On Saturday 5 May 2007, Dr Masoud Banisadr Writer and Former Member of the Mojahedin-é Khalq Organisation (MKO), participated in a day long seminar in London School of Economics & Political Science and delivered a speech on The Use of the Philosophy of Martyrdom within Religious Cults for Acts of Terrorism.
At the opening of the seminar it was stated that: “Death and dying are universal facts of life to which all faith traditions offer responses. The doctrinal and practical responses of the mainstream religions are well known, but some new religious movements develop startlingly novel ways of coping with death and dying. The views of scholars will be considered alongside those of the movements’ members and former members.”
In this seminar, Dr Banisadr examined the topic of his speech from a variety of perspectives. When discussing about Cult and Terrorism, he described how terrorist cults such as Al-Qaeda or Mojahedin of Iran show their “list of martyrs as their flag of glory and honour”.
In his speech Dr Banisadr stated: “For example in 2003 when the co-leader of the MKO; Maryam Rajavi was arrested for few days in France, eleven members of the organization set themselves on fire in front of the French embassies in several countries and two of them, one in London, were killed as a result.
Tom Spender, in new shoppers, writes about one of those who set himself on fire in London but survived. He writes: “Hamid, 21, of Lanacre Avenue, Grahame Park, was one of several Iranians across Europe to register the most extreme of protests at the arrest in France of about 160 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) – including the group’s leader Maryam Rajavi …. What followed stunned the Western world. Images of men and women silhouetted in flames on the streets of London and Paris dominated the television news. One Iranian in London, Neda Hassani, a 26-year-old Canadian computer science student, later died of her burns. Another woman in Paris also died.” When Hamid is asked why did he set himself on fire? He replies:” “I wanted to shock the world. Injustices are committed all over the world but most of them are not reported well.” And when he asked if he regret? He replies: “It was definitely worth it. I have not for one second thought that I shouldn’t have done it.”
If they can set themselves on fire over the arrest of their leader, what can stop them from using martyrdom as a mean for any end?”
Dr Banisadr then emphasised: “How could they persuade their followers to ignore all Islamic norms and limits, and do whatever they were asked to?
The answer to these questions doesn’t lie in understanding Islam or the different sects of Islam, but the relation between Cults and Terrorism.
Religious cults are not a new phenomena; their history goes back perhaps to the beginning of the history of mankind.”
He continued his speech by referring to the relationship between the desire to be martyred and abandoning passions and emotions of a normal life. He added: “Interestingly, the Mojahedin (MKO), the organization that I was a member of for almost seventeen years, had almost the same idea (of most cults) about the relation between sex and preparation for dying or becoming a martyr (to love martyrdom we should reject life, and sex as its most joyful act). They were not castrating us (the same as some cults of past centuries) as it is not practical in modern day to castrate thousands of young men; instead they forced their followers; men and women alike, into celibacy. In a single day, the guru or leader of the organization asked us, all of us except himself, to divorce our spouses and forget about sex as long as we are alive. This order was given with the pretext that this was necessary for overthrowing Iranian Regime and for materialization of his rule over the Iranian people. We did as he said and all of us, in a single day, decided to forget about sex, emotions and feelings toward our families, as long as we are alive.”
Dr Banisadr further described Martyrdom “as an asset for a cult” and mentioned that: “in modern day Iran we can see the Mojahedin’s list of martyrs as their flag of glory and honour. Why martyrs are so important? Mojahedin’s leader says it all by few words to his enemy: ‘for any person you take from us and make him or her Shahid (martyred); he or she will be replaced by hundred if not thousand.’
He then took the subject of “Suicide bombers” to discuss about and argued as: “Although one might say that the modern history of suicide attacks started with the Japanese Kamikazes. But I think the new phenomenon called suicide bombers started with the Mojahedin’s suicide attacks against Iranian authorities during 1980’s. Let me read part of the will of one of them mentioned in the publication of MKO 19th of June 1982, Gohar AdabAvaz. She killed the Friday Prayer Imam of Shiraz after praying with a few others who were present there. She writes in her will, “I don’t think my life belongs to me, it belongs to God and the people and the Mojahedin Organization. If a new path can be opened with my life, then I will be very happy that I be small token in this path. I have chosen this path knowingly, and am waiting that moment of martyrdom, impatiently.”
Self burning of a Mojahedin’s member in Paris after arrest of Maryam Rajavi. 2003
Self burning of another member of Mojahedin in Paris 2003
A scene from ceremony of signing an oath with Mojahedin’s leader in Iraq.
Another scene from ceremony of signing an oath with Mojahedin’s leader in Iraq.
Finally under the title of Cults and New Meaning for Old Ideas, Dr Banisadr concluded that: “Modern Cults have given new meaning not only to martyrdom but Jihad, both greater and lesser. They have superseded the religious conditions put on these terms, such as conditions put on Jihad or who is an enemy. According to the cult’s definition there is no grey area, either others are with you or are against you. Al Qaeda, and Wahabism divides the world between Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb, and the Mojahedin of Iran divide all Iranians between followers of themselves and followers of the Iranian Regime, either you are with them, or with the enemy. If you are with them and are killed you will be martyred and go to heaven, and if you are not with them, then you are with the enemy and if you are killed it is just, and you will go to hell. Therefore, as we could see during the eighties in Iran, they did not show any hesitation in killing anybody who was not with them.”
Dr Banisadr continued saying: “Let me conclude that the use of the rich philosophy of martyrdom within a cult has given new meaning to martyrdom; it has changed it into new tools for materialization of the goals of the cult. To conclude we have to separate terrorist cults from mainstream Muslims and never never call them Moslem, as they are not.