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The MeK – Washington’s Favourite Communist Terrorist Cult

I considered posting on the MeK, but now Richard Sale beat me to it with his excellent article on what they do and what they did.

I’ll try to complement his piece by providing some additional background on what they are. The group has some quite outlandish characteristics that make it rather unique, and US support for it all the more surprising. It is, in a nutshell, Washington’s (and Israel’s) favourite terrorist cult.

A few days back they staged a protest at the White House, in order to plead for dear leader Maryam Rajavi being allowed to testify before congress on ISIS, and naturally, Iran’s evils. I invite readers to have a close look at the image, in particular the mug of their dear leader, Maryam Rajavi (iirc "the true president of Iran", in one of her unofficial titles), on placards.

 After the US invasion or Iraq in 2003, the MeK were based in Camp Ashraf and ‘liberated’ by US troops. In fact, it was pretty soon that the US had to protect them from the Iraqis who held unfond memories of them, for aiding Saddam Hussein’s efforts to suppress Kurds and Shia. After Saddam’s demise, the MeK however quickly found a new sponsor in sympathetic neocons, who felt they could put the group to good use against Iran.

The RAND corporation wrote a rather thorough and damning report on the MeK in 2009 which can be found here:

It is absolutely worth to be read in full. It should be required reading for everyone dealing with the group.

I will quote at length from the chapter (p.37 f) introducing the MeK’s cult characteristics and especially from Appendix B (p.69 ff), which goes into greater detail.

♦ A Cult … – p. 37 f of the PDF

 Coalition Forces Were Not Prepared to Deal with an Unfamiliar Culture or the MeK’s Atypical Characteristics

 … JIATF’s commanders had few or no opportunities to discuss the difficulties inherent in dealing with the MeK, to share knowledge, or to compare strategies. This deficit had particularly profound consequences once it became apparent to JIATF [ed: Joint Inter-Agency Task Force] officers through their early interrogations of MeK members that the organization was not just an FTO [ed: Foreign Terrorist Organisation]; it was also a cult.

 The MeK as a Cult

 From its earliest days, the MeK had had tight social bonds, but these began to be transformed into something more sinister during the mid-1980s after the group’s leaders and many of its members had relocated to Paris. There, Masoud Rajavi began to undertake what he called an “ideological revolution,” requiring a new regimen of activities—at first demanding increased study and devotion to the cause but soon expanding into near-religious devotion to the Rajavis (Masoud and his wife, Maryam), public self-deprecation sessions, mandatory divorce, celibacy, enforced separation from family and friends, and gender segregation. Prior to establishing an alliance with Saddam, the MeK had been a  popular  organization.  However,  once  it  settled  in  Iraq  and  fought against Iranian forces in alliance with Saddam, the group incurred the ire of the Iranian people and, as a result, faced a shortfall in volunteers. Thus began a campaign of disingenuous recruiting. The MeK naturally sought out Iranian dissidents, but it also approached Iranian economic migrants  in  such  countries  as  Turkey  and  the  United  Arab  Emirates with false promises of employment, land, aid in applying for asylum in Western countries, and even marriage, to attract them to Iraq. Relatives of members were given free trips to visit the MeK’s camps. Most of these “recruits” were brought into Iraq illegally and then required to hand over their identity documents for “safekeeping.” Thus, they were effectively trapped.

 Another  recruiting  tactic  was  arranged  with  the  assistance  of Saddam’s government. Iranian prisoners from the Iran-Iraq War were offered  the  choice  of  going  to  MeK  camps  and  being  repatriated  or remaining in Iraqi prison camps. Hundreds of prisoners went to MeK camps, where they languished. No repatriation efforts were made. For  coalition  forces,  the  MeK’s  cult  behavior  and  questionable recruiting practices are significant insofar as they affect both the daily operations at the camp and the strategic disposition options available to the group. The leadership is unlikely to cooperate with policies that would undermine its ability to exert direct control over its members. Indeed,  Human  Rights  Watch  reports  that  the  MeK  long  ago  instituted a complicated process to retain members who expressed a desire to  leave,  which  included  a  “trial,”  forced  confessions  of  disloyalty, and even torture. Although this process has been modified since the group was consolidated at Camp Ashraf, would-be walkaways are still “debriefed”  for  days  or  even  weeks  while  held  in  some  form  of  solitary confinement, during which they are encouraged to change their minds. Conversely,  the  long-term  indoctrination  and  isolation  experi- enced by MeK members are likely to have instilled an exaggerated sense of  loyalty,  causing  them  to  reject  offers  to  separate  themselves  from their  leaders.  This  would  apply  in  particular  to  repatriation  to  Iran, where the expectation of persecution has been dramatically instilled in their minds.

