With the brutal failure of his second bid for power with the Forouq-e Javidan operation in 1988, and the rapid political changes to Iran after Khomeini's death, Rajavi knew he must speedily change the identity of the Mojahedin to confront the new challenges. More than anything, he needed to keep his own members loyal while at the same time, continue to present a viable and desirable alternative for Western consumption. One of the ways he achieved this was to give up the pretence that the NCRI was somehow a separate body and convert it into the political wing of the Mojahedin, or as he described the new order, the Iranian Resistance. But beyond this cosmetic change he needed a different approach to the dynamics of the Iranian political scene.
Now that the motivation of 'Khomeini' had gone, Rajavi had to find a new way to inspire his followers to obey him. So he began to change his own previous version of things. He now described the organisation's ideology as global, rather than just being for Iran. The Mojahedin's mission was now to take the Ideological Revolution and its message for women to the whole world not just to Iran. The Mojahedin's ideology was transformed from simply being a tool for Rajavi to re-charge his followers' zeal in their fight with Khomeini, into an end in itself.
Immediately after Forouq-e Javidan and the death of Khomeini, Rajavi faced a dual crisis. In Iran, the leadership contest was taking place. Who would or could replace Khomeini was the critical issue for the world, not just for Iranians. Ayatollah Montazeri was still under house arrest in Qom for his outspoken criticisms of Khomeini's treatment of opposition groups. The next natural successor in terms of religious qualification had been an Ayatollah several years older than Khomeini who had died just before Khomeini had. In the end, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was chosen, not because of his religious credentials - he had to be 'promoted' in order to undertake the role - but because he was committed to preserving the ruling system that Khomeini had built over the previous nine years.
In 1981, the Mojahedin, knowing they couldn't last long in Iran, burned all its remaining resources in Iran in an attempt to force the issue and provoke a counter-revolution. They wanted to remove anyone who could possibly be a successor to Khomeini after he died. They blew up the Jomhouri Eslami Party headquarters killing over seventy top people from the regime. They succeeded in killing Ayatollah Beheshti, who would most likely have succeeded Khomeini. Beheshti was the top strategic player for the regime and had good international ties. He was very political and diplomatic. This represented a serious blow to the regime. They also assassinated Ayatollah Dast Gheib in a suicide bombing and attempted to kill Khamenei but failed, although he lost the use of one hand as a result of the attack.
Now Ayatollah Khamenei wasn't about to let go all the gains made by the ‘reactionaries’. But Rajavi regarded it as a personal insult to be pitched against someone whom he regarded as his inferior. He couldn't let go of Khomeini, and was lost for some time after his personal enemy had gone. His 'raison d'être' as he called it was no more. It rankled to have his enemy demoted to what he regarded was the level of a second rate ayatollah. Rajavi continued to refer to 'the Khomeini regime' long after it could no longer be described as such.
Inside the Mojahedin after Forouq-e Javidan, Rajavi was faced with a different kind of crisis, a crisis of confidence. If he allowed any doubt at all to creep in over his leadership then the organisation, or at least his version of it, was doomed. He started with his manipulation of members' perception of the events and turned it into an ideological matter in which he had been betrayed by the members' lack of faith in him.
After Forouq-e Javidan there were many forced marriages. Those who had lost a spouse during the operation, were 'compensated' by having another spouse provided by the munificence of the leader, Rajavi. Many objected in their souls, but such is the peer pressure and the need to conform and so lowly is the person who has not passed each ideological phase as it arises, that nearly everyone submitted to the doling out of partners.
For women it was both a duty and a reward. Under Maryam's tutelage they were supposed to regard men as holding them back, blocking their freedom. Men were exploiters of women. The women were awarded a husband on the unspoken understanding that because all their love was for the leaders, they would have no need for a husband and would very quickly 'reject' him in favour of devotion to Sister Maryam. The bitter resentment felt by these women at being 'given' away to a man to replace his dead wife, worked supremely in Rajavi's favour. He couldn't have hoped for a better opportunity to create the necessary tensions between the sexes that his next phase required.
In this atmosphere of doubt and change, Rajavi's next step was bold. Drawing on the 1985 re-write of Mojahedin ideology, he now divorced the Mojahedin totally from its original structure and ethos.
