An interview with Batool Soltani on MKO self-immolations – Part one
In the course of many separations, for the most part during the past two years, Mrs. Batool Soltani is known to be the highest ranking cadre detached from Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). She was a member of the leadership council and the closest to the organization’s power hegemony and, consequently, she can be regarded the most reliable source of information compared to other separated rank and file. The best evidence is the statements and disclosures she has made, and is still making, on multitudes of issues concerning the organization.
However, with respect to the complex, interlocking body of the organization’s cultic relations and techniques, it does not seem that what she is uncovering for the public is all she knows and can reveal. But her immediate and close contact with the Rajavis as well as her high potentiality for precise analysis that puts forward new discussions based on her personal observations can possibly open a new window for a further analysis and study of the untold about the organization. To accomplish the goal, we decided to take a new turn just along the currently running interviews, that is, to focus on specific issues of the importance. The themes of the priority have been classified which we prefer not to mention in whole at the present since they will be prepared and released according to the circumstances and particular incidents. The first of these themed interviews is on the issue of organizational self-immolations as we are on the threshold of the June 17 anniversary, when, following the detention of Maryam Rajavi by the French police, a number of members set themselves on fire.
It has to be pointed out that these statements contain some dramatic, first-hand details so far disclosed by a ranking member of the leadership council. The interview starts with a prefatory emphasis on the history of suicidal operations and continues up to the June 17 self-burnings. Of the importance in the issue at hand is the materialization of the suicidal operations as a working means in the organization, an adopted means committed in a variety of forms from the past to the present cultic form. The narrative by Mrs. Soltani presents an explicitly further account of what we have so far heard or read about the shocking incident. Looking at an issue from many different angles, her look seems to be novel in itself.
Part one: A definition of suicide operations
Sahar Family Foundation: Mrs. Soltani, our best wishes and compliments and we also thank you for accepting to continue a new series of interviews. In fact, we never thought the interviews would take for so long but it was much because of your own interest and your precise and analytical details you provided for each question and the issues in question. As a result, we came face to face with new ideas that could be well classified into different categories to be discussed in detail separately. We knew there would be problems but when you showed how interested you were, I decided that no problem could hinder. So as not to bother you with further problems, I have arranged not to prolong the interviews but to focus on themed issues besides the routinely conducted interviews. Once more I express my thanks for your remarkable endurance and we hope that your exposé will solve many problems on the way of social movements and expose an outlet for the victimized generation, still enslaved physically and psychologically, to take a sound decision for the future.
First, I need to explain about the subject before going into further details. Of the troubles and challenges the contemporary armed movements encounter with irreparable costs is a commitment to suicide operations. Of course, as you know, the phenomenon is not a working means adhered to by the Iranian guerrillas but imported into our country as the idea of the guerrilla warfare itself. I have to point out that the main motive behind all this is the detention of Maryam Rajavi in June 2003 and the consequent self-burnings, but I deemed it necessary to start a preliminary discussion before we involve in the main issue. I beg your pardon, but I think you got what I mean and so I demand you to feel easy to talk about the phenomenon to whatever extent you wish, that is, how you define suicide operations, what its forms are and in what circumstances they are plotted and carried out.
Batool Soltani: As I come to understand from your explanations and introductory words, the subject proves to require a lengthy discussion. I hope our discourse on the issue will be of use somewhere. Let’s first give a comprehensive definition of the term suicide operation from an organizational point of view and explain its difference with other kinds of armed operations. In every perpetrated operation possibly there are some percentages of killings and in suicide operation there is a possibility leading to the death of people. But the nature of suicide operations is totally different as defined by the current political and militia terminology. It is called suicide because here the perpetrator puts the priority on self-annihilation regardless of any consequent outcome, that is, he makes an attempt to guarantee the accomplishment of the end by his own life while in other forms of operations the death is always a fifty to fifty possibility. Suicide operations are mainly motivated under one of the two incentives, defensive or aggressive.
Before any further explanation let me point out that some people may say that it was Mojahedin Khalq who first engaged in armed and guerrilla warfare in Iran. Regardless of to what extent the claim is true but one thing is clear that the organization is the innovator of a third kind of suicide operation; sending ablaze human-torches onto the streets following the June 2003 detentions. I will give details on the operations. Now let’s see what is the difference between the two mentioned kinds of operations. I have to point that it is a personal categorization of the types and I do not know if there are such definitions in any reference and, thus, they may be prone to mistake.
The first type is the defensive one, that is to say, the main cause for this suicide operation is to safeguard the organizational secrets and information. When the operator faces a serious situation that may lead to his detention by the police or the enemy’s forces and which may consequently lead to extraction of his information he commits suicide as the organizational orders require. This is the point where one has to risk his life to safeguard and protect the information and secrets. By his life, he breaks the possibility of any access to the information that may jeopardize the life of the organization. During the past five decades of struggle in the contemporary history you may encounter many examples of such operations among both religious and non-religious, Marxist organizations and in Mojahedin particularly. Ahmad Rezai (an earlier member in Mojahedin’s central cadre) for example killed himself along with a number of SAVAK’s agent with a hand grenade to avert falling in SAVAK’s clutches alive. There are members like Mahmood Shamekhi and more others whose name I fail to remember who did the same. However, there are a few examples in Mojahedin who have committed this kind to defend the organization against the threats of the regime that had tried to uproot the militia and their movement in any possible way.