 The MeK as Skilled Manipulators of Public Opinion

 During the more than four decades since its founding, the MeK has become  increasingly  adept  at  crafting  and  promoting  its  image  as  a democratic organization that seeks to bring down Iranian tyrants, both secular and religious. This profile has been especially effective in the United States and Europe, where, until recently, the MeK’s extensive fundraising activities have been very successful. But despite the MeK’s ongoing attempts to build political support from the West through a multifaceted public-relations campaign, it was not enough to prevent the group from being designated an FTO by the United States as well as by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the European Union. According to U.S. law, providing any type of support—political, financial, or otherwise—for an FTO is a federal crime. Moreover, many of the MeK’s fundraising activities have been proven to be fraudulent (for example, claiming to be soliciting funds on behalf of Iranian refugees, child welfare, or medical services for children). The MeK has also been linked with a range of money-laundering activities. If coalition forces, and particularly those involved in any type of negotiations with the MeK, had been apprised of the group’s long history  of  deception,  they  would  have  been  far  less  likely  to  have  made the  kinds  of  concessions  that  proved  so  troublesome  later  on.  However,  they  found  MeK  representatives  to  be  friendly,  appealing,  and  knowledgeable  about  the  United  States.  Thus,  they  were  susceptible to the MeK’s assertions of neutrality; its apparent willingness to help further coalition goals; its professions of support for democratic ideals,  both within and outside its own organization; and its insistence that it  had  broad  political  support  in  the  international  community.  Had the U.S. military, in particular, been more wary, it is unlikely that the  MeK  would  have  been  able  to  avoid  the  surrender  demanded  by USCENTCOM,  and  even  less  probable  that  it  could  have  elicited  a request for review of its FTO status from General Odierno.

♦ Appendix B – p.69 ff of the PDF:

 Appendix B: Cultic Characteristics of the MeK

 The MeK is frequently described as a “cultish” group, but to date, there has  been  no  examination  of  how  its  practices  relate  to  cult  characteristics defined by experts in the field. This appendix places credible reports about MeK practices into the context of cult theory

 The MeK’s Transition from Popular Organization to Exiled Cult


 Application of Cult Theory to the MeK

 MeK  leaders  and  supporters  vigorously  deny  that  the  MeK  is  a  cult. They  allege  that  former  MeK  members  and  critics  of  the  MeK  are either  Iranian  agents  or  their  dupes.  However,  interviews  with  U.S. military  and  civilian  officials,  information  voluntarily  furnished  by former MeK members at the ARC, and visits to Camp Ashraf suggest that these denials are not credible.The  cult  characteristics  described  in  this  appendix  have  been widely  reported  by  former  MeK  members  and  by  Human  Rights Watch. They have also been substantiated, at least in part, by interviews with JIATF-Ashraf officers and by information volunteered by former MeK members at the ARC.

 Authoritarian, Charismatic Leadership

 "Masoud  Rajavi  appointed  himself  and  Maryam  leader  and  co-leader of  the  MeK  (and,  by  extension,  of  Iran)  for  life,  though  the  NCRI asserts that it would quickly mount elections upon taking control of Iran. This concept of perpetual leadership is reflected in the MeK chant “Iran-Rajavi, Rajavi-Iran” that has been used since the MeK began its transformation into a cult. Equally reflective of the absolute authority wielded by Rajavi is his informal title Imam-e Hal (the present Imam) used by MeK membership. The egocentric character of Masoud Rajavi’s leadership is also illustrated by his willingness to compare his own marriage to that of the Prophet Muhammad. In addition, the MeK membership  ceremony  involves  swearing  an  oath  of  devotion  to  the Rajavis on the Koran. Pictures of the Rajavis adorn all MeK buildings; banners with their portraits hang in the streets of Camp Ashraf. Criticism of the Rajavi leadership is not allowed. …

 Intense Ideological Exploitation and Isolation

 The MeK leadership requires members to study MeK ideology and to participate in indoctrination sessions that are characterized by a mix of propaganda and fear tactics. Group members are required to watch films of the Rajavis’ speeches and footage of various street demonstrations throughout Europe. The MeK broadcasts from its own radio and television stations. MeK leaders permit group members to listen only to these stations and to read only internal reports and bulletins, such as the MeK-produced Mojahed newspaper and other approved texts. Violators are punished. To reduce the appearance of brainwashing, MeK leaders describe these restricted activities as opposition to the IRI or as exercises in military theory. …