In October 1989, Rajavi announced the next phase in his Ideological Revolution, the 'Internal Revolution'. It became known as such because this phase, unlike the marriage, was not made public. In fact the Mojahedin did all they could to keep this development hidden from outsiders. However, in essence it was simply another step toward Rajavi's original goal, the total control over all Mojahedin members, which he started in 1985.
The content of the Internal Revolution was simple enough on the surface. Maryam was introduced as Secretary General of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran. Until now, Massoud and Maryam had jointly led the Mojahedin. Now Maryam was solely in charge. The announcement caused a huge shock throughout the membership. The unspoken dread, which struck the hearts of loyal members, was simply this - what then, has happened to our beloved Massoud?
The fear was manipulated deliberately because Rajavi was now about to announce himself as the supreme ideological leader of the whole Iranian Resistance movement. This placed him above not only the Mojahedin organisation, but also above the National Liberation Army (which in theory had many non-Mojahedin and therefore non-ideological members fighting in its ranks) and above the NCRI of which the Mojahedin was in theory at this stage only one member out of eleven. In one fell swoop, Rajavi had 'promoted' himself above Maryam to 'Leader of the Resistance' which in effect meant nothing but total ideological leader of everyone and everything; the one person who decides everything for everyone. The full implication of this took some time to emerge. For the present, everyone was relieved that he was still 'in charge'. Deep down, every member knew that Maryam couldn't replace Rajavi as the real leader, and this is what Rajavi himself had made them believe.
The method by which Rajavi introduced this new phase was as significant as the actual changes. It exposed Rajavi's use of the techniques typically used in all cults to manipulate the thought processes of the membership. In Iraq, Rajavi arranged a meeting of unprecedented importance for all Mojahedin members. Members were flown in from around the world to attend. All but the most essential activities were stopped. The meeting took five days to complete. Rajavi spoke from late in the evening when everyone had completed their daily duties, until the early hours of the morning, when the members were allowed a little sleep before again going about their daily tasks. In the hot, stuffy atmosphere of the huge auditorium in Ashraf camp, the members sat and listened to Rajavi expounding on his philosophy.
His oratorical technique was one well known in Persian philosophy. But where the true philosophers use allegory and allusion in order to illuminate a difficult concept, Rajavi used them to more deeply confound his audience. His aim was to introduce religious stories familiar to Shiite Muslims, and give a modern personal interpretation which linked into the politics of armed struggle and opposition. The ready audience was swept along on emotional waves without understanding the real import behind the allusions and stories. Rajavi's intention was to charge them with religious and revolutionary fervour and then, as usual in these meetings, have a few pre-tutored individuals 'interpret' his message to the members. His message 'I am the next Imam, I am your link with God' was implied rather than actually said.
Previous to the five-day neshast, Rajavi had summoned Fahimeh Arvani, who worked closely with Maryam, and charged her up with his new ideas. He then read her subsequent reports to a selected few, thereby charging them so that in the big neshast, everybody had to agree that she knew things that they did not. That is, Fahimeh was totally devoted to Maryam because this was the only way to understand even a little of Rajavi's greatness. Only Maryam had been able so far to perceive Rajavi's true greatness.
In this five-day neshast, apparently only Fahimeh Arvani fully understood the Mojahedin's ideology. She stood up on cue to tearfully declare her love for the leaders. Of course, love for Rajavi was taken for granted, what was actually required was that every individual member love Maryam as the only funnel for their love for Rajavi. Maryam was now placed below Rajavi in the hierarchy and all the members were invited to love her. It was said that no one but Maryam, could fully appreciate Rajavi and therefore only she could act as the channel for every members' love and devotion for him and because he was the embodiment of their struggle, that meant for the benefit of the struggle. This placed Rajavi beyond understanding, beyond criticism, and beyond accountability.
In the end, the mistake that was made in choosing Fahimeh was that she wasn't the usual uneducated village woman that Rajavi usually chooses. Fahimeh had lived and studied in Germany for some time and she eventually came to see things that couldn't fool her for long. Maryam took her to Europe with her in 1993, leaving Shahrzad, her personal assistant, to work for Rajavi.
