On Sunday 17 June I was scheduled to speak on this subject at a public meeting in Paris. The meeting was unfortunately disrupted by an unusually large number of Mojahedin cult members who had lain in wait at the venue in order to prevent people speaking. Regardless of the implications for freedom of speech in a European country, this kind of disruption has become emblematic of the Mojahedin’s inability to even vaguely disguise its cult nature. Similar disruption has taken place in meeting after meeting held by former members of the cult; Paris, April 2005, Amsterdam, October 2005, Washington, D.C., October 2005, London, November 2005. (click here to see a montage of these meetings)
During the disruptions, charged-up cult members rant at former members accusing them of being ‘agents of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’, ‘agents of the regime’, ‘mercenaries of the Iranian regime’. In my speech I explain the reason this is done and why, even though I was unable to speak at the time, I and other former cult members, rather than feeling angry or intimidated, have nothing but the greatest sympathy for those victims who are still trapped inside this dangerous, destructive cult.
Speech of Anne Singleton – Paris June 17, 2007
First may I congratulate all the former members of the Rajavi cult… what a long way we have come, what a difficult path we have trodden and how thankful we are to be free.
Those of us who are former members have come to understand our own experience by studying how cults operate, how they recruit and indoctrinate their members. We know first hand how it was to be subjected to mind control and psychological manipulation and in many cases painful psychological and physical coercion.
We understand that once a person has submitted to the control of the cult that it is not the ideas but rather the environment and methods used which change you from a normal, healthy, thinking person into someone whose identity, beliefs, whose very ways of thinking and feeling are shaped by the cult.
In the Mojahedin the two basic values we were required to live by were honesty and sacrifice (sedaqat and fada). We had no idea that this is the foundation for creating cult identity.
You all remember in the early days in the 1980s when it was extremely difficult to become a member of the Mojahedin and how easy it was to be thrown out. And how that changed after the marriage of Massoud and Maryam and the beginning of cult culture. After that it was too easy to get drawn in and almost impossible to get out.
When Human Rights Watch published its report on human rights violations inside the Mojahedin in May 2005, there could not have been a more appropriate title for describing the conditions we endured in Rajavi’s cult: ‘NO EXIT’.
Our knowledge of how cults operate informs us that the Mojahedin’s Camp Ashraf in Iraq is vital to the ongoing indoctrination of the majority of members – if France hadn’t thrown Rajavi out he would have had to go to Iraq anyway to pursue his vision of how the Mojahedin members must become totally obedient and dependent.
It is in the isolation of this camp, the total exclusion of anything that is not introduced by the cult, from clothes, food, timetables, information and relationships. It is this isolation which has allowed Rajavi to introduce the most outrageous demands and beliefs to his followers, and expect them to be accepted and obeyed without question.
But, there remains a question in many observers’ minds. They look at cult members like Alireza Jafarzadeh and Ali Safavi and others, and ask how is it that these people who are living in the west and are surrounded by western media and political ideas, can be described as brainwashed cult members? If it is the control of the person’s environment which enables the cult to create and maintain and shape an individual’s personality, then how do we account for those who are free to come and go and are not under this tight physical control, who may even look as though they have freedom?
One simple explanation could be that these people are ‘senior’ cult members. They are people who have submitted most to mind control and have the least possibility of thinking for themselves. But this is not the full explanation. Rajavi can never totally trust any of the members.
The answer is to be found in the way that members are indoctrinated.
When we look at the Mojahedin’s ideology we see that the cult creates what can be described within the cult context as ‘positive’ ideological beliefs: You must unthinkingly love the Rajavis, you must believe unquestioningly in the leaders’ authority, you must believe in the black and white version of reality – that the regime is totally evil and we are totally righteous. You must believe that you have to give everything – your heart, mind, body and soul – in order to fight the regime. You must believe that the cult is the source of all right and purity and that you as a cult member belong to a higher order of human kind.
But when former members think back to their time with the Mojahedin they remember that it was not a time spent purposefully and happily pursuing this vision. We remember that much of our everyday life was not about purpose and happiness, but about confusion, pain, anxiety and despair.
The reason for this is that simultaneous with the Mojahedin’s ‘positive’ cult beliefs, the cult is also busy implanting all kinds of negative ideas in the minds of the person.
These negative ideas come under the generic description of phobias. This is something that all cults do and as I describe how it works you will recognise the absolutely vital part they play in controlling the cult member. Phobias are much the most effective way of ensuring total obedience – even in your sleep.
So, what do I mean by a phobia?
