This book had tried to show how and why Massoud Rajavi has perverted the Mojahedin organisation for his own aims. His primary aim throughout has been to achieve power in Iran through violence. That is, without reference to any political process. Rajavi wants ‘either everything or nothing’. So far he has been denied any involvement in Iranian politics except as the perpetrator of terrorist acts in the country. In order to fulfil his aim, Rajavi has put the Mojahedin organisation through a most extraordinary series of changes. This chapter seeks to examine the impact of those changes on the members.
With the 1985 announcement of the Ideological Revolution, Massoud Rajavi engineered an ideological coup on the organisation. Although it started life as a politically ideological and revolutionary organisation, Rajavi changed the Mojahedin out of all recognition. It is now operating around a pseudo-religious ideology for which Rajavi is the deity. Was the change necessary? Did they have to change in order to survive? It is possible to argue that any organisation has a degree of organic and dynamic change built into it. Also, that it must be flexible enough to make pragmatic alterations to the way it operates as a consequence of both the world it exists in and the demands of the situation it is in direct relation to.
But the Mojahedin has done almost the opposite of what could have been expected. Rather than change in response to external demands, the organisation has wilfully ignored these and instead, obeying its own internal dynamic, rendered itself more and more distant from any constituency it might possibly have previously had recourse to for support. This internal dynamic is controlled directly by Rajavi himself and it demands that the organisation, down to every last member, must be kept totally and unquestioningly obedient to him.
One highly significant, but overlooked aspect of the Mojahedin’s internal status, is that the vast majority of its members comprise the original membership of before the 1979 revolution up to 1985 when recruitment changed. These are what Maryam Rajavi refers to as ‘Massoud’s generation’. It gives an average age to the organisational members of between forty-five and fifty years. This alone makes it impossible to regard the Mojahedin as an ordinary fighting force. Certainly it is not a force, which can take on the Iranian armed forces. However, it is a force, which is prepared to sacrifice itself in such a way that makes it just as useful to Rajavi in the long term. These members are in it ‘to the end’. For them, ordinary life holds no attraction or meaning. Indeed one of the Mojahedin’s pejorative terms about their supporters is that they are ‘ordinary people’.
Those who have met them might indeed say that they are not ordinary people. Members of the Mojahedin exude a kind of attractive purity and intensity of purpose, which on the surface appears as a deep personal confidence and conviction. Their behaviour, however, is the result of having lost all their inhibitions and having no personal responsibility for anything or toward anyone beyond obedience to Rajavi. Their existence is completely outside what is recognisible as normal experience. The normal values, which govern any society, have no meaning for the Mojahedin. The values of honesty, truth, independent thought, freedom of action to name but a few, have no meaning here.
The key to understanding this extraordinary situation is to go beyond the Mojahedin’s professed political platform and examine the behaviour of the organisation toward its own members. Since the inception of the Ideological Revolution, Rajavi has exerted more and more control over every aspect of the members’ lives. In 1985 Rajavi called for living martyrs. This allowed him to order his followers to do what he asked of them beyond the normal range of political or revolutionary tasks which it might be thought necessary for overthrowing the Iranian regime. Such acts included forced marriages. In particular, after operation Forouq-e Javidan in 1988 in which many members lost a spouse or other family member. Although it was introduced as maintaining family values, it was clearly about testing and rewarding loyalty. In particular a trend began to appear among women who were ‘given’ a husband. Those who were most devoted to Rajavi began to reject their husbands according to Maryam’s example, that is, Maryam’s rejection of her own husband Mehdi Abrishamchi to marry with her ideological equal, Rajavi. None of this was ever spoken. Indeed much of the Mojahedin ideology is planted, grown and perpetuated simply by example and peer pressure.
This led on to the next stage in the Ideological Revolution. In 1990 Rajavi required everyone to divorce. He gave Abrishamchi as the example. He said that Abrishamchi had divorced his wife and accepted that she marry Rajavi because of his understanding of the ideological necessity for it. Now all the members were required to understand and make this sacrifice. The women should consider themselves as belonging to Rajavi and the men should accept this and lay no claim to any woman. This involved non-married members also. It was meant as an ideological commitment to Rajavi, rather than as the physical separation of the sexes, although this was fundamental to it too. And Rajavi had no intention of laying claim to the women except as forces to work for him.