But it wasn't long before Maryam had to send Fahimeh back to Iraq. It was too dangerous for them to let her loose outside Iraq because she could no longer play the role expected of her. In effect, she had seen the nakedness of the emperor! The dilemma facing Rajavi then was that Fahimeh had been introduced to the organisation as one of its leaders. That is, one of the ideological leaders who, after Rajavi and Maryam, are the ones for whom the rules are different to those for ordinary members, one of those who should be given 100% obedience. This was to the extent that if anyone thinks they see any mistake in one of these leaders, they should look inside themselves to find out what is wrong with themselves. As Rajavi puts it, they are mirrors. Therefore, it was impossible to downgrade and demote her. She had to be kept under control and save her face, while allowing her no responsibility or any direct or serious contact with others.
Application of the Internal Revolution
The real purpose of this phase was to guarantee that there would be no leadership challenge. Rajavi had now removed himself from the ordinary level of leader and elevated himself beyond the normal leader's role to that of link with God. An unassailable position. Now, any leadership challenge could only be aimed at Maryam, and Rajavi ensured that this would not happen by an ingenious ploy of 'freeing women'. This irrevocably diverted the attention of the members from the question of leadership (this became unquestionable) to the difficulty that existed between men and women and their respective roles in the struggle.
Maryam was held up as an example to the women in the organisation. It was claimed that women could free themselves from their oppression as women, only by following her example. But although the move was a pretext for freeing the energy of the women in the organisation, it had the very real value of being able to exploit the women members' devotion, and keeping the men in a state of permanent confusion over their role.
In this equation the only weakness would be Maryam herself. There remained a possibility that she would start playing things her own way or trying to get more power or not delivering what was required from her. This was taken care of by marrying her and also by Rajavi having her completely under his thumb. Even so, he was aware of this minimum risk and many times said to her that you either will send me to the sky or will reduce me to nothing. When she went to Europe, this disaster was imminent. Rajavi felt it and quickly took her back to Baghdad.
The Internal Revolution proved much more difficult to impose than the Ideological Revolution. The Ideological Revolution required people to see the leadership differently. Most ordinary members were happy to do this because they revered Rajavi and believed he could do no wrong. Only the more politically astute or the real revolutionaries found anything to object to in this. However, with the Internal Revolution came the requirement to make actual changes for each member.
Soon after the five-day neshast, once the new leadership roles had been accepted, it was announced that every member should ideologically divorce from their spouse in order to devote one hundred percent of their love and energy to Rajavi.
For those who weren't married or who had lost a spouse in the military campaigns, this probably looked on the surface as something which, although it didn't really affect them directly, would in a sense, even things out. In other words, no member was married and there was no differentiation in their status or supposed privileges. But Rajavi didn't intend to leave anyone out, and the changes were soon discovered to be intended for everyone and to be far deeper in their personal impact than anyone could have imagined.
In the beginning, some married couples decided to leave. In other cases, one half of the partnership wanted to leave and take the children away. It was a time of upheaval. In the ensuing months and years, as the changes filtered down to the supporters, more and more people became disillusioned and began to leave. For many, the Mojahedin had clearly lost their way, and in the end, the difference of whether a member stayed or not became an issue of cult identity.
What Rajavi was asking everyone in the Mojahedin to do was to give him total obedience. He implied to them (through the mouths of Maryam and Fahimeh) that he had links with God and therefore knew things that ordinary members couldn't be expected to understand. This meant that anyone who rejected him was blaspheming against God. The members were mostly willing to allow themselves to be indoctrinated with this new concept. For many, they had simply come too far to break away and to give up the struggle. Rajavi had been so proficient in destroying the strength and credibility of all the other groups and organisations which opposed Khomeini, that there really was no where else to go to continue the struggle. The longer members had served in the organisation and in particular the higher rank they had, the less likely they were to think critically, or even to think at all.