 Sexual Control

 As a part of the “ideological revolution,” the Rajavis mandated divorce and celibacy. Compulsory divorce required couples to place their wedding  rings  in  a  bowl  and  renounce  their  affections  for  one  another. (The  rules  did  not  apply  to  the  Rajavi  marriage,  however,  nor  were MeK leaders required to be celibate.) The MeK denies that these acts were anything but spontaneous and voluntary, claiming, “The reality is that the Mujahideen is based in the territory of a country where . . . family life became impossible” and that every MeK member made the individual, noncompulsory decision to “forgo family life.” This denial is not credible, particularly when taking into account the MeK’s strict limitations on gender interaction, as described next. …

 Emotional Isolation

 In addition to their geographic and ideological isolation, MeK members in Iraq are severely socially and emotionally isolated, even within their communal living arrangements. Relatives and former spouses are placed in different compounds and are not allowed to see each other. Prior  to  the  U.S.  invasion  of  Iraq  in  1991,  children  were  sent  to  live with  foster  families  in  Europe,  ostensibly  to  protect  them  from  the impending invasion, though some returned to Iraq years later. Close friendships are considered “liberal relations” and are strictly forbidden. Members may freely communicate only with their unit commanders, and a commander’s permission is required for any other type of communication.  Informants  monitor  conversations  among  members.  In many cases, MeK members’ families in Iran have been told that their relatives had died or been killed. …

 Extreme, Degrading Peer Pressure

 The  MeK  holds  daily,  weekly,  and  monthly  “sessions”  that  involve forced  public  confessions  aimed  at  expelling  deviant  thoughts  and behaviors that are believed to undermine group coherence. MeK members are required to keep daily records of their thoughts and nighttime dreams, particularly sexual thoughts and desires (which are, of course, forbidden), as well as observations about their fellow members. They must  submit  their  journals  to  their  supervisors.  During  large  meetings, members often are forced to read their reports aloud and to make self-critical statements. MeK members are often required to admit to sexual thoughts. In a true Catch-22 situation, if they do not, they will be considered to have been caught in a lie because such thoughts are considered inevitable.

 Deceptive Recruitment

 Prior  to  its  exile,  the  MeK  was  the  largest  group  to  oppose  the  IRI. The  organization  enjoyed  significant  support  among  the  young  and educated middle class. At the peak of its popularity, it could call hundreds  of  thousands  of  protesters  into  the  streets  of  cities  across  Iran on minimal notice. Prospective members were attracted to the MeK’s mission,  its  Marxist-Islamic  ideology,  and  the  opportunity  to  live  in coeducational housing and enjoy social debates. However, its ability to recruit was greatly reduced by the IRI’s brutal treatment of MeK members; the group’s departure from Iran, first to France and then to Iraq; and the MeK’s alliance with Saddam, the instigator of the devastating Iran-Iraq War. … These findings suggest that many MeK recruits since 1986 were not true volunteers and have been kept at MeK camps in Iraq under duress. As of June 2004, JIATF estimated that, of the MeK population at Camp Ashraf, only 5 percent had joined prior to the Iranian Revolution  and  25  percent  had  joined  at  the  time  of  the  revolution. A  full  quarter  (approximately  1,500  to  1,800)  had  been  POWs,  and  45 percent had arrived at Camp Ashraf after the 1988 move to Iraq. Thus, it is possible that nearly 70 percent of the MeK population may have  been  recruited  through  deception  and  kept  at  Camp  Ashraf against their will.

 Forced Labor and Sleep Deprivation

 Cults often use long work hours and sleep deprivation as ways to wear down their members and prevent them from identifying with anything other than the group. MeK members often work 16- to 17-hour days and are limited to a few hours’ sleep per night, plus an hour-long nap. To maintain this pace, the MeK leadership mandates continual “make-work” construction and beautification projects and, until OIF, ongoing military training. The results are evident at Camp Ashraf. Built out of the desert, the camp has grand avenues lined with trees and is adorned with  an  exceptional  number  of  parks,  fountains,  meeting  halls,  and monuments, many of which glorify MeK martyrs.