Then in 1996, whilst Maryam was in Europe, Rajavi instigated a series of meetings in which he demanded the hearts and minds of the members. They were required to indivdually submit to a kind of ritual public humiliation and thereby show that they had fully submitted every aspect of themselves to Rajavi. Members had to divest themselves of every vestige of pride. Pride, that sense of individualism everyone possesses, would in Rajavi’s view, allow them to form opinions and concepts outside those he wanted them to have.
The most recent development has been described as ‘ideological Qosl’. Qosl is the ritual washing of the whole body, which gives Muslims the necessary state of cleanliness for praying. Rajavi currently requires his members to perform a kind of ritual ideological cleansing. This must be done once a week in public and on camera. He is no longer satisfied with the daily reports. People must now have no way to hide or disguise themselves.
This behaviour in an organisation is extraordinary. It is questionable whether members of a political organisation could allow themselves to be so treated. However, this strange situation begins to make sense when viewed within the framework of what constitutes a cult. Then it becomes clear why the Mojahedin behave like this and why the organisation is rejected by most right thinking Iranians and reviled by almost all ex-members.
Rajavi cannot possibly have set out to create a cult no matter how convenient such a structure has become for him. His first ambitions were political and he wanted not a share in power in Iran, but power over all the country. This book describes the actual progress of his failure in that respect and how the choices made by Rajavi, irrevocably skewed the future of the organisation. Rajavi clearly wanted power and was prepared to subordinate the whole organisation and all its members into a means for him to achieve this. However, what is startling to observe, is that at some imperceptible point, the organic culture of the organisation took on a life of its own and the slide into a cult could not be stopped or diverted, even had the leader wanted to. Well, so long as it is in his favour why should he want to?
So what is a cult?
In Cults: A Practical Guide written by Ian Haworth of the Cult Information Centre, there is a definition of a cult as an entity having the following five characteristics:
It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
It forms an elitist totalitarian society
Its founder or leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma
It believes 'the end justifies the means' in order to solicit funds, recruit people and, in this case, to further its political ends.
Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.
The Mojahedin fit all these characteristics. But Ian Haworth goes on to describe the problems with cult culture as follows:
Why are cults harmful?
To remain within the strict mental and social confines of a cult for even a short time can have the following disastrous effects:
Loss of choice and free will.
Diminished intellectual ability, vocabulary and sense of humour.
Reduced use of irony, abstractions and metaphors.
Reduced capacity to form flexible and intimate relationships.
Hallucinations, panic, dissociation, guilt, identity diffusion and paranoia.
Neurotic, psychotic or suicidal tendencies.
The greatest concerns then as regards the Mojahedin are firstly, that membership of any cult is damaging to the mental, physical and emotional health of all its members. In addition, membership of this particular cult deprives the person of every basic human right as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Which the Mojahedin claims to uphold in its denunciation of the regime’s crimes.) In this respect there are two areas of concern. One is for existing members who are ignorant of the damage they are inflicting on themselves and the other is for those who reject the cult and more importantly its leader. Let us first look at the conditions encountered by the willing members.
The proper term which is used in the Mojahedin is ‘submission’ to Massoud’s will. But this is likely to give an impression that the people involved are weak. Yet there is nothing weak about a person who is willing to perform any task, including dying, for their belief. Obedience better expresses Rajavi’s use of these people and so it is this, rather than submission, which must head this description of what it, is like to be inside the Mojahedin.
A fundamental question surrounding this issue of obedience is to ask why would a reasonably intelligent person not only allow his or herself to be so manipulated, but to also take part in the self-policing of this manipulation to such a point that it drives some of them insane? Why do people accept such all encompassing control over every aspect of their lives that is used in the Mojahedin? Aside from the use of psychological manipulation or ‘brainwashing’, the simplest explanation is that Rajavi's cult is that most dangerous of all cults, for its members and the world at large, that is, a cult with a just cause to fight. No matter at what phase of the internal relations, the organisation has recruited and continues to recruit members, however few, on the basis of a just cause. That is, the struggle against religious dictatorship in Iran. It is a nationalistic, political and religious struggle with a broad appeal, and it was, and perhaps remains, a genuine cause.
To maintain this position members are fed a constant diet of misinformation. One of the first acts of Rajavi after the Ideological Revolution was to ban people from reading books, or accessing any other external information source. This worked easily even among the ‘diplomacy’ section whose personnel naturally had reason to access every kind of media in their line of work. When organisations such as Amnesty International were dismissed by the top leaders as biased and not to be trusted, then ordinary newspapers and media programmes were unquestionably unreliable. This allowed the members who could access them to treat them with disdain and to not want to seek news or opinion from these sources. Moreover, the work of actually monitoring these media was transferred to the supporters whose own opinions and ideas were already treated with an unspoken contempt by the members.
