American.
They said the only way the Iranian government will abandon its nuclear program is through tough international sanctions on its oil exports and the isolation of Iranian diplomats.
"They have an expansionist, fascist ideology. They will not stop," Mr. Sadeghpour said.
He said the extremist religious leaders who control the government are incapable of moderation.
"A violent black panther will not give birth to a peaceful, white dove," he said. "You cannot ask them to be something they are not."
Mrs. Nariman added that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like "Hitler with a fundamentalist ideology." Mr. Ahmadinejad has embraced an apocalyptic version of Islam and has threatened to destroy Israel.
Speakers at today's convention are expected to renew calls for the United States to remove the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its military wing, the People's Mojahedin, from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
"Delist them and you will give hope to the Iranian people," Mrs. Nariman said, adding that the regime is widely unpopular among the population and citing 4,000 strikes and protests throughout the country last year.
The Mojahedin, who were based in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, surrendered to U.S. forces in 2003 and remain under "protective custody" at Camp Ashraf, about an hour north of Baghdad. At last year's convention, two U.S. Army officers who dealt directly with the Mojahedin said they deserve to have the terrorist designation lifted.
Lt. Col. Thomas Cantwell, who commanded Camp Ashraf, denied they were terrorists, and Capt. Vivian Gembara, the military lawyer who negotiated their surrender, said the United States lost an opportunity to use the rebel army to its advantage.
The State Department designated the Mojahedin a terrorist organization under the Clinton administration and accused them of killing U.S. advisers to the Shah of Iran in the 1970s and participating in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979.
The National Council, a legislature in exile, is on the list as essentially the political front for the rebels. Critics call the council a Marxist outfit, but the council says it advocates democracy and capitalism in a religiously secular government.
The convention, which is open to the public, begins at 1 p.m. at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave. NW.