The Cult of MEK

The Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is in the news again. Images of Newt Gingrich bowing to the Iranian dissident group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, after speaking to MEK members at a Paris rally, and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page’s unauthorized, paid speech at the same event have brought renewed attention to the MEK’s expensive (and possibly illegal) lobbying operation in Washington. 

Gingrich and Page aren’t the only high-profile figures the MEK has enlisted in its bid to get off the State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list. The group has persuaded a number of onetime officials, including former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security Adviser Francis Fragos Townsend, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to argue its case.  These public figures have taken money, in some cases more than $30,000 per speech, to speak on the group’s behalf. As a result, the U.S. Treasury Department has begun to look into the fees, because, according to the Supreme Court, “advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization” constitutes the federal crime of “material support of terrorism.” The speakers have also failed to register as lobbyists under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and there is an increasing push for criminal investigations. 

As it turns out, however, many of the public figures openly admit that they did not know much about the MEK when they agreed to attend the events. Many were invited by suspected MEK front groups with names such as the Organizing Committee for Convention for Democracy in Iran and the Iranian American Community of North Texas, and they approached the ex-officials through their agents. Former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton, who also spoke in support of the MEK, told The New York Times, “I don’t know a lot about the group.” Clarence Page told ProPublica that he thought he was giving a talk on promoting democracy and regime change in Iran.  

Accidentally or not, though, the speakers were helping to raise the profile and legitimize the aims of a cult group that will not bring democracy to Iran and has no popular support in the country. And while the latest news stories on the MEK highlight its immediate goal of getting off the terrorist list, they miss the group’s real aim: to have the United States install the MEK as Iran’s new government. That would mean war. The MEK may deny wanting violent regime change, but the only conceivable way it could become the next government in Tehran would be at the head of a U.S. invasion force.

Once upon a time, the MEK did enjoy some measure of popular support in Iran. But after getting shoved aside by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s party after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the MEK spent the next two decades launching terrorist attacks against the new regime and its military, harming bystanders in several instances. The MEK joined sides with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), moving to camps in Iraq in 1986 and fighting against Iranian conscripts. Frustrated that Saddam failed to install it in power in Tehran by the end of the war, the MEK attempted its own invasion of Iran (using more of Saddam Hussein’s military munificence), resulting in the death of thousands of its members. These acts destroyed the MEK’s credibility among Iranians.  Trapped in the Iraqi desert, the group’s leaders transformed the MEK into a cult after the failed invasion—engaging in such practices as mandated divorce and celibacy, sleep deprivation, public shaming, separation of families, and information control—and continued its terrorist attacks in Iran. 

Now the MEK, through its Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, has ramped up its public-relations campaign to convince the outside world that it is the biggest Iranian opposition group, one dedicated to the values of Western liberal democracy. (It just happens to have a parliament-in-waiting and a president-elect—Rajavi, of course.) To bolster its case, the MEK inflames fears of a nuclear Iran, consistently claiming that the country has an ongoing nuclear-weapons program, notwithstanding the opposite, unanimous opinion of U.S., European, and Israeli officials and the Iranian supreme leader’s fatwa against building one. 

It remains to be seen if the MEK’s costly lobbying campaign will pay off. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has until October 1 to decide whether to keep the MEK on the foreign terrorist organization list; otherwise, a federal court will automatically delist it. That’s just a few short weeks before the presidential election. Republican candidate Mitt Romney claimed in December that he had never heard of the MEK.  Nevertheless, he is using the question of Iranian nukes—kept in the public eye by the MEK and its shills—in a desperate effort to make President Barack Obama look weak on national-security issues. Romney has also surrounded himself with a hawkish national-security team that includes several MEK supporters, such as Bush administration veterans like former U.N. Representative John Bolton, who believes that engagement with Tehran is “delusional” and that “the only real alternative to a nuclear Iran is pre-emptive military force”—the sooner the better.  Bolton’s writings suggest that he hopes that the so-called P5+1 talks over Iran’s nuclear program will fail. (The next round of negotiations is next week.)

But the MEK’s supporters and other hawks who insist on wanting regime change in Iran need to understand that, in this case, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. The MEK is a bad ally. It has been a bad ally in peace, and it would be a bad ally in war and reconstruction. Aligning ourselves with the MEK would undermine any attempt at credibility among Iranians because it would make us look like dupes. The public figures who have spoken in support of the MEK are dangerously mistaken when they describe the group as “a force for good, and the best hope we have” (Rendell) and “a massive worldwide movement for liberty in Iran” (Gingrich). On the contrary, this deceptive foreign cult is pouring millions of dollars into an effort to steer the United States toward war.