Inside Iraq itself, there was no opportunity to access any other information than that which was broadcast in the daily news bulletin and the closed circuit television programmes created by the Mojahedin for internal consumption. Among Western observers who receive the Mojahedin’s accounts of human rights abuses in Iran, there is scepticism due to the blatant exaggeration behind their claims. But the Mojahedin members believe these ‘facts’ and this motivates them to ever-greater sacrifices for their leader.
Fairly soon after the Ideological Revolution, Rajavi implied more and more that members should not interfere with politics and should only try to correct themselves ideologically and perform their allotted tasks as they are expected to do them. They were to be ready to sacrifice everything for him because he represents the ‘big bank’ of the revolution and their sacrifices will be spent wisely by him and him alone.
Rajavi's idea of democracy has always been that everybody has the chance of choosing a leader once in their life. As far as he is concerned, people chose either him or Khomeini. After that, the responsibility lay only with the leader, not the individual. People should have no moral guilt if they are totally obedient to the leader. Therefore, good and bad are not for the individual to decide. Members are not even responsible before God because the leader has sacrificed himself to take all their responsibility before God.
Later Rajavi implied in his speeches that if such a leader has done his job well enough, then he starts a relationship with the Imam Zaman (the last and still awaited Imam in Shiite Islam) and therefore has direct contact with God. He brought examples from Prophet Mohammad and compared himself to the Shiite Imams. The result of this was to create a mentality of complete lack of responsibility, which would allow the person to take part in suicide bombings or Forouq-e Javidan or any other actions.
After the Internal Revolution, members were required to write about their relationship with their spouse and children, and to report dreams and in fact any thoughts they had at all, good or bad. They were told to write about their sexual relationship with their spouse. All this information, even though the writer might have felt it was innocuous, was going to be used against them. For Rajavi, if someone had a happy, well-adjusted and positive relationship with their spouse and children this was a disaster. It meant that the person didn't need him, and this would lead the person to question his leadership. He would confront such a person with the challenge that they were thinking wrongly.
The confusion caused to such a person could and has tipped the balance of a person’s mind. There have been several instances in which the mental pressure a person imposes on themselves to make sense of the hideously contorted version of reality which he is forced to accept has forced some to commit suicide. Others have relinquished control of their minds completely and succumbed to psychotic illness. Several of these individuals can be found in the psychiatric hospitals in Baghdad.
For everyone else, all these various stages of the Ideological Revolution resulted in members deceiving themselves and fabricating lies about themselves, to themselves. These people reached a happy state of self-delusion in which it became obvious to them and to everyone else that whenever they have a thought, it has been against the interests and benefit of Rajavi. Therefore, by accepting this in their heart, they should merely work like a machine and try their best not to allow themselves to think or have ideas.
It is clear also that some members are playing a game, and don't believe in what they are doing, but merely masquerade for convenience. There must be a state of constant vigilance for members to make sure they are doing the right thing and won't be found lacking.
The generic term is psychological manipulation. But this is something which can only with the greatest difficulty be specified or confronted by the person who is undergoing it. It is a deliberately elusive practice. People are made to understand things through the behaviour of those around them. For instance, a simple technique is to ignore a person until they understand that they should work harder and engage more in taking instruction. Ignoring a person makes them feel needy of others. Of course this works very well in the extremely sociable Iranian culture. But, wherever there did appear to be a danger that the person would take umbrage and walk away, allowance was made and a sympathetic massul would kindly attend to the person's mood to placate and guide them back to the right path; unquestioning obedience.
This individual attention to each and every member takes a huge amount of energy from the organisation. But they regard it as necessary and advertise it inside themselves as being part of their ideological duty to guide people in understanding the greatness that is Rajavi. In reality, the Mojahedin are hugely inefficient for this reason, and this diversion of energy from the real struggle into the internal control, has been one of the major factors in preventing their growth and progress.
It is difficult to actually define the belief system, which governs the Mojahedin. Certainly it has nothing to do with politics, or even religion for that matter. In the end it doesn’t really matter what the members believe because Rajavi demands that they deny their own thoughts and simply obey his commands.
