An interview with Batool Soltani on MKO self-immolations – Part 21
Sahar Family Foundation: What impact did immolations have on the relations within Camp Ashraf, and what objectives did the organization aim to achieve in particular?
Batool Soltani: The impact was widespread and it can be studied from a variety of angles. One was to promulgate and propagate the incident through a variety of means like video-clips, music, plays and TV programs. To impress the members, they had collected many old, impressive and devotionally themed music and songs and made new compositions that were then mixed with self-burning clips that were repeatedly displayed in dining halls and canteens.
The ends they strived for were to provoke and encourage members to identify with the models, to eulogize victims as heroes and heroines, to create a sense of self-criticism for failing to fully fulfill obligations, to coerce them to increase their frequent attendances of weekly hold sessions of ablution and confession to outpour what passed inside them, and above all, to frustrate formation of and doubt and question concerning the operations themselves.
In such an emotively moving atmosphere nobody dared to propound any question or utter any raised doubt; any logic and challenge had to be stifled and critics had no choice but to act in accordance with the whole climate. One interesting point to mention, the members were indirectly encouraged to register as volunteers for suicide operations and apply to burn themselves to death. They also arranged especial sessions to carry out a survey of opinions to have an assessment of the percentage of the volunteers for the operations at the time of Maryam’s arrest.
It was important for the organization to have an exact assessment of members’ allegiance whether to the organization or other external factors. The sessions were organized so cleverly that the attendants unconsciously uttered their internal reflections. To be a volunteer of suicide operations motivated in any form defined a high parameter for organizational promotion, but of further importance was the degree of organizational loyalty and commitment.
As the prerequisite for membership following the so-called ideological revolution was preparedness for death and suicide; to volunteer for operations worked only as a gauge of ideological, political and organizational commitment. The decrees of organization were the laws everybody was obliged to obey with no question; it was the first organizational principle. In the case of the June 17, it was a test of members’ loyalty and commitment.
I remember members who insisted to set themselves on fire at the time but the organization somehow convinced them that their deed was of no use. However, some were displeased of the antagonistic attitude and sought to execute their willingness. If they succeeded, it would question the organizational principle. Of the greater priority was obedience and the one who set himself on fire when unauthorized by the organization would be assessed a defiant.
Regardless of the nature of the defiance, the organization was concerned about its generalization which could cost it irreparable damage. In fact, all was a test of a critical article of the ideological revolution to assess its degree of reliability in the face of any similar crisis. We have already talked about the articles of the ideological revolution and Rajavi’s stabilized status as an ideological leader whose commands had to be consciously and unquestionably obeyed.
The volunteers of self-burning first had to request permission of Massoud and Maryam for the act, a signification of absolute submission to leadership. Any form of disobedience, even unauthorized suicide and sacrifice, was condemned since it could be a possible challenge against organizational principle and had to be strongly confronted.
A practical, regular and invisible assessment of members’ obedience, chiefly at such critical junctures, well identified the potentiality of overcoming a crisis in the future. In fact, it was not the multitudes of volunteers for sacrifice or the passive but the level and amount of obedience. Of course, nobody was aware of the real intention behind all these, otherwise the plan failed altogether.
SFF: What was the main source to break the news of immolations? I mean, was it important for them to be the sole breakers of the news or quote it from other news agencies?
BS: The first channel of information was the Resistance TV but the organization did not mind if other known news agencies covered the news. But the problem was that all information channeled to Ashraf were biased and direct access to original sources of information was prohibited and was highly controlled. It was mostly because the organization behaved in anomalous way with some media and believed they were the mouthpiece of imperialism and the enemies in shadow.
However, some of these agencies were known to be the sole reliable source of information and the organization could not neglect their role in global information exchange. Wherever there were concordance between its own news and that of the agencies, the organization did not hesitate to blow them up to get desired results. However, they received the least attention if their information failed to side with the organization. BBC, for instance, was and is one of those news agencies the organization has despised above all, and that is why you hardly encounter any of the agency’s news and information quoted and reflected by the organization.
Its open hostility towards BBC is based mainly on a once description of the agency by Shamloo that has continued so far, and the organization is really desperate what to do when the agency releases news when it is preciously to its advantage. Suppose, BBC covers one of Maryam’s political visits and meeting while taking an impartial stand and no further analysis. It is an ample opportunity to grab at and to exert the propaganda impact, but the organization shows no direct excitement and quotes the news along with vituperative attacks directed at BBC.
In many cases, the organization applied a clever propaganda technique and aired its own distributed information quoted from well-known news agencies and TV networks for greater impact and desired propaganda advantages. On the one hand, the organization could convince the insiders of Ashraf that it was the center of global political and media attention and on the other hand, it took advantage of exposing its capacity as an alternative. In fact, apart from its attempts to repel the French government, the organization had entirely aimed to be the focus of the global media and to influence the news headlines for some time.
It appeared that domination of the mass media was more serious than Maryam’s release, it is a fact that can be well understood by the amount of the reports and news reflected by the media throughout the world. A look at the organization’s own media at that time and later reveals that it had designated a big bulk of its propaganda space, both cyber and non-cyber, for the reflection of the relevant issues and news and did not spare to stick even at the trifles. The origin of these news was often the organization itself and most often used them quoted from other news agencies; as it benefitted the effect of media coverage on the incidents of 17 June immolations.
To be continued