A phobia is more than simple fear. Fear is vital to our existence. Fear tells us whether to stay and fight or to run away when danger presents itself. But a phobia is more than fear it is a persistent, irrational fear of an object or situation. There are many kinds of phobias, from fear of drowning, of dogs or heights, spiders and many others.
All phobias are triggered by a cue that starts up a negative cycle of fearful images, thoughts and feelings. That cue can be an internal or external stimulus such as a thought or image a word or smell, taste or behaviour.
When a person’s phobia is activated it stimulates the fight or flight response. The most common coping mechanism is to avoid the provoking stimulus.
Phobias undermine a person’s view of reality, their emotional and intellectual control, self-confidence and judgement. To the extent that the introduction of phobias is the single most powerful technique used by cults to make their members obedient and dependent.
Now this explanation gives us a better understanding of all those people that we know inside the Mojahedin who have long ago stopped believing in the Rajavis or the organisation or the cause, but who are still afraid to walk away – even when they have the opportunity. These people are quite literally frozen with indoctrinated fears. When I tell you that these fears operate unconsciously then you can see why they work so well.
I hope also that as I describe how this works, former members will begin to fully recognise their own achievement in having found the courage to escape the cult however they did it – and some have travelled the most extraordinarily painful and life-threatening paths to escape.
I am sure that as I go on, former members will also begin to remember the specific incidents when the Mojahedin either installed or activated their phobias, their irrational fears.
For example, one irrational fear is that you cannot trust your own capacity to think because you are subjected to negative forces beyond your understanding that arise from your upbringing or culture or society etc. Only Rajavi is pure enough to be able to think beyond these forces.
Another fear is that everything that goes wrong is your fault, that the leader is beyond sin and does not make mistakes. If things go wrong it is because you haven’t obeyed or followed instructions well enough.
Do you remember the one where they hinted they were just about to invade Iran and take over but that you probably weren’t ready yet. That awful fear that they’d go without you and leave you alone, that you didn’t make the grade as a Mojahed to take part in the final battle.
The main point behind such phobias is to bring you to a point at which you cannot think rationally or logically. Fear prevails over logic.
Certainly on an individual level the cult will encourage non-specific fears, fear of loneliness, rejection, failure, being shut up, being tortured, being raped or …
But one of the most powerful and indeed the most universal of cult phobias used in ALL cults not just the Mojahedin is fear of the anti-cult network. Those inside the cult are told that terrible things will happen to them if they fall into the hands of the enemy.
In this way they make you fearful of your own family and friends. They make you fear that there is a huge, well-funded network of enemy forces constantly looking for ways to tear you away from the safety of the cult. Looking at this from outside a cult someone might find such beliefs laughable. But these fears bind the members in perpetual fear and anxiety.
Now, let me tell you the name of the Mojahedin’s specific phobia which deals with this phenomenon. It is called:
‘working for the intelligence ministry of Iran’
No, I’m not talking about a job description. But former members will all recognise this as one of the Mojahedin’s most obvious and powerful phobias. There is not a single person inside the Mojahedin cult who does not believe that anyone who speaks out against the Rajavis and the Mojahedin is working for the Iranian intelligence ministry. Certainly when I was with them I believe this without question.
This is such a specific and widely used phobia that it deserves our further explanation.
This is Rajavi’s way of bringing the enemy right to the doorstep of his members. For years they have lived in isolation and the enemy has been far away. Not only that, but the enemy has changed beyond all recognition for the members – as anyone who has travelled to Iran can testify. So, Rajavi has brought the enemy right up to the members and supporters in order to terrify them, to make them feel that there is nowhere they are safe, that the enemy is right there at the door. And beyond that he has made the members believe that this enemy must be killed.
Those of us who have been inside the cult at any level know that this accusation is shorthand for ‘death sentence’. We all know that when Rajavi says someone is working for the Iranian regime, this is not describing a factual situation – no one ever asks for proof or evidence that this accusation is true or not – just by saying it Rajavi is issuing a death sentence. He is giving permission for anyone to kill the offender any time he orders.
But it goes far beyond this simple threat that the enemy is right upon you and must be confronted. Because for the cult member it is the worst fate ever to be imagined. Even worse than the fear of being tortured or executed is the fear of being accused of being on the side of the enemy. This would mean they had totally betrayed the leadership of Rajavi.
Massoud Rajavi has set himself up as the equivalent of God’s representative on earth. Rajavi’s enemy is the Iranian regime in its entirety. The whole purpose of the cult is to fight the regime and replace it with Rajavi’s rule. There is nothing other than this. Therefore in simple terms you are either with Rajavi or with the enemy.