Comments

Lee Hamilton cannot credibly claim “I don’t know a lot about the group.”

When he was Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1994 he received an extensive report on the group, delivered by Wendy R. Sherman, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs. The unclassified portion of that report was published in the Congressional Record and sufficiently set forth the violent and anti-American nature of the MEK.

Hernlem is known supporter of Iranian regime since the 90s.

From the MEK Dictionary and Phrasebook, current edition:
"supporter of Iranian regime" - 1) Critic of the MEK.
see also "appeaser of the Mullahs"

That part was thrown out by the US court in 2010, UK courts in 2008 and EU courts in 2009 as perverse.

Wendy R. Sherman's report was actually a copy past document form FARS news, other articles and sources that the State Department could not engage for its accuracy or trustworthiness meaning they come from the Iranian regime intelligence service. How they found their way into the hands of the US Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs and then in an official report by the State Department is the real question and the challenge!!.

The author is saying that because Khamenei issued a fatwa, it does not have a nuclear weapons program; anyone who wants to replace the repressive regime of the Ayatollahs is seeking war; and the main Iranian opposition, the MEK is terrorist because it fought the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I have a suggestion for Jeremiah: the Ministry of Intelligence and Security of Iran declared yesterday that they have a vacancy for the position of media spokesman, he may want to apply for it, but remember you cannot be hired by two different agencies in Iran.

This guy was supposed to be an impartial and objective researcher that prepared the RAND Corporation Report on the MEK in July 2009. Now, it becomes clear why the RAND report refers to MEK as a cult 88 times. Almost once every page. And for those who read the RAND report, you can judge that report by the caliber of its author.

As for all the other stuff, Goulka really does not know what he is talking about. A French investigative magistrate concluded after a 10 year investigation that the MEK's operations in Iran (which ceased in 2001) were not acts of terrorism, but resistance against tyranny.

The reference to killing bystanders in Iran is straight out of Iran's Intelligence Ministry misinformation kit, although even the mullahs of Iran are not so impudent to make such a bogus claim.

Ed Rendell, Lee Hamilton, Tom Ridge and the stellar group of distinguished Americans who have spoken out on this issue know a whole lot more about the MEK than this upstart "pundit" whose RAND report would not even qualify for a freshman term paper.
Needless to say, the Iraqis used his recommendations to the letter, attacking and killing 49 residents and wounding more than 1,000, in what Senator Kerry described as a massacre.

The problem with Goulka is that he has joined the gang of MEK detractors a bit late. The court issued its verdict, a damning condemnation of the State Department's "egregious delay."

It is not for the State Department to put up or shut up.

As for Goulka, just as his RAND report was so thoroughly debunked shortly after its publication, his lies and distortions here will not fool anyone.

The only thing that remains is that why American Prospect is publishing this type of trash. Perhaps it should be renamed Mullahs' Prospect.

I do know why this guy is so hysterical about the MEK, I don't MEK has done anything to him or may be he is doing this on behalf of somebody else? I do not know and we shall have to wait for some wikileaks type documents to show the behind the scene, otherwise, if Jeremiah Goulka believes in rule of law he should listen to the court rulings around the world including USA. He is following a smear campaign which based on a hollow foundation , that is MEK is terrorist and based on that who ever supports them or talks to them will be anhilated using different tags produced by him. But what is the reality. Mek represents Iranian people's resistance against the tyrannical mullahs ruling Iran. Jeremiah Goulka may find this regime useful for him, but Iranian people hate this regime and are looking for ways of bringing an end to this tyranny and MEK is the most efficient tool to do this. They are democratic and secular and enjoy a vast support base both in Iran and outside. Their last gathering in Paris on 23 June 2012 was attended by 110000 people. Now what is the definition of cult for Jeremiah Goulka . Just a word of advice to you Jeremiah, dictators are bound to go, I hope you take the right side of history

Alireza Nader of the RAND Corporation supplied much of mis-information on MEK.
JEREMIAH GOULKA took that mis-information and recycled it as research.

Alireza Nader is part of NIAC circle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71YP0dOwOjY)
JEREMIAH GOULKA is well connected with the Iranian lobby network and his analysis is nothing but parroting Tehran agenda.