There is always a red-line in such organizations where the members have no other choice but to commit suicide. It does not mean that the self-annihilation is the first choice when a member happens to confront the enemy. The red-line means a reaction defined for certain circumstances when the arrest of a certain operator is a question of exposing the organization, information and cadres to irreparable damages. The defined parameter, however, is deliberately overlooked in the years of the organization’s strife with the Islamic Republic. A quantitative and qualitative comparison between the present forces of the organization and those active in Pahlavi’s regime indicate that such suicide operation naturally had to be more common since at that time the slightest leak of information meant a big strike against the entity of the organization and the cadres. But the amount of these operations is beyond of comparison with those of the past regime although there is a remarkable difference between the potentiality and capability of the present and the former forces.
At the present when the organization dispatches its operation teams from Iraqi soil to Iran, the red-line is a mere sense of danger and possibility of arrest while neither the organization has any establishment inside Iran nor its leader reside there and it has no legitimacy there at all. The red-line becomes the sense of danger and the operator has the orders to swallow the cyanide capsule as soon as he/she feels there is a likelihood of arrestment. That is in absolute contrast with the phase of struggle in Pahlavi’s reign when 90 percent of the members and the leaders got arrested and most of them had the opportunity to commit suicide and to swallow the cyanide capsules. Even inside the prison they could but did not.
I apologize for distancing from the main issue but I feel it is necessary to give further explanation to make things clear. Of course, it is a long organizational issue developed following a gained extensive struggle experience and the members easily consent to the instructions for they are organizationally and ideologically justified. Let me also explain about the red-line out of Iran. The organization had strict instruction that if the members with secret and classified information happened to be arrested by the police in the European countries, they had to commit suicide before they could speak under the investigations. I mean the red-line is completely redefined compared to the past and the members’ life as a veteran is assessed much cheaper.
Another form of the suicide operation is the aggressive one. Here the operator’s act of self-annihilation is not a spontaneous act but preplanned. There are some fundamental characteristics distinguishing it from the former one. First, it is a preplanned operation far from being restricted to a final choice in facing unexpected circumstances. Second, it is aimed to fulfill certain end/s, political, economic, ideological, or more, motivated according to the perpetrator’s intention. It might be a part of an organizational analysis of the circumstances or in line with a tactic of struggle. The third factor is that there is a volunteer who knows well there would be no return. In some cases, it is an organizational order rather than requiring a volunteer. In either of the cases, there need to be some psychological and ideological preparation before sending the operator on the mission and if any suspicion of unpreparedness is traced, as it may inflict irreparable costs on the organization, the mission is either cancelled or another prepared alternative is substituted.
In the former kind, there always arises a doubt in the operator and he may not be prepared thoroughly when he faces an unexpected situation when he has the orders to commit suicide. To speak about the examples of the latter form in the organization, it generally happens in the second phase of its armed struggle after the victory of the Islamic Republic. They took the form of suicide terrorism to assassinate the leaders of the ritual Friday prayer. An explicit example is al-Qaeda’s attack against the Twin Towers in 9/11 terrorist operation. There are much more examples of these suicide operations against European economic and political centers all plotted by al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups. These were the two types of suicide operations.
There is a third kind which can be referred to as countermeasure, threatening or protesting. I think Mojahedin can be named as the innovators of this form of operation although we have its instances in other parts of the world like protests made against the war in Vietnam just in front of the UN office and the US Embassies. But what happens in Mojahedin is absolutely different and unique in its own. This form guarantees the media coverage and its effect on the public opinion is so high as the protesters of the Vietnam War did; their protest was against an anti-human, aggressive and colonial war and because they could not demonstrate their protest in any other legal form or conduct through any humanitarian body.
An analytical study of this third kind of operation in the organization and its psychological aspects indicates how exclusively it is utilized by the organization as a systematically working means. The purpose here is neither defensive nor aggressive although some aspects of the both may be embraced. To talk about the intended objective of this kind of suicide operation, we have to develop a good understanding of the outcomes in different circumstances and how beneficial and worthwhile they can be for the organization. I believe this is a tactic utilized by an armed, non-democratic organization challenging a democratic society in general. I mean utilization of a primitively violent, aggressive manner where you have the opportunity and the right of defending yourself through legal systems; but of course neither you have the potentiality of abiding by the law nor do you ever think it is to your advantage.
As a result, you make an attempt to force the challenger retreat from the fulfillment of legal actions through threateningly non-democratic reactions. A look at the setting of these operations, the European countries and France in particular, and the standing of the organization there well indicate that these operations are the result of the dire situation the organization has faced there under a false pretense; naturally no other backlash can be expected of an organization with respect to its complicated internal relations, ideology and armed strategy of struggle. That is why I make the claim to say that this kind of operation is innovated by the organization and hardly can you find any parallel in other political or armed establishments in the world; it has to be recorded exclusively in the name of Mojahedin. I prefer not to explain any more until the right time when I am giving details on self-burnings that is the objective of our interview. I think I have answered your question to the extent of my information, that is, the definition and classification of suicide operation.
SFF: Sure you have done. But your answer breeds more questions which I will pose in next sessions.
BS: As you wish.
Translated by Mojahedin.ws