You might have heard about or have seen the pictures of mass suicide of cult members in the United States like Jamestown and Davidians or you might see the news of suicide bombers of Taliban and ISIS in the Middle East every day. The victim-attackers of such incidents are all grown up under certain systems with same criteria. The system is considered a cult. Typical characteristics of cults are based on true accounts taken from testimonies of their victims, carefully studied by cult experts. The result of studies has ended with the crucial conclusion that the Mujahedin khalq Organization fits all criteria of a destructive cult.
Based on numerous evidences, the MKO was one of the first groups to commit suicidal terror acts against civilians. Besides, several group members committed self-immolations in European capitals to protest the arrest of their co-leader Maryam Rajavi by the French police, in June 2003. Two of the self-immolators died and the others became paralyzed forever. But, what is going on in the cult “milieu” that leads its followers to commit such violent acts against themselves and others?
Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author of a book titled “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism”. Dr. Lifton conducted a thorough study of American returned POWs to discover the process used to reform their thinking. Though his focus was on prisoners of war the criteria carry over to the cult mind control model executed in other cult-like systems including the Mujahedin Khalq that is better to be called “the Cult of Rajavi”.
Coincidently, some of the Iranian POWs of the Iran-Iraq war were deceived by the recruiters of Cult of Rajavi. They were not released even after the exchange of POWs following the end of the war .At first, newly recruited ones saw the leaders of the MKO as friendly and supportive compared with Iraqi officials. It took them a while to find out that they got trapped in a horrible controlling system.
This is what Dr. Lifton calls Milieu Control. Milieu is the environment in which we live. It includes all our interactions on a daily basis. It includes the information we take in and the information we give out. It includes the people, places, events, and ideas that pass through our daily life. For a member of the Cult of Rajavi the milieu is restricted to their superior authorities in an hierarchy on top of which the Rajavis rule and their peers who are not reliable ones but they are rivals who have to watch you, spy you and report your deeds. The place, events and ideas are all those that the Rajavis define for members. This milieu implies isolation and solidity of thought that according to Lifton paves the way for “a thought reform milieu”. Actually, “thought reform” is an academic equivalent term for brainwashing.
Lifton suggests, “Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual’s communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also – in its penetration of his inner life – over what we may speak of as his communication with himself.”
He seems to be describing the milieu of Camp Ashraf, Camp Liberty, the MKO headquarters in Paris and even its current base in Albania. The most recently defected member of the Cult of Rajavi Karim Aliyari was a POW of Iran-Iraq war. According to Nejat Society, “his name along with some other prisoners’ names were not registered on the Red Cross list. So as, after the war ended and an agreement signed between Iran and Iraq and RC to exchange POWs of both countries, the Baath Regime didn’t register their names on the exchange list of RC.” He was handed over to the MKO by the Baath officials.
Karim had had no contact with his family since he was captured during Iran-Iraq War in 1986. Finally Karim managed to liberate himself from the mental and physical barriers of the MKO cult in Albania and contact his family after more than thirty years. Some other members of the MKO who had been recruited while they were POW in Iraq, left the group after years of suppression. Immediately after their release, they began revelations against the Cult of Rajavi.
Dashtestani was a 16-year old teenager when he was captured by Iraqi forces in his way from Abadan to Mahshahr [two towns in SouthWestern part of Iran where Iraq invaded in 1979].In 1988, after ten years of imprisonment in Iraqi prisons when Mujahedin offered him help return to Iran, he accepted their offer. He was deceived by MKO due to two reasons .First because he was not informed enough and second was MKO’s dirty recruitment tactics and the mind control system that enhanced and abused them due to lack of sufficient information.
“In their mind control system they had to prevent the members’ minds getting into sexual or emotional thoughts. If you think of your ex-wife, you should write it and then read your confessions in the brainwashing meetings where your comrades will attack you, insult you saying that “you are wrong”, “damn you”. “That woman is not your wife any more”. “She is your ideological sister”. “She belongs to the leader”, says Mahmoud Dashtestani in one of his interviews after his release. [https://www.nejatngo.org/en/posts/3309]
According to Dashtestani and many other defectors of the Cult of Rajavi, The weekly brainwashing meetings are obligatory. You must confess a sin -a sexual one. It will be even worse if you do not confess anything. They take you to a place called Bengali where they talk to you for several days, putting you under too much pressure. They say that you definitely have some sexual thoughts that you are concealing. “Their arguments and sometimes quarrels in the meetings were justified as “human science”! What a human science! They call it monotheist “Anthropology” in which they use peer pressure as weapon. They say peer pressure is just like the leader,” he says. 
Dr. lifton labels the destructive cults like the MKO as “Cult of Confession”. The Closely related criteria of a destructive cult is confession. Not legitimate confession to God, but improper confessions. Any personal weakness, bad thought, failure to give 100% to the group, must be confessed. Even wrongs not committed can be confessed to help the leader achieve the utmost authority over members. Confession can have a purifying effect on the person confessing. It can also provide leverage to use on the person in the future as often happens in cult-like systems. Open confession sessions can create a sense in the group of personal uncertainty. If a seemingly strong person is confessing the weaker followers will feel less sure of their own purity. Public confessions can eliminate the sense of boundaries you need to maintain your individuality. Thus, gradually your individuality is ruined.
Good news is that those who returned usually quickly returned to the worldview and value system in which they were raised. In other words, brainwashing does not last if it is not maintained. Therefore, helping the MKO hostages get released from the bars of the cult should be a vital agenda for human rights bodies and international communities.
By Mazda Parsi