Hey Jeremiah,

You still have a chance to write a "research" paper on Syrian opposition. They are cult, terrorist and unpopular. I am sure Terita Parsi and his network can provide you with "FACTS".

"Their last gathering in Paris on 23 June 2012 was attended by 110000 people." !!! Where are the pictures of this event?!
Excellent article which has justifiably enraged The cult!
Just one thing, in saying 'My enemy's enemy is not my friend', why is Iran called an enemy? On what objective grounds?

The latest word out of the NCRI/MEK is that they are complaining that the Government of Iraq wants to "plunder" "$500Million" worth of Camp Ashraf residents' property. No wonder they don't want to leave. They can't take Saddam's gifts with them. You can buy a lot of rallies and politicians for that kind of loot, not to mention weapons.

"The Mujahedin-e Khalq is trying to steer its supporters in the United States toward war, which shows that the enemy of our enemy is not our friend."

So in early 1941 you hated the British and were a strong America Firster?

During this spring, I met a group on the streets of north London attached to the MEK who were trying to raise awareness of Camp Ashraf and being interested in the Middle East (and yes I have been to some of these countries, usually on my own) and being a supporter of human rights, in my naivety I initially offered to try and help with raising awareness. At no point was there any mention that Camp Ashraf inhabitants were members of the MEK, they were just described as dissidents. I was later asked if I wanted to go to the peace rally in Paris but was warned off by a member of Amnesty International. I started to really research the MEK and all that I find points to the organisation being a cult. Perhaps Albert Davidson (comments) should try and read the Human Rights Watch Report which finds that the MEK coerce their women members into having unnecessary hysterectomies (so much for womens rights) and that they commit other human rights violations on their members. Married members are often persuaded to divorce. This is all about alienating members against each other, friendship is not allowed. I have met with a high ranking ex member of the MEK who was with them for many years and he told me of systematic brain washing and how many members are prevented from leaving the organisation. This is the same for many of those who are in Camp Ashraf. This member had to escape even though he was living out in the community in the UK. This is the kind of mind control Maryam Rajavi and Masoud have. And no I don't believe he is a dis- gruntled ex member.

As for the peace event in Paris, 2012, this was a farce. I was offered support for travel costs to go from London and a hotel in Paris. I later found out that many of those offered places to go had no incline of what the event was really for; some who would ill afford it, just seeing it as a free trip to Paris. I almost wish I had gone now just to film those who were there for the wrong reasons, if albeit innocently. Many speakers (mainly politicans) who were paid fees to attend, dropped out at the last minute once they realised what they had let themselves in for. Do they not have researchers who can seek out information before accepting or is greed to near to hand!

The MEK may have well started as an activist group with the right ideology, their main aim being to topple a terrible regime, but their own personal aims seem to have taken over and they are definitely NOT wanted by the people on the street in Iran.

Whilst researching this organisation, many of the questions I wanted answered nobody seems to be asking - such as where does all their funding come from? This must be extensive seeing as they can afford to organise events the size of the Paris event and why does Masoud Rajavi hide.

As for Jeremiah Goulka I have tried to contact him regarding his Rand Report and the ongoing saga of US politicians taking money, but failed to get a response. Very disappointing as I wanted an supposed unbiased point of view from a non politician, but then maybe I will have to look elsewhere.

I was born in Iran, spent time in Camp Ashraf with the MEK when I was a little kid, and was fortunate enough to come to the US thereafter. I attended numerous rallies and protests in the US and Europe hosted or sponsored by the MEK or its affiliates. While MEK may have started out with the best intentions, the organization and its leaders have certainly lost sight of their presumable goal -- the freedom and safety of Iran and its people. As someone with first-hand experience with this group and their base in Iraq, I must admit the cult characterizations are frankly SPOT ON.

For the record, I'm not a disgruntled ex-member; I have no personal gripe with the group; and I am in no way supportive of the Iranian government (before MEK folks chime in with the same tired refrain). I would love nothing more than to see the Iranian regime dismantled, imprisoned, and replaced with a democratically elected, secular and non-oppressive government.

But it's surprising and sad that, in the face of any sort of criticism (even constructive ones that could improve the group's function, credibility, and ability to help the Iranian people), MEK members and supporters immediately respond with baseless accusations that anyone who observes some sort of deficiency or problem with the group must be a secret proxy for and supporter of the Mullahs, rather than actually responding to the criticism (either with facts or reform). This is both sad and counterproductive, because it only results in alienating people who are in fact opposed to the Iranian government and would like to support some plan for regime change in that country.

