Comparing cult characteristics with different phases of formation of ideological revolution in MKO proves that it is a cult
The translated text of Dr. Massoudinia’s speech made at the Symposium of the Link between Cults and Terrorism held in Isfahan.
3. Cult and Cult-like relations
Nowadays, there are at least two organization accused of being terrorist and cultist, namely Al-Qa’ede and MKO. In 1997, U.S. foreign ministry introduced MKO as a sect following cultist doctrine. The US State Department’s report refers to the terrorist nature of MKO and their cultist doctrine:
Rajavi, who heads the Mojahedin’s political and military wings, has fostered a cult of personality around himself. These characteristics have alienated most Iranian expatriates, who assert they do not want to replace one objectionable regime for another. (24)
These comments imply that such a cultist approach has been intensified after the so-called ideological revolution of MKO under the leadership of Mas’ud Rajavi:
The internal organizational structure of the Mojahedin has varied little throughout the group’s history. Importantly, the autocratic decision-making style of the leadership and the cult-like behavior of its members — two defining patterns of the organization’s operations — have combined to deny the Mojahedin the support of most Iranians (25)
In this regard, Eerevand Abrahamian writes:
Mujahedin-e-Khalq has a strict hierarchical system based on the commands issued from the top. The main duty of members is blind obedience. (26)
It has to be taken into consideration that the structural relations of political parties and democratic organizations is based on eliminating any kind of political and ideological ambiguity not to order blind obedience. In such groups, criticism is the absolute right of every member and the leader should eliminate all members’ ambiguities and doubts. However, in MKO even asking questions equals disobedience and is regarded as sinful. Its basic principle is “no thinking”. After the so-called ideological revolution in MKO, the Human Rights Watch issued a report and accused MKO of violating human rights and following trends of a cult. He refers to the internal ideological revolution of MKO and says:
The MKO’s leadership consists of the husband and wife team of Masoud and Maryam Rajavi. Their marriage in 1985 was hailed by the organization as the beginning of a permanent “ideological revolution.” Various phases of this “revolution” include: divorce by decree of married couples, regular writings of self-criticism reports, renunciation of sexuality, and absolute mental and physical dedication to the leadership. The level of devotion expected of members was in stark display in 2003 when the French police arrested Maryam Rajavi in Paris. In protest, ten MKO members and sympathizers set themselves on fire in various European cities; two of them subsequently died. (27)
A number of former members of MKO have predicted the shift of the group to a cult in 1970s. A good example may be the separation of three high-ranking officials from the organization, namely Reza Ra’eisi, Hamid Nuhi and Hossein Rafi’i in 1976. They have expressed the factors resulting in their separation from the MKO in a book titled “the Process of Separation”, saying:
As a result of the probable failure of Liberal party in the future, Mujahedin-e-Khalq may become a religious cult. (28)
Another former member of MKO believes that the shift of MKO to a cult is not an immediate process but has a historical background. He rejects the claim of organization as being a democratic one. He refers to the fact that if there was a democratic leadership in MKO, their ideological disintegration in 1975 did not occur. He says:
Disintegration of organization in 1975 and its splitting into a Marxist and a religious sect reveals that the leadership has never been a democratic one. (29)
Mas’ud Jabani, a former member, reports that Rajavi in 1985 asked the information office of the organization to conduct a research on cults which was justified it as follows:
Imperialists, through religious sects, are busy doing something. We want to know what they are doing. (30)
Despite such claims, we will review the modern and traditional indices of cultist organizations. Comparing such indices with the present doctrine of MKO would reveal its cultist nature. According to Singer, the author of the book “Cults in our Midst”, cults are a center for recruiting members rather than an organization with predetermined titles and goals. He defines cultist relations as follows:
Cultist relation means a relation through which one person consciously forces others to be dependent on him in making all his decisions. The followers are convinced that the leader has a special faculty, genius, and knowledge. (31)
In other words, cult is a process used to convince a person or develop an idea quantitatively or qualitatively regarding political, religious, ideological, military, economical, mental or other objectives. Singer concludes his studies concerning cult structure in three parts:
1. A self-appointed and life-long leader of a spiritual role. He is to be praised but not criticized and all members are linked to him mentally and ideologically.
2. A top-down organizational structure of totalitarian pyramid with the leader on top.
3. Mental reforming (brainwashing) and pushing members to extremism and absolute submission. (32)
Similar studies show that the role of the leader is highly determining in two-fold axes. In addition, a number of former members thus analyze the indices of cultist leadership:
Authoritative leadership is the main characteristic of a cult leader. Many former members of cults expounding on the characteristics of the leader say that he is the absolute authority, 2. has a doubtful character, 3. demands absolute confidence, 4.claims to have a direct connection to God, 5. Indulges in sexual abuse, 6. poses ambitious claims, 7.demands monetary support, 8.claims that evil forces are to deceive members. (33)
Another resource describes the characteristics of deviated cults as such:
Having a pyramidal structure and a leader on top, 2.charismatic leader(claiming that he is the agent of God and can interpret divine resources, 3.deceptive strategies for recruiting members and collecting money, 4.mental and physical isolation, 5.using mental controlling strategies.(34)
There is a question that is the degree of danger identical in all the cults? To determine how dangerous a cult might be, “the Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” can be a good help. The frame refers to the factors as:
1- INTERNAL CONTROL: Amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.
2- WISDOM CLAIMED by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations.
3- WISDOM CREDITED to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s).
4- DOGMA: Rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or "fundamentalism."
5- RECRUITING: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing.
6- FRONT GROUPS: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group
7- WEALTH: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members.
8- POLITICAL POWER: Amount of external political influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members’ secular votes.
9- SEXUAL MANIPULATION: of members by leader(s); amount of control exercised over sexuality of members; advancement dependent upon sexual favors or specific lifestyle.
10- CENSORSHIP: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
11- DROPOUT CONTROL: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
12- VIOLENCE: amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s).
13- PARANOIA: amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories.
14- GRIMNESS: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).
15- SURRENDER OF WILL: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).
16- HYPOCRISY: amount of approval for other actions (not included above) which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate group’s declared principles for political, psychological, economic, or other gain. (35)
Bonewits draws a linear graph, numbering 1 to 10 to mark 16-fold characteristics of cults. According to him, resultant grade shows the extent of danger of a cult. It can also be used as a means for revealing the cultist nature of MKO and their danger. Comparing the studies done by Bonewits and Singer reveals the following points in common about a cult leader:
– A life long, self-appointed leader
– Pyramidal structure of organization.
– Brainwashing strategies for recruiting members, controlling and exploiting them.
After the ideological revolution of MKO in 1985, these points were taken into consideration as prerequisites for being a member of the organization. However, they have been implied in the morphological structure of MKO before it since at first it was not possible to express such conditions openly. Many of characteristics mentioned by Bonewits have been the most self evident principles of the formation of organization from the beginning. Comparing such characteristics with different phases of formation of ideological revolution in the organization proves that MKO is a cult.
24. The State Department Report on MKO. (1997).
26. Abrahamian, Ervand; The Iranian Mojahedin,Yale University Press, 1989.
27. The Human Rights Watch Report; No Exit, (2005).
28. Raeis Tusi, Reza. The Process of Separation. Samadie Publication.
29. Rastgu, Mohammad Ali. MKO in the Mirror of the History. (2005).Islamic Revolution Centre Publication.
30. Jabani, Mas’ud. Psychology of Aggression and Terror.
31. Singer, Margaret Thaler. Cults in our midst.
34. www. refocus.org.
Nejat Association May 2007
Translated by mojahedin.ws