The word “cult” is a term with various meanings; the sentiment of the word is nonetheless perplexing. “Cult” has gone through a rather insignificant linguistic evolution. As early as 1617, the word shows up in both Latin and French meaning to worship or care for; it also shows up with the meaning to tend, till (the earth), or cultivate. After the 17th century, the word seemed to wane from usage, and is not found in many texts until it surfaced again in the mid 19th century where it has become to some extent symbolic with bizarre religious groups, ancient or primitive rituals. In 1829 a definition surfaced which signified it with “devotion to a particular person or thing.” More recently the meaning has expanded especially in the West and has come to incorporate a more positive vibe as it refers to films or people with rock-star-type fame. With such development of the word, sociologists have backed away from using the term too specifically in academia, although it is still widely used by the general public.
As terminology has tended to become more specific in the social sciences, experts agree that the word “cult” is a rather loose term and for the most part needs to be explicitly defined. Leona Furnari of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) first used a new term which subverts the word*cult * and replaces it with the more specific “closed high-demand group” or CHDG.
CHDG’s are abusive, manipulative groups or relationships in which deception and mind control are used to gain power over members or individuals.” 
As a former member of a CHDG, Furnari determines some common characteristics of these groups:
– Members are expected to be excessively zealous and unquestioning in their commitment to the identity and leadership of the group. Personal beliefs and values must be replaced with those of the group.
– Members are manipulated and exploited and may give up their education, career and families to work excessively long hours at group –directed tasks such as selling a quota of candy and books, fund raising, recruiting and proselytizing .
– Harm and threat of harm may come to members, their families and/or society due to inadequate medical care, poor nutrition, psychological, physical or sexual abuse, sleep, deprivation, criminal activities, etc. 
Furnari’s unique perspective and knowledge qualifies her to act as an authority on the subject of CHDG’s, and as a result she has become one of the leading experts on CHDC’s. (She currently runs a practice to help people who have been subjected to the exploitive methods of CHDG’s. )
Having determined a clear definition of a CHDG for the purpose of my argument, it is important to know that CHDG’s are not unique to any particular culture, religion, or political group. I’d like to discuss one group in particular who meets the criteria of a CHDG, and whose group shadows many of the socio-political, and cultural-religious aspects of the societies in which they are located, in which they are influenced by, and in which they would like to influence. This group is the Mujahedin-e Kalq Organization, also known as the MEK, MKO, NCRI, and numerous other front names which they come up with in order to confuse the public, and in order to mask their shrewd, dirty practices. The MKO is made up of members (mostly Iranians who do not live in Iran) who have been deceived into believing that the leaders of the MKO, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, are a viable alternative to the leadership of the current Iranian government.
(While Iran maintains a tainted reputation in the West, mostly for resisting the pressure to conform the West’s ideals, its internal problems, like any other nation, are going to be solved by the population who knows it best—by the intelligent people who live there. Iran has had a long and complicated, highly misunderstood history which for the past 50 years has been exacerbated by propaganda from the West. Iranians feel that the West does not understand Iran, and most people living there feel that the demise of relations comes from a track record of a misinformed media, and a long-standing, unacknowledged grudge for the destabilizing atrocities that the US committed against Iran as it was moving naturally towards a modern political state.) The truth is that the MKO is a closed high demand group and its practices are identical to the criteria that Leona Furnari has proposed. The MKO spends an enormous amount of time and energy conjuring stories to hide its ugly practices and propagate its intention of taking over Iran. For the time being I am going to concentrate on some of the MKO’s CHDG practices for the sake of exposure. The group is dangerous. They have conducted various terrorist attacks over the decades which have literally killed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens and government officials. They are not so much a threat to the Iranian government—but to the members who have been duped into dedicating their lives in one way or another to the MKO. It is important to expose the MKO now, and continue to expose them, because Iran has become, or will soon become a target for the West, and needless to say, enough people have already died because of the MKO—no more need to. The MKO is disguised as an architect of human rights and blind supporters need to know the truth about the group. For this reason, and for the sake of members who have been sadly been tricked into giving up their lives for the MKO’s false hope, I will therefore list a short series of incidents which I feel clearly indicate that the MKO is a CHDG.
One former member of the MKO, Ann Singleton, who now lives in the UK, describes the organization as a “dangerous cult because it believes in using violence to achieve its stated aims. It is destructive because it destroys the lives, minds and spirits of its membership. The majority of the members are held incommunicado, with no access at all to the outside world. Within this isolation they are subjected to a systematic daily regime of psychological manipulation and coercion.”
