Elizabeth Rubin on the MEK

Media coverage of the Mujahedin-e Khalq’s (MEK) recent lobbying blitz has been picking up ahead of the U.S. Department of State’s soon to be announced decision on the group’s delisting request from the foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) list.

Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times Magazine has accordingly penned a damning article on the group titled “An Iranian Cult and Its American Friends.”

Recalling her experiences inside Camp Ashraf in 2003, Rubin describes the MEK’s disturbing cult-like behavior (see her much longer “The Cult of Rajavi” here) and the “ignorance” (some feigned) of the U.S. heavyweights who received money for speaking at MEK events. (To get a handle on the dollar amounts being spent by the MEK on its high-profile speakers, read this piece by Christina Wilkie of the Huffington Post.)

Rubin also explains some of the negative consequences of removing the MEK from the FTO list. I’ve listed several of her statements of note with regard to the policy side of the debate below. (Also see my Al Jazeera English piece where I point out how a decision to delist would impact already fragile US-Iran relations.)

•    Delisting the group would enable it to lobby Congress for support in the same way that the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 allowed the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi to do.

•    Mrs. Clinton should ignore their P.R. campaign. Mujahedeen Khalq is not only irrelevant to the cause of Iran’s democratic activists, but a totalitarian cult that will come back to haunt us.

•    If the group is taken off the terrorist list, it will be able to freely lobby the American government under the guise of an Iranian democracy movement.

•    American officials who support the group like to quote the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” By this logic, the group’s opposition to the Tehran theocracy justifies American backing. But there is another saying to consider: “The means are the ends.”

•    By using the Mujahedeen Khalq to provoke Tehran, we will end up damaging our integrity and reputation, and weaken the legitimate democracy movement within Iran.

•    Recent history has shown that the United States often ends up misguidedly supporting not only the wrong exile groups in the Middle East, but the least relevant ones. We cannot afford to be so naïve or misguided again.

•    “They are considered traitors and killers of Iranian kids,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Mujahedeen Khalq’s status on the terrorist list is under review. “They are so unpopular that we think any gesture of support to them would disqualify and discredit us as being interested in democratic reform.”

•    They are right that we should have compassion for those trapped inside the camp. A 2009 RAND Corporation study found that up to 70 percent of the group’s members there might have been held against their will. If the group’s American cheerleaders cared for those at the camp half as much as they did for the Rajavis, they would be insisting on private Red Cross visits with each man and woman at Camp Ashraf.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.