Cults make the news when there is a large number of deaths of their victims. Terrorism is also in the news when there is violence or catastrophe, such as numerous acts of terror all over the world by alQaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups. Not all cults are dangerous but there is a risk and likelihood of violence from cult members. As their name implies, terrorists intentionally use violence to achieve their goals, but cult members are always potentially expected to turn into terrorists.
The same person can be identified as a “cult member” or “terrorist” in one society and at the same time welcomed as a “freedom fighter” or “hero” in her or his own group. In case of members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (the MKO/ MEK/ PMOI/the Cult of Rajavi), “terrorist” can simply fit the group based on its evident undisputed background of violent acts although it not listed as a terrorist organization by western states.
The group leaders claim that they are “freedom fighters for people” which is the equivalent of the term “Mujahedin_e Khalq”. However, the group is considered as a cult by experts and based on many evidences. Leaders of the Cult of Rajavi have used manipulative techniques to run their cult.
Herd mentality is a behavior pattern in human beings that helps leaders to program the crowd. Once the crowd is programmed, cult leaders indoctrinate them. Members of the MEK have been enduring the state of being programmed for over 40 years –at least since Massoud Rajavi became the leader of the group.
In the late 1979, following the Iranian revolution and the MEK’s breakdown with the newly established Iranian government, the MEK formed its militia. The semi military MEK members included ambitious youth who were recruited by the MEK agents; they were excited and influenced by their leaders and peers to commit certain acts of violence. They were terribly influenced by the leaders of the MEK. The consequence was the loss of thousands of innocent civilians, the arrest and the execution of a large number of the group members by the Iranian government.
This was how herd mentality functioned. When a crowd is led under herd mentality, it adopts some characteristics:
*They lose fear of the consequences so they commit any violent act that they are ordered or indoctrinated to do even if their victims are children and women. The documents on MEK’s homicide or suicide attacks against civilians is the proof.
*They lose moral responsibility; they are no more sensitive to violation of moral, religious or social norms. They are told to boycott their family, to divorce their spouses, to leave their children, to insult them all and they are coerced to accept.
*They enjoy a feeling of invincibility. Thus they are courageous enough to act unethically, immorally and violently. They are ready to set themselves on fire for the release of their leader Maryam Rajavi.
*The act of the crowd is contagious. This is empowered by peer pressure in the cults. In the Cult of Rajavi peer pressure is a tool to keep members under control. Self-criticism sessions are regularly held inside Camp Ashraf 3 in which members have to confess their thoughts in front of their peers and eventually get verbal and physical abused by them.
*The crowd interests are preferred over personal interests. This turns out to be a jargon in the cults that every cult member should follow. In the MEK, the consequences of such a jargon have been a range of human rights abuses including forced labor, sleep deprivation, mandatory celibacy, separation of children from parents and etc.
Even irrational acts become contagious. Self-immolations of a dozen of MEK members in June 2003 to protest the arrest of Maryam Rajavi by the French Police is an example of irrational acts. Agitated by the group’s propaganda and manipulative meetings, certain members were not able to decide over their lives. Herd mentality and eventually cult-like indoctrinations made them choose that catastrophic death.
*Human herding is usually led by a Demagogue. In case of the MEK, Maryam Rajavi tries her best to play the part of a demagogue. Despite the huge violation of human rights that are taking place in her establishment, she always vows for democracy, women rights and freedom in Iran. Although she hardly ever enjoys Iranians’ public support, her claims can be taken as serious by the isolated members inside the cult or at least she wishes to influence them.
Being in a cult, under the rule of a Demagogue, individuals enter a hypnotic-like state mesmerized by the leader. So the leader can influence the crowd. Glorified as “unique gems” who are “freedom fighters” for the Iranian Khalq (people), the MEK member became more and more suggestible. They started to turn Rajavi’s thoughts to acts. This has had a lot of disastrous outcomes in the MEK. To mention one, you can refer to the marriage of Massoud Rajavi with a large number of female members of the group’s Elite Council.
In human societies, herding often involves people using the actions of others as a guide to sensible behavior, instead of independently seeking out high-quality information about the likely outcomes of these actions. It seems that destructive cults such as the MEK go much further misusing this behavior pattern in human beings. The outcome has been numerous acts of violence against the Iranian civilians, Iraqi Kurds and even their own members.
Those who could manage to leave the MEK, before their departure they definitely could take some time and look at what they were following for decades, who they were following and why. They might be surprised by what they found. That was the time they could make a decision by their own. However, most of these people were not lucky enough to find a way to escape the group.
The human rights bodies including the UNHCR must take proper action to help those MEK members who are under the rule of Rajavi’s cult of personality. The threat of a cult herding some thousand rank and file should not be neglected.