An example of this violence drew attention in June 2003, following the arrest by French Police of the MKO leader, Maryam Rajavi. Following the arrest, a number of MKO members in various large cities set themselves on fire. People around the world questioned the motivation behind the self immolations. The *National Post* (Canada) reported that after Maryam’s arrest, “the MEK had responded by mobilizing its international network of supporters, ordering them to take to the streets in protest. At the French embassy in London, an Ottawa woman named Neda Hassani died after setting herself on fire.” Her father later told reports that Neda “loved [Maryam Rajavi] dearly.”
In 2005, Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed five MKO members who were able to completely defect from the group. HRW reported in an article titled “No Exit” that the defectors’ “testimonies, together with testimonies collected from seven other former MKO members, paint a grim picture of how the organization treated its members.” Furthermore, “the MKO former members reported abuses ranging from detention and persecution of ordinary members wishing to leave the organization, to lengthy solitary confinement, severe beatings, and torture of dissident members.”
The US State Department has documented that main objective of the group’s leaders is to gain power and this is done by having Maryam and Massoud Rajavi sustain a system that maintains a Cult of Personality. But total devotion to the leaders has physically maimed and traumatized some of the members for life. In October 2008, Nasrin (Batoul) Ebrahimi disclosed some of the MKO’s human rights violations. Being an ex-member of the MKO’s so-called elite “Leadership Council” Ebrahimi had both witnessed and experienced some of the worst human violations possible. In her speech at the European Parliament, she revealed an MKO practice called the “Ideal Summit Operation” which was basically a hysterectomy ordered on women members. The operation is done by a doctor named Nafiseh Badamchi, an MKO physician. 
Another former member of the group, Batoul Soltani, who also participated in the group’s “Leadership Council”, spoke out about a bizarre manipulative practice called the “Salvation Dance” in which women members were required to dance nude in front of the leaders. Soltani asserts that during the “Salvation Dance,” the women are indoctrinated by their superiors—they are told to remove their clothes in front of Massoud Rajavi who then says he will lead them to heaven and God. Ms. Soltani recalls that she noticed “Maryam and some other high ranking members were monitoring us and trying to convince those of us who hesitated to remove their underwear.”
Members of MKO who live at Camp Ashraf, Iraq have been kept in an atmosphere of horror and isolated from the outside world—especially since the collapse of Saddam Hussein. The group was disarmed by coalition forces and their leader, Massoud Rajavi disappeared—fearing for his life, as he was a close ally of Saddam Hussein—going as far as helping the Ba’athist government exterminate hundreds of Kurds as well as plant bombs against the Iranian people. Members are so highly controlled that they are not able to trust their own families. Ann Singleton writes that “one of the most potent tools used by cult leaders to control their members is through the inculcation of irrational fears, or phobias, in the minds of the cult members.” Singleton believes that today MKO members’ phobias consist of many things, but mostly that, people who want to help them—mostly family members—get out of the cult are somehow coerced by “the agent of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.” She furthers that “no empirical evidence is required as the phrase works exactly to arouse irrational, not real, fear.”  Consistently over time the cult’s leaders have abused MKO members’ rights, and labeled MKO members’ family members as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Because of this, members of the group are not allowed to visit their families. For more information about MKO human right abuse, please refer to the following website of the United Nations Refugee Agency:
Furnari, Leona. “Born or Raised in High-Demand Groups: Developmental
Considerations.” *ICSA International Cultic Studies Association* 4.3 (2005):
Web. 16 Dec 2010. <
 Singleton, Ann. “Fear and Slavery in the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult.” *
Iran-Interlink* (2009): Web.16 Dec 2010. <
 National Post. “Father’s Sacrifice.” *canada.com* Sep. 26, 2006: Web. 16
Dec 2010. <
This is the third part in a series of five articles by the National Post
investigative team. National Post investigators found the outlawed terrorist
group Mujahedin-e Khalq recruited teenagers in Canada and sent them abroad
to overthrow the Iranian government by force. In this article, a Canadian
family got deeply involved with the guerrillas — and now regrets it.
 Human Rights Watch.* * “No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the
Mojahedin Khalq Camps.” 18 May 2005: Web. 16 Dec 2010. <
Fars News Agency. “The Ideal Summit Mujahedin Khalq makes women
unfertile.” 15 October 2008
Web: 16 December 2010. <http://iran-interlink.org/fa/?mod=view&id=5257>
NEJAT BLOGGERS. “PMOI Leadership Council’s women SALVATION DANCE.” 19
August 2010. Web: 16 December 16, 2010 <
Singleton, Ann. “Fear and Slavery in the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult.” *
Iran-Interlink* NOV 2009: Web. 16 Dec 2010. <
By Mazda Parsi