 Physical Abuse, Imprisonment, and Lack of Exit Options

 Former  MeK  members  claim  that  punishment  was  frequently  meted out for such offenses as

 •expressing or fomenting disagreement with the political/military strategy of the MeK

 •listening to foreign radio stations

 •sharing individual political views with other members

 •failing to attend mandatory meetings

 •making personal phone calls

 •avoiding participation in military drills

 •refusing to participate in the compulsory “ideological divorce”

 •having sexual thoughts

 •communicating with friends or family


 •asking to leave the MeK

 Recent accounts recall that punishment for disagreeing with MeK policies ranged from forced written confessions of disloyalty to incarceration in special facilities at Camp Ashraf. Former members report torture and long periods of solitary confinement  as  punishment  for disloyalty. To  prevent  MeK  members  from  departing  the  camps,  almost all  MeK  recruits  were  obliged  to  turn  over  their  identity  documents to the MeK for “safekeeping.” The MeK now claims that these documents were securely held until they were destroyed by coalition bombs. Although the group was invited into Iraq and given the use of land by Saddam,  the  MeK  never  sought  legal  residence  there.  When  recruits were  brought  into  the  country,  Iraqi  rules  regarding  alien  visits  or immigration were intentionally not observed. With Saddam’s complicity, the MeK leadership was then able to threaten recalcitrant members with prosecution for their illegal presence in Iraq, which would mean incarceration in an Iraqi prison for several years, followed by deportation to Iran, where, members were told, they would face certain persecution. By bringing its members into Iraq illegally and then confiscating their identity documents, the MeK was able to trap them.

 Patterns of Suicide

 The MeK extols suicide but, unlike jihadist groups, has not used it in attacks since 1981. Prior to their capture in 2003, all MeK members carried cyanide tablets in leather pouches tied around their necks. MeK assassins were instructed to swallow the cyanide if captured during a mission. Masoud Rajavi reputedly has called all MeK members “living martyrs,”  and  self-immolation  is  a  popular  form  of  MeK  suicide. For  example,  in  2003,  there  were  approximately  10  self-immolations (which killed two) in protest of Maryam Rajavi’s arrest in Paris. The MeK has also used the threat of immolation as a negotiating tool with the JIATF, with British investigators, and with France. Former members indicate that a small number of MeK members committed suicide because  they  were  prevented  from  leaving  the  organization  and  that suicide was also claimed as the cause of death for recalcitrant members who were tortured to death.

Denial of Cultic Tendencies

 The MeK and its apologists deny that the MeK is a cult, instead contending  that  it  is  a  “deeply  democratic  organization  whose  guiding principle on all issues is referendum and discussion until a consensus is reached.” The MeK admits to certain practices—such as divorce and celibacy—but justifies them as necessary for effective military operations  and  claims  that  they  are  voluntarily  adopted  by  the  membership. However, the MeK denies many other practices attributed to it by it former members, such as intense indoctrination techniques like “thought reform” (commonly referred to as brainwashing) and limiting exit options. As  with  all  criticism  aimed  at  the  group,  the  MeK blames  IRI propaganda for characterizing it as a cult. Certainly, the IRI seeks to discredit the MeK, and this includes publicizing the MeK’s cultic characteristics. It is reasonable to assume that some of the IRI’s allegations are  inaccurate.  But  the  fact  that  the  IRI  seeks  to  discredit  the  MeK does notimply that all of its criticisms are inherently untrustworthy. The IRI’s campaign has contributed to weakened support for the MeK in Iran. Although it is not currently possible to conduct a scientific survey of Iranians to gauge their opinions about the MeK—and, in  the  absence  of  diplomatic  or  cultural  ties,  information  regarding Iranian perceptions is extremely limited—anecdotal evidence suggests that the MeK’s cultic characteristics have contributed to its decline in popularity since 1981. An American journalist reports that Iranians whom she interviewed likened the MeK to the Khmer Rouge and the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, comparisons that have also been made by current and former U.S. officials. Of course, as noted earlier, the MeK’s decision to align itself with Saddam against the IRI and to kill Iranian conscripts during the brutal Iran-Iraq War greatly eroded its  popular  support  in  Iran.  Although  the  MeK  repeatedly  claims  to be  the  most  influential  opposition  group  in  that  country,  in  reality it  appears  that  this  once-prominent  dissident  group  can  now  validly claim  only  to  be  highly  organized  and  well  (albeit  illegally)  funded. Indeed, many Iranians observe that, since the MeK’s move to Iraq, the group is the only entity less popular in Iran than the IRI itself.

There isn’t much to add. The MeK and the US are obviously a match made in heaven, a union based on shared values.

 Given the choice between joining the MeK or the North Korean Army, to me it’d really be a toss up.

 ~ by confusedponderer


 •The RAND study on the MeK:



 •Human Rights Watch Report on the MeK "No Exit":


 •HRW’s response to critics to the report:








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