Rajavi was revered. It was a position he had carefully crafted for himself with his own propaganda. Like most 'dictators' he had been scrupulous about promoting a saintly yet authoritative image of himself for his followers. Rajavi's use of cult techniques had by this time, become so endemic in the organisation, that it began to function as a cult rather than a political or military organisation. During this period in particular, as members struggled to understand the new terms and conditions of membership, (with no manifesto to guide them) the struggle for power in Iran was all but forgotten and the struggle to keep up their membership and the privileges of rank gained in the ascendancy. Although everyone spoke of love, love for Massoud, love for Maryam, for many members the only feeling which this move engendered, was fear. They feared being found out or left behind. And the answer from above to everyone's questions was always the same; work harder, don't think, just follow Maryam's example.
As ever, Rajavi was 'saved' by external events. The Gulf War in 1991 provided a much-needed distraction from the internal issues. He could now put to the test his members' resolve and their willingness to sacrifice for him. He didn't need to refer back to Forouq-e Javidan. Members were still smarting over his accusations of betrayal. They showed themselves more than willing this time to obey and sacrifice. Although none were killed (the allied forces deliberately avoided their bases) they unfortunately became implicated in the killing of Kurdish villagers on behalf of Saddam Hussein directly after the conflict ended.
More cynically still, Rajavi used the Gulf War as a pretext to have all the children removed from the bases in Iraq. The children had acted as a brake on the application of the Internal Revolution. Whilst the children were around, it provided an excuse for spouses to meet up in a family context. There was the possibility for 'divorced' couples to continue a covert relationship. Rajavi wanted the total devotion of everyone with no rivals. For him, the children represented his most dangerous rivals for their parents' affections and loyalties. So on the pretext of having them evacuated to safety during the allied bombing, he had children even as young as two months old, sent abroad where they were adopted by Iranian families or kept in dormitories.
Some of the older children soon returned to Iraq and though still under-age, became members of the NLA. They were expected to ‘reject’ their parents as part of the new ideology. In other cases, a parent bravely refused to be separated and decided to accompany their children abroad. As usual, although the Mojahedin denounced these people as defectors, as weak and useless people, they did all they could to keep hold of them and have them work in their bases in the West. In all, the losses were few and Rajavi consolidated his hold over the members' minds, hearts and lives.
Reasons to stay
Given these difficult requirements imposed upon them by Rajavi, it is a serious question in the minds of many, as to why and how the members stay in the organisation. There are several reasons given, but in the end it adds up to the fact that the Mojahedin as a cult organisation has for years employed highly sophisticated mind control techniques. This means that even when a member believes they are thinking for his or herself, they in reality, have the context of their thoughts so limited and reduced, that only a few easily resolvable doubts surface into their conscious minds.
From the time of the Ideological Revolution there remain the same 'reasons to stay' churning around the heads of doubting members. For some there is simple self-delusion. After twenty years of struggle, they cannot accept that the organisation, for which they have sacrificed everything, has betrayed them. For others it is a matter of self-preservation. They have nowhere else to go. Certainly they feel safer there than anywhere else. Some, who joined directly from Iran, cannot imagine what it must be like in the West. The organisation deliberately paints an evil picture of what has become of those who have left. It is claimed they have become drug addicts and prostitutes, or they have been recruited by the Iranian regime and made to work against their erstwhile colleagues. This last claim has nearly reached saturation point. When the number of those accused of working for the Iranian regime is added up, it amounts to one recruit every twenty days over the past twenty years, an enviable record for any Intelligence Service.
There are some that still hope to ultimately gain a position and some degree of power by hanging on to Rajavi's coat tails. They still believe that the Mojahedin is a democratic force which will one day march into Tehran and take over the government of the country. So they stay by convincing themselves that their loyalty will be rewarded by a cabinet position or that they will be made head of an organisation. This of course, is promised to them by the organisation.
Some stay simply because they benefit more from being in the organisation than if they were out of it, or so they think. This is particularly so for women, especially those not from the educated middle-class.
Why do women stay?
The Mojahedin's ideology presently gives complete precedence to women. This is a deliberately divisive policy, which throws men and women into conflict with one another rather than with the leader. Following a system which can be loosely described as ‘positive discrimination’, women are awarded positions of greater responsibility according to perceptions of their loyalty and men are expected to serve them regardless of any issue of competence. So much so that the Leadership Council announced in 1993, which runs the Mojahedin organisation under Rajavi's guidance, consists solely of women.
