In 1994, the U.S. Department of State produced a comprehensive report exposing the Mujahideen-e-khalq (MEK) for what it is — an exiled Iranian fringe group with a record of terrorism, violence, political opportunism and the abuse of its own members.
- …our mutual distaste for the behavior of the regime in Tehran should not influence our analysis of the Mojahedin.
- Shunned by most Iranians and fundamentally undemocratic, the Mojahedin-e Khalq are not a viable alternative to the current government of Iran.
But that was years ago and any day now the MEK could be delisted from the U.S foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) list. Virtually unchecked, its well-funded lobbying blitz in Europe resulted in its delisting from the U.K. and E.U. terror lists. This has enabled it to create a larger support base there than it has in North America. It particularly enjoys a significant audience among past and present British parliamentarians such as Lord Corbett of Castle Vale (Robin Corbett). Corbett is the chairman of the “British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom,” the main British MEK lobby group. In addition to the U.S. heavy-weights with high national security officials that the MEK has paid to appear at its European rallies are Iranians and non-Iranians like the people pictured here and here.
After its successful test run in Europe, the MEK set its sights on the world’s most wanted ally and now its crazed leader Maryam Rajavi (her husband’s whereabouts are unknown) is knocking on Washington’s door saying all the right things about the “Mullahs in Iran” while using key buzz words like “democratic”.
Over the years the FBI, Human Rights Watch, the Rand Corporation and several U.S. mainstream news outlets have produced in-depth investigations detailing the group’s past and present, some revealing the absurdly high “speaking fees” it provides to prominent figures who have appeared at its events. But even with a steady flow of damning information available, it is still spreading non-factual claims through its lobbying representatives. One way it does this is by issuing regular press releases through PR Newswire (a well-known online marketing tool) which are then reproduced as articles on news websites (see here and here for one example). Its lobbyists regularly talk to the press which is forced to quote them and MEK representatives have also been given full editorial slots in major U.S. newspapers.
The MEK’s ongoing delisting campaign is guided by the belief that the American public and the U.S. government are ignorant enough to believe its statements no matter how many times they’re proven false. The breathless claims of seeming support made by former U.S. officials are marketed by the MEK as a testament to its legitimacy, especially when these people conflate the human rights issue at the MEK’s base in Camp Ashraf near the Iran-Iraq border with its FTO delisting campaign as if they go hand in hand. But they don’t. Writing about Mitt Romney adviser Michael Reiss’s advocacy for the MEK the American Conservative’s Daniel Larison states (emphasis is mine):
- Like many other pro-MEK advocates, Reiss