There are many legitimate reasons for the MEK's lack of support by the Iranian population. And no -- government propaganda and misinformation don't even make it to the top 10 reasons (if government propaganda and misinformation were as influential and effective in shaping Iranian people's opinions, how could you explain the Iranian people's support and affection for America and President Obama?). Even if the group is not technically a cult, its ideology and organization largely center on a culture of personality worship / idolization of one person -- Maryam Rajavi. At worst, this is a tell-tale sign of a cult (or one in the making); at best, it's an extreme form of idolization with dangerous consequences. Blindly following any one individual, branding her as infallible, and arming her with unquestionable authority is never a good idea, and often just a few steps away from authoritarianism.

Also, I can attest to the veracity of claims about forced divorces, forced "ideological" marriages, and public shaming for very private and personal things (e.g., what you dreamed about the prior night, any sexual urges or fantasies you may have experienced -- even about your own spouse). Not to mention the forced "uniform" of head coverings for women in adherence to Islamic law (redolent of the same oppressive theocratic government Iranians are currently living under); and the sham "elections" in which Ms. Rajavi is repeatedly elected (always unchallenged, because even the token "challengers," in their own "campaign" speeches, merely admit to Rajavi's superiority and their own inferiority ("I am not worthy!"), profess their undying support for her, and step down from even running in the first place). The group's complete lack of transparency also doesn't help to dispel any of the legitimate concerns Iranians have about them -- concerns and questions that any reasonable and responsible person would have with regard to any group who is advocating for regime change and seeking popular support for their cause. These are but a few reasons for the MEK's lack of popular support in Iran.

As an example, let's say you're a Democrat who voted for Obama in 2008 and generally likes and supports President Obama. This doesn't mean, however, that you consider Obama or his words and actions to be infallible and beyond reproach. And if you criticize the way Obama or his administration handles something, it doesn't mean that you're secretly a Republican operative who's launching bogus criticisms to sabotage Obama's causes or legitimacy. As a responsible citizen, you have a duty to question all of your political leaders and candidates because your primary concern is the best interests of your country and the welfare of the American people -- not the worship of Barack Obama as your infallible leader/demigod. If he makes a misstep that in some way jeopardizes the interests of the country or its people, you have a civic duty and moral imperative to voice your criticism and demand accountability and transparency in hopes of causing the administration to better their policies, even if that means the president has to step down and be replaced -- because your primary concern is with the welfare of your country and fellow countrymen, it is NOT the preservation of Obama's status as a demigod and leader to be perpetually worshiped.

Same with Rajavi and the MEK. Supporters and members should encourage themselves and others to voice any concerns and disagreements with the organization's practices, policies and decisions, especially when they believe those practices or decisions can be detrimental to the Iranian people. Attempting to discredit critics with baseless and irrelevant accusations only hurts the MEK's long-term viability, as well as their claimed goal of bringing democracy to Iran and ending the oppression of the Iranian population. If Rajavi and the MEK are truly concerned with democratizing and liberating Iran from oppression, they must reform themselves and change many of their practices to reflect the very values and ideals they claim to support. Otherwise, they will continue to alienate potential allies and remain a fringe group of questionable credibility.

Building any individual up to the level of an idol or demigod only leads to the entrenchment of power, and makes it harder for that person to ever hand over power to anyone else. Even the saintliest of people can be corrupted by the natural greed and hunger for power that's inherent in all of us. The only way to protect against it is to force the handover of power after a certain amount of time (see, e.g., "term limits"). Otherwise, you end up becoming as reprehensible and oppressive as the Mullahs themselves. Btw, Rajavi's been leading the MEK for about as long as the Mullahs have been in power in Iran.

Do not worry, the history will show you wrong when the MEK bring anout the democratic change that you "wish to see and dream off".

The irony is that when Mossadeq nationalized the Iranian oil, some western media portrayed him as "idiot", "selfish", "insane", "mad", "psychopath" and so on

I'm not sure if you're trying to quote me with "wish to see and dream off," especially since: 1) I didn't say that in my comment (please read the *content* of my comment, don't just respond with an irrelevant note and prayer/speculation about the outcome of history that hasn't happened yet); and 2) I know I'd never make such an obvious spelling/grammar mistake (it's dream "of", not "off").