In the Mojahedin, women are removed from their usual family context and roles. Basic needs are met, their food, clothing, shelter, sanitary facilities, child care - when the children were allowed to stay with them - and more are provided without them having to make extra time to provide these for themselves and possibly a family. Removing the responsibility of women for these menial tasks allows them to concentrate on other (also possibly menial) tasks, which they could not otherwise perform. This is part of a plan to force women - and men - to break down the mental barriers which they have built up all their lives in relation to gender specific activities. The women no longer have to work in the kitchen, and are asked to drive tanks instead. For most women this presents them with a huge mental leap into the dark about their own abilities. They have always seen themselves as, perhaps not physically weak, but certainly 'weak' in some indefinite, non-specific way that has never allowed them to even contemplate undertaking such a male specific role as driving a tank.
The view women and men have of themselves and their opposite gender, has always limited what each sex has chosen or allowed themselves to do. Once the traditional roles are removed and they are made to work outside them, this can be enormously liberating. For a mother of four children who married and bore them because that was all that her village life offered her, it can be close to a miracle to have this 'burden' removed from her and be allowed to take part in the challenges of army life. For a woman who has always been compared to her brothers as being stupid when placed against their academic success, it can be a massive revelation to her that she can successfully take charge of a whole department and run it efficiently.
However, it must be understood that these changes all come in a context of the individuals bearing no personal responsibility for their actions. Their orders come from above. If they fail to fulfil them, it is not seen as a failure to perform the task, but a failure of those involved to give total devotion to their leader.
There is nothing new in this idea. Women in the West are also breaking these barriers to what a woman can do. It is happening in the armed forces, in business and in politics. But the majority of women, for whom these opportunities exist, choose not to abandon the family unit as the mainstay of their lives. This means that their struggle appears more protracted and diffuse, and it is hard to quantify what gains are being made.
In contrast, Mojahedin women who take up the challenge to break the mental gender barriers, although they appear to have succeeded in freeing themselves, are actually being exploited, not freed. It is a very subtle difference, but highly significant when the context is that of a cult. Mojahedin women are not given the choice of whether to have a family or not, this has been decided for them by Rajavi. Mojahedin members are expected to give one hundred percent obedience to the leaders and to obey their orders without question. This allows Rajavi to place women in positions of responsibility for which they have no competence. All they need to do is follow instructions. All the other members are required to obey them in turn.
Rajavi has sacrificed the efficiency of the work performed by his members, by making everyone submit to his requirements. The result is that a veteran with years of experience in any particular field, be it military, political or technical, is now expected to take orders from a woman who has no knowledge of the field. This might be acceptable if it was done for the benefit of the parties involved. But the woman is not expected to take instruction from the veteran to learn her job. As ever in the Mojahedin she must only take instruction from above because it is now the historical moment for women to free themselves from male domination. And the veteran is not required to obey the woman out of respect, but out of obedience to Rajavi who has declared that men must rid themselves of their gender bias toward women. The result of this blind obedience to changing the gender balance of power is that neither gender gains personally or changes themselves except to empty themselves of any ideas that might be interpreted as a challenge.
Rajavi throughout his career with the Mojahedin, has treated the members as disposable and dispensable, which has in fact always been part of the ideology. For the Mojahedin, those who sacrifice themselves are great and ten more will spring up to take their place. In itself, this is sad enough, but Rajavi's misuse of his followers' devotion shows a ruthless and cynical lack of humanity.
The first real example of Rajavi's propensity to sacrifice the lives of others was after the 30th Khordad or 20 June demonstration in 1981. Only the top members of the organisation were catered for with safe houses, arms and protection. Thousands of ordinary supporters were left to be wiped out by Khomeini's forces. There was no plan for failure and this has been a common theme. After Forouq - even the very fact of Forouq itself - there were no instructions for the troops on how to survive if they were injured, captured, or lost etc. The latest manifestation of this lack of care is in the terrorist units, which enter Iran to launch attacks and are caught by the regime's forces. They are given no education in how to survive prison, or interrogation, or even how to survive if they evade capture and become cut off from the organisation for weeks or even years. They are expected to blow themselves up or swallow cyanide tablets.
