Within Iran and among Iranians, the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MEK) is perhaps the only group less popular than the regime itself. The group’s argument that the Iranian regime’s opposition to them affirms their popularity is nonsense. By the MEK’s logic, Iranian regime opposition would affirm the popularity of both Saddam Hussein and the Islamic State.
There are five main reasons for MEK’s unpopularity:
First, there is history. The MEK was alongside Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini an important force in the Islamic Revolution, an event most Iranians today see as a historic mistake.
Second, there is terrorism. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, the group targeted Americans, killing several military officers and businessmen. After the MEK lost out to Khomeini in a post-Revolutionary power-struggle, they turned their terrorism toward regime officials, often killing innocent bystanders in bombings.
Third, there is treason. In 1980, Iraq attacked not the Iranian regime, but the entirety of the country. Ordinary Iranians, the majority of whom were ambivalent if not hostile to Khamenei, fought for their country. Saddam Hussein’s war aims, after all, went beyond regime change to seizure and annexation of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan province. At the height of the crisis, the MEK made common cause with Saddam.
Fourth, there is ideology. Iranians want democracy. The MEK may speak about democracy, but its commitment is superficial. Rather, the group’s ideology centers upon a bizarre mixture of Marxism and Islamism. Many Iranians want Western-style freedoms; the MEK, in contrast, continues to sing anti-American anthems.
Fifth, is the group’s behavior. It acts like a cult. Maryam Rajavi, the group’s paramount leader following the disappearance of her husband Massoud two decades ago, was herself victim of a forced divorce and re-marriage in 1985.
Indeed, while too many American politicians are willing to take money from the MEK and its front-groups, no matter how murky its origins, the group’s cult-like behavior should raise alarm bells in Washington, London, and Brussels.
The basis of any cult is to isolate its followers from competing narratives, arguments, and reality. First at Camp Ashraf in Iraq and then at its reincarnation in Albania, the MEK imposed strict isolation upon its members. Even in the United States and Canada, MEK members live in strict social isolation from the outside world. They read only ME-crafted publications and refuse to coordinate in any meaningful way with the broader Iranian diaspora.
After the US invasion ended Saddam’s rule, investigators interviewed camp residents. What they found astounded. The MEK would regularly separate children from their parents and force children into group homes. Brainwashed, the group would then recruit the children and impress them into its military operations. A German High Court found that, prior to the 2003 Iraq War, the MEK siphoned off social welfare benefits its group homes and foster parents claimed on behalf of MEK children. When MEK children approach adulthood, the MEK arranges marriages.
They can get away with it because social isolation extends to the young. In both Albania and the United States, it appears that no MEK members’ children attend public or private schools not run by the organization, nor can MEK members’ children even play with non-MEK neighbors. Essentially, there is little difference between an MEK child growing up at the group’s camp in Albania, and a North Korean child growing up in Kim Jong-un’s bubble.
In response to such reports, the MEK and its representatives often cast aspersions and allege grand plots. Previously, I followed footnotes in MEK rebuttals to find they were mostly fictional or irrelevant to the arguments at hand. Human Rights Watch did similarly.
High five-figure honoraria for a five-minute testament to Maryam Rajavi may seem harmless enough. Western officials may believe no harm can come of their endorsement, as Rajavi is irrelevant anyway to Iran today. The reality, however, is harm is great. Not only does such amplification of the MEK allow the Iranian regime to rally people around the nationalist flag, but it also throws obstacles in the way of the Iranian opposition’s evolution toward a common front.
Every American politician should realize that money is not free: It literally takes food out of the mouths of children.
By Michael Rubin – AEIdeas