The whole point of my comment is that we can't just sit back, "Do not worry," and blindly hand responsibility and power to some other person or group in the absence of *accountability* and *transparency*. These aren't just words; they represent 2 concepts key to a healthy and vibrant democracy. Consider looking them up. I hear the internet offers free dictionaries you can use.

After you've done your homework, and perhaps fully thought through the implications and consequences of blindly trusting some group to simply choose to do what's in the best interest of an entire country rather than merely looking out for the best interests of the group's leaders, then come back and share your informed, thoughtful, and relevant response. Unlike the MEK and its support base, I, for one, fully welcome and embrace differing opinions and points of view.

Please also note that I know the MEK and Maryam Rajavi; and they, my friend, are no Mossadeq. Any comparisons of the two are simply not well placed, for several reasons, including but not limited to the following: 1) Mossadeq was elected by popular vote of the country he represented. Therefore, he was accountable to the Iranian people for his actions. 2) There was a much greater level of transparency in his government than there has been in the MEK. 3) Mossadeq did not punish, attack or ostracize Iranians for criticizing his actions or choices; he did not consider himself infallible or beyond reproach. He was a democratically elected leader who responded to his people's concerns and criticisms. 4) He wasn't worshipped as a demigod or divinely selected leader. 5) He didn't force his supporters, party members, or "followers" to dress a certain way (hot burgundy head scarves, ladies!!) or order them to divorce their spouse or marry some other random follower. 6) He didn't prohibit what thoughts, dreams or daydreams they could have, and certainly didn't force them to share it publicly and shame them for it. 7) He didn't demand that people swear a daily oath to him or watch daily propaganda under the guise of a "news" program whose absurdity at times rivals that of the "semi-official" Fars new agency.

My criticisms and issues with the MEK and Rajavi didn't result from anything the Western media may have said about them. They started long before and are based on my first-hand experience with the group, as well as the experience of my friends and relatives who managed to leave Camp Ashraf over that past two decades. Furthermore -- and this might be difficult for die-hard MEK supporters to grasp -- my views are independent of the media's. I enjoy thinking for myself. I didn't come to hold these views because I read some article insulting Rajavi with ad hominem attacks. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever read any articles calling Ms. Rajavi names. But even if I did, I don't form my views on the basis of the media's name-calling, but rather on facts, including a group's or person's actions, choices, and words. Sadly, what I've seen coming from the MEK consists of little more than responding to their critics and detractors with pure name-calling ("you lie! you're in bed with the Mullahs! you lie in bed with Mullahs!!") rather than facts or, dare I say, any sort of change/reform in their own management and practices.

The point is -- if you're concerned with the well-being of your country and compatriots, it would be incredibly irresponsible to blindly delegate the country's future to some group and assume that the group will simply do what's best without closely scrutinizing, monitoring, and questioning the group's actions. (After all, the MEK and Rajavi fall rather short of Plato's Philosopher King.) Rather than just sitting back and waiting for "history" to show me that I'm wrong, I'd much rather do my homework (some would call it "civic duty") and be assured that this group, who is actively advocating for power and war as a means to oust the current regime, is actually good for Iran and its people BEFORE entrusting them with this power.

Any time you overthrow a government and install a new group in its place, you're taking a risk -- that group may turn out to be a painful disaster, like Khomeini's regime in 1979, or a blessing like the Continental Congress and American Revolutionary War in the late 18th century. That risk may be easy to assume people like you and me, living comfortably abroad; but not so for those who live in the country and would have to face the consequences on the ground if your political experiment goes sour. It's easy for you to toy with the idea of installing some random group in power and "just wait" to see if your experiment turns out well and history proves you right because your life and future aren't directly at risk if your experiment goes awry. Of course, it's a different story for those actually living in Iran today; they are rightfully reluctant to risk their lives and future on an unaccountable and shadowy group's promises, especially when the majority of group's words and actions seem to directly conflict with those promises.

Yes, the current regime is awful and oppressive, but the MEK is not the only possible option. If I'm living under an Islamic "republic" ruled by one infallible Supreme Leader who requires all women to cover up with chadors or scarves and manteaus, an Islamic-Marxist "democracy" ruled by one infallible Madam President who requires all women to cover up with scarves doesn't sound like much of a choice to me, much less a better alternative.

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