Anything you do which may be interpreted as not giving 100% of your self, mind body and soul to Rajavi can be labelled as ‘regimi’ that is, undermining Rajavi by supporting the enemy.
Of course, inside the Mojahedin, even a sneeze can be interpreted as being against Rajavi if that sneeze is not performed in the name of Rajavi. So, you can imagine, the level of fear is intense.
The daily confessions and cleansing sessions are aimed at creating and maintaining this phobic mentality.
Now, imagine you are Alireza Jafarzadeh sitting in Washington, surrounded by happy normal people. If one of the distant supporters even hints that you have looked for two seconds longer than necessary at a female journalist or passer-by or something similar, then Jafarzadeh and others like him will be asked to report on their betrayal of Rajavi. Because thinking about anything except Rajavi is considered a sin.
Now, imagine you are not thinking about something as innocent as a woman’s hairstyle or imagine Dowlat Nowroozi is not thinking how nice some man’s aftershave smelled. Imagine instead you are thinking about why Rajavi has sent you to work with Fox News when only a few years ago Maryam Rajavi was running after a meeting with the late Yasser Arafat.
Are you not going to feel frozen in fear that just this question which innocently popped into your mind will lead you to be accused of undermining all of Rajavi’s great empire and ‘working for the enemy’.
Better not to think about it. Empty your mind and focus on something else.
How convenient then that there are people out there who are quite legitimately asking such logical questions, and uncovering some rather unpleasant facts about life in the Rajavi cult. How much easier it is to repeat the mantra to yourself that ‘they’ and not you are working for the Iranian regime, that ‘they’ and not you deserve to die. How comforting to draw that line and be on the right side of it.
The effect of phobias is that the cult member cannot imagine being safe, happy or fulfilled outside the cult. At best they fear that their life will lose meaning and purpose, that they will never have such an exalted position again.
Inside a cult you are made to feel that you are the saviour of the world. Only you and this cult can solve the world’s problems.
How difficult then to first reject that position by leaving, and then how difficult to accept that what we were made to believe just wasn’t true anyway and that we had been lied to and cheated and half our lives stolen from us for nothing.
When we are able to penetrate the slick propaganda image and peer into the inner world of a cult we can easily discern the methods of control. It is this ability which arouses our compassion and sympathy for those still trapped inside the Mojahedin cult even when they shout at us.
We can now understand that the hecklers who come to meetings where former Mojahedin members gather, have had this specific phobia deliberately triggered. Although they believe they are attacking their enemy and feel courageous in their face-to-face confrontation with the ‘agents of the Iranian regime’, we understand that the cult leaders’ real purpose behind triggering their ranting is to create an impenetrable barrier between their indoctrinated cult identity and the normal outside world where logic, reason and freedom live. The place that we all now live.
How phobias are indoctrinated
Eg. You will become a drug addict or a prostitute if you ever leave
Eg. Whenever anyone leaves something terrible always happens to them or their family
The use of stories and testimonials
Eg. Do you remember so-and-so, after they left they got taken to prison and tortured
Use of existing phobias and fears
Members reveal in daily reports information about their past – in particular traumatic events or psychologically disturbing events or disorders. Fears surrounding these can be recreated or triggered.
The cult members’ fear is generalized to include anything which is designated as a threat to the cult identity.
Any thoughts or feelings or information critical of the cult leader, ideology or organisation
Fear of former members or critics of the group
Doubts or thoughts about leaving the group
Once the phobia is in place the cult member becomes a dependent personality, filled with helplessness and hopelessness about leaving the group. Cult leaders want the members to be filled with fear and self-doubt, they cultivate low self-esteem and manipulate members to work harder for praise and promotion.
Common Cult Phobias
Physical health – if they leave the cult member will:
Die painfully, commit suicide
Become ill and die of AIDS or cancer
Become drug addicts
Develop sexual perversions or diseases
Become overweight or not eat
Psychological health – if they leave the cult member will:
Be committed to a mental institute
Be a failure
Become less intelligent
Lose their memory or talents or abilities
Lose control completely
Never be happy
Lose their dreams and hopes and aspirations
Spiritual life – if they leave the cult member will:
Lose their relationship with God
Be haunted by past problems and without the group’s help they will not be saved
Be judged sinful on Judgement Day
Find their soul rotting in hell forever
Be possessed by evil
Social life – if they leave the cult member will:
Lose the safety and security of the group
Never be able to trust anyone again
Never find a good wife or husband
Be controlled by others
Be rejected by family and friends
Be persecuted by psychiatrists
Paranoia instilled in cult members
Fear they are being spied on and followed
Fear of kidnap by ex-members
Fear their families are working for the enemy Anne Singleton, June 26, 2007