But this lack of care reveals itself also in the total inability for most of the members to live normal lives. Rajavi has robbed them of what all ordinary people have in the world, even those who live in hardship and poverty or under harsh repression or war, and that is freedom of thought.
Maryam's mission in Europe was to show Western women how the Mojahedin's ideology could free them. In my own experience the Mojahedin experiment has had an extremely narrowly defined success. The removal of women from their ordinary chores and concerns, including the care of children and the assignation of increasingly challenging tasks to perform in the army, has allowed those who were able, to break the mental barriers which all women have in all societies to varying degrees. The universal applicability of this experiment encouraged Rajavi to imagine he was God and could change the course of humankind, by taking the credit for liberating women. However, although his women members could possibly fight a war by commanding and operating tanks and artillery, etc, they could not survive for a day outside the protective environment of the organisation. This is Rajavi's crime against the women in the Mojahedin. He has freed them inside a cage, like freeing the potential of performing seals in the confines of a pool.
By depriving the Mojahedin members of the capacity to think critically and analytically, Rajavi has rendered them ridiculous as people. Such is the level of ignorance in which the members are kept that the women were afraid to wear second-hand clothes for fear that they would catch HIV/AIDS from the clothes. At the same time, the Iranian regime, which is scorned by these women, is conducting public education of both men and women in the dangers of unprotected sex and the use of shared needles in illegal drug usage. Women inside the repressive Iran of today still enjoy a greater freedom than any of the women in the Mojahedin.
For anyone joining at a later stage in the Ideological Revolution, the internal relations were for some time quite inaccessible. Even when told that it didn't matter at what point a person joined and that what mattered was to understand what was required, it was obvious that the people who had joined at the time of the revolution were in part of a process that had continued to the present day. Consequently you would need to have understood and accepted each part of this process in order to understand and accept what was going on now. What is interesting is that when the Internal Revolution was in full swing, this didn't seem to be a problem. No one seemed to care that a newcomer wasn't going to become indoctrinated, and no effort was put into bringing newcomers up to speed.
When the dust had settled after a couple of years, it became clear why this was so. It was because each and every person in the organisation was fighting just for his or her own existence. Members have to keep up with Rajavi's demands and these are not readily evident, they must guess them from the ones who have been in earlier neshasts. Then they must adapt themselves and make themselves believe in it and change and write reports to that effect. If they couldn't keep up to speed they would be hurled to the edges and perhaps even out of the organisation. So difficult was it for them all to come to terms with the requirements of each new phase, that they hadn't the knowledge, energy or ability to help anyone else to understand. It was as though they were all in a knock out contest. Anyone who didn't qualify would be knocked out at each stage. People became adept at pretending. It also became necessary to simply not think, to suspend critical analysis and in this way the organisation has taken on all the hallmarks of cult culture.
But curiously enough, it appears as though no one is masterminding this cult behaviour even though clearly Rajavi is. The whole Mojahedin culture has evolved inevitably out of Rajavi's demands on the members. In this way it has become both insidious and at the same time, patchy.
This situation has now changed. New members are required in order to show popular support and the Mojahedin are now actively recruiting. What they need are people who can be quite quickly indoctrinated. They have techniques, which they apply and those who are resistant are kept at arm's length until another issue arises or the person becomes more needy and so more susceptible to influence.
The Internal Revolution is both a tool of control and a response to internal dissent. Although Rajavi had lost ground in the international political scene, he kept on with his internal changes. Mostly this was due to the growing unease of members who could see that the goal of counter-revolution and marching on Tehran, was becoming a more and more distant dream. Some began to question the organisation in various ways and at various levels. The number of supporters in the West also began to decline. Year after year in the mass demonstrations held in major Western capitals and cities, the numbers decreased. Eventually, there could only ever be enough people if they were shipped in from other countries to make up sufficient numbers to gather in a salon or meeting hall. The Mojahedin membership has reduced drastically over the last ten years. The average age of the members is now over forty years old. As a cult leader, it is questionable how long Rajavi can continue to wear his emperor's new clothes.