Little by little, after the Ideological Revolution, the Mojahedin gave up reading the Qoran and other religious books, such as the Nahjol Balaqa etc. Then they began to give up religious practices, such as prayers and fasting. They had been instructed in the ideology that now they had chosen an ideological leader, they were no longer individually responsible. Rajavi’s message was that they were only responsible to him and it is he who is responsible to God.
With this message in their hearts, some members were left with a dilemma when they came to the West with Maryam. In particular, those who had come from a liberal and middle class family background, and had perhaps been educated in a university in a Western country. These members more easily succumb to the temptation to revert to the values and lifestyle they had previously enjoyed. This giving in to their wanting to do things which Islam forbids, came from the point of view that they no longer believed that they were responsible for their ideas, this was all taken up by Rajavi as their ideological leader. On this basis they had justified in their own minds the suicide bombings, terrorism, giving up spouses and children, begging in streets for money, cheating social security systems, cheating western politicians, and working with Saddam Hussein's regime, including giving intelligence to him. In relation to all these things, eating pork or not saying prayers, or shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex, seemed quite innocuous.
Rajavi's contradiction was that he could not give up the benefits of being Muslim in an Iranian environment, or an Iraqi environment for that matter, and it initially suited his fight with Khomeini because as a Muslim group, Khomeini had fewer grounds to attack them ideologically. But Rajavi didn't want the negative points of being Muslim when in the West. Anyway, his role model was Mao. So there emerged the dilemma of whether it was permissible to shake hands, whether hijab should be relaxed or tightened, and whether male members should wear ties in meetings with Westerners.
One explanation given for wearing hijab is that you have to be as holy as Khomeini in order to expose Khomeini's Islam as bad and Rajavi's Islam as good. The organisation can't afford to be involved in any scandal, no matter how slight, or even to look as though it is - that is, from a Muslim's point of view. So strict adherence to Islamic tenets is required, even though this wasn't true at the beginning of the organisation's existence, and later also became untrue because of the Ideological Revolution and marriage, although the deception was carried on for quite a while among the supporters. The logic behind this is that the more corrupted you become as an organisation, the more pure you have to look to the world and in particular, to your followers. This all got confused when the divorces and separation of children started because these ideas are totally counter to Islamic beliefs.
It is worth mentioning Rajavi’s other motive for removing and then burning all of the books from the camp libraries and safe houses abroad, (libraries which incidentally only had approved books in them anyway), and that is that these books and documents were in contradiction to having an ideological leader. Even his own speeches in Tehran University in the political phase before 30th Khordad were destroyed. These speeches had been published and avidly read at the time. Their essence was taken from Marx and Mao and was to compare the evolution of species with the evolution of society and, of course, Islamicise it. Another reason was that these books and documents were very much in contradiction with capitalism and harmful to Rajavi's new approach to his new Western masters. Until now, the whole ideology and activities of the Mojahedin, including the killing of Americans, all their songs etc, had been built on Maoism and the fight against the West and imperialism.
These cult-like activities are not new. Rajavi has built his path on the example of Chairman Mao of China and has tried to copy as much as possible of his ideology. As much as ninety percent of it has come from Mao, the remaining ten percent, Rajavi has gleaned eclectically from books on psychology and politics. He very much likes to copy people. In one phase he modelled himself on Yassir Arafat, trying to act, talk and walk like Arafat. Later, after going to Iraq, his role model became Saddam Hussein, except Rajavi isn't built the same as Saddam and the smallest possible gun and holster had to be found for him to wear or it would have looked too big.
In direct proportion to the extremes of intrusion, which these mind control techniques use, is the increasing harshness in the treatment of objectors. For the Mojahedin, if you kill someone it does not matter because Rajavi will forgive you. Instead the worst sin a Mojahed could possibly commit is to want to leave the organisation. This is seen as a rejection of Rajavi and that is unforgiveable.
At every phase of the Ideological Revolution and during every major event such as Forouq-e Javidan and the Gulf War – particularly with the removal of children and involvement in suppressing the Iraqi Kurdish population – there have been members who wished to leave the organisation. Dissatisfaction with the political or military policies or the harsh conditions are common reasons. But as time has passed and recruitment dwindled to almost nil, Rajavi has become increasingly reluctant to relinquish his hold on any member. Other and quite pressing reasons exist also. It was dangerous to allow disaffected individuals to be sent to live freely in the West. Many had knowledge of the Mojahedin’s intimate relations with the Iraqis, their involvement in many crimes and illegal acts, and above all they had knowledge of Rajavi’s use of psychological manipulation techniques. Previously, those who wished to leave had mostly been sent to the refugee camp in Ramardi near Baghdad, but from around 1990 and the Internal Revolution, the growing trend was to imprison dissenting members in special buildings in the Mojahedin’s camps.
