The Mujahedin-e-Khalq–sometimes referred to as the MEK, the MKO, the PMOI, the NCRI or, perhaps more fittingly, “The Cult of Rajavi”–is a strange terrorist group by anyone’s reckoning.
They wear identical khaki uniforms and headscarves, singing songs to their cult leaders, Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam. They adhere to an eclectic mix of ideological influences, having been variously described as Marxists, messianic Shiites, and even secular democrats. And they are a US State Department designated terrorist organization that has been responsible for bombings, attempted plane hijackings, political assassinations, and indiscriminate killings of men, women and children.
But this is not your average terror group.
These are not like the blue jeans-wearing, cash-paying, constitution-loving, third-party-candidate-supporting, picture-taking terrorists that the Department of Fatherland Security have been warning the American public about for years now.
These are not the three-year-old boys in wheelchairs that the upstanding men and women of the TSA have been patting down as potential bomb-wearing suicide jihadis since 9/11.
No, these are the kind of terrorists that the Afghan mujahedin were back when they were the “freedom fighters” fighting the Ruskies in the 80s. Before they became the Taliban of today.
These are the kinds of terrorists like Saddam Hussein was when he was our man in the Middle East, gassing his Kurdish population with US-supplied weapons. Before he refused to disarm his non-existent stockpile for Bush and Blair.
These are our kind of terrorists.
What the beltway insiders leave out of their analysis is that the MEK has been a violent, radical, terrorist group from its inception.
The group was involved in violence in the 1970s that included the murder of several Americans. The group supported the taking of American hostages in Tehran in 1980. They fled to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, and were given protection by Saddam Hussein in return for help in attacking Iranian targets and brutally suppressing a Kurdish uprising.
More than a terror group, however, or an ideologically driven armed force, the MEK is a cult of personality. Led by Massoud Rajavi and his wife, those who are recruited into the organization have a similar story to tell of their recruitment, brainwashing, and obedience to Rajavi.
Since the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, the strategic value of an Iranian group willing and capable of performing attacks and destabilization efforts has been seen as strategically important to the west, which has been desperate to curb Iran’s quest for Middle Eastern predominance in the post-Saddam power vacuum.
A 2009 Brookings Institution report entitled “Which Path to Persia?” wrestled with the idea of using MEK as a tool for destabilizing the Ahmadinejad government.
“Undeniably, the group has conducted terrorist attacks…” the report concedes. “At the very least, to work more closely with the group (at least in an overt manner), Washington would need to remove it from the list of foreign terrorist organizations.”
As a result, the US has enjoyed a close relationship with this organization over the past decade, despite it still being officially designated a terrorist group.
From 2003, US troops directly guarded the group’s members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. A lobbying effort began, complete with extravagant speaking engagements attended by high-ranking former US officials, to get the MEK de-listed as a terrorist organization in Europe and the US.
In 2007, the group was struck from Britain’s terror group register. The EU followed suit in 2008.
Also in 2008, Seymour Hersh reported that the US State Department was funding and arming the group through officially authorized covert funds.
In recent months, large rallies have been organized in support of the effort to delist the group and glossy television ads have even begun airing to raise public awareness of the issue.
In the latest round of US-government sanctioned support for a designated terrorist organization, the public is being warned about an impending humanitarian disaster amongst the group members at Camp Ashraf. If the MEK is not de-listed, the story goes, the US will not be able to offer the group’s members adequate protections.
Intriguingly, though, more reports have surfaced in recent months linking the group to bombings inside Iran, the bombings of Israeli targets in New Delhi and Bangkok earlier this year which Israel immediately blamed on Iran, and even the assassinations of Iranian scientists that have been plaguing Iran’s nuclear program in recent years.
Earlier today I had the chance to talk to veteran investigative journalist Pepe Escobar about the MEK and their real place in this ongoing war of terror.
Ultimately this is a story about hubris. The hubris of a political elite who think that they are still living in a dinosaur media environment, a pre-Internet age where people have no other access to information than what is being told to them that day by their newspaper or by Walter Cronkite.
In that former paradigm, the rolling out of an agenda was so much easier for the establishment. Almost like a soap opera, all they had to do was set the scene, establish the villain, show us who the good guys were and get us to root for them. They’d do the rest.
In this day and age, it’s perfectly transparent to see what is happening now, and when aging, out-of-touch neocons go to bat for insane terror cults to try to get them delisted, we can see right through those transparent, cynical moves.
The MEK is just another tool in the West’s arsenal to wield against the villain of the month. As long as they are useful in bombing, attacking and otherwise causing carnage in Iran, the West will be happy to use them as pawns in their chess game. They will be given a full-court press, and the people will be made to know that these are the “good guys.”
As soon as they have outlived their usefulness, they will be dropped in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper.
In this new Internet-enabled paradigm, though, the game has changed, whether the political establishment knows it or not. Oh, they can still de-list MEK and build them up in the dinosaur media as crusaders of freedom, and they probably will.
But this time, we won’t be buying it.
By James Corbett