Rajavi believed that if he only held on to them long enough, he could bully and harass some of these people into once again accepting his leadership. The tools for keeping people obedient are both psychological and physical. This is not difficult to achieve if the person is kept isolated in a camp in Iraq where all contact with the outside world is denied them. The method is very similar to that employed in prisons where gangs operate and prisoners are compelled to join one or another or suffer consequences only slightly more dire than those which force them to choose in the first place. But when obedience to Rajavi breaks down, it gives rise to immense anger. The person gets in touch with their primal survival instinct and this gives a power to resist which is immune to Rajavi’s games.
The imprisonment and mistreatment of dissenting members has led to suicide, and murder. Former members, who escaped the Mojahedin in 2002, after years of imprisonment, have reported witnessing two other imprisoned dissenters being beaten to death in one of the Mojahedin’s camps. The difficulty for some members, especially those at the highest ranks and who have been members for over two decades, is that they do not wish to leave, they want to continue with the struggle against the Iranian regime. Their objections are based on Rajavi’s leadership and their criticism of the mistakes he has made. This might not even constitute a challenge to his right to lead the organisation. (Those who have been close to Rajavi at least recognise the abilities he does have).
Although the criticisms are based on tactical failures, no such thing is allowed inside the Mojahedin. These individuals are subjected to a more specialised form of mental pressure in which feelings of intense guilt are induced in the person’s mind. In this state they are shut alone in a room and told there is a cyanide pill available. In most cases, the person has succumbed to this forced suicide as their only way out. One of those alleged to have been a victim of this method is Ali Naghi Had’dadi, known as Commander Kamal. He wanted to continue the struggle under Rajavi’s leadership, but he also wanted to have contact with his wife, whom he loved. Although he wasn’t a very high ranking member, the reputation of Rajavi’s ideological revolution rested on the acceptance of his decrees by members without exception. He gave Naghi Had’dadi no other choice but to commit ‘honourable’ suicide.
The latest reports from former members who have escaped the Mojahedin’s camps in Iraq, state that dissenting members are now being transferred without any legal process whatsoever, to Iraqi political prisons run by the Iraqi Intelligence and Security Services. There they are subjected to the normal range of abuses associated with such a prison, rape, beatings, and deprivations, which are exacerbated by the fact that they are ‘foreigners’ and that they have shown disloyalty to the Mojahedin, which the Iraqis consider as part of their own military capacity. In January 2001, some fifty of these prisoners were sent back to Iran under an agreement between Iran and Iraq to exchange POWs. This was certainly a plan of Rajavi’s to send them to certain death.
These are surely disturbing reports concerning an organisation which presents itself as the foremost critic of Iran’s human rights record, and an organisation which purports to promote women’s rights and democracy. It has become clear that most of those who have left did so because they were loyal to their understanding of what the Mojahedin organisation originally represented. The fact is that Rajavi moved the organisation away from its original form and made it into something unrecognisable for these people. It is they who have remained loyal to the Mojahedin, not Rajavi.
The Mojahedin are almost exclusively based in Iraq. When Maryam returned from Europe, Rajavi said that they would stay there until the overthrow of the regime. That includes those who have become disaffected and want to leave. There were many who accompanied Maryam to Paris, but who hadn't the courage or wherewithal to leave at that time and have now found themselves trapped in Iraq with no hope for the organisation or themselves. Quite commonly people are afraid of leaving, even those who have the opportunity. The members of the Mojahedin are people whose mental capacity has been deliberately reduced and for whom there has been induced a debilitating emotional dependence on the leaders. Without this fear, many more of Maryam's entourage would have left while in Europe.
As we have tried to show in this book, Rajavi perverted the ideology of the Mojahedin from its original conception to something, which allowed him total control of all aspects of the organisation including the personal lives of the members. Alongside this internal change, the organisation also lost its direction in the political scene. These two features go hand in hand and the leading element was Rajavi's quest for power. His basic miscalculation was to imagine that if he could impose total power on his members, he would be able to spread this into the rest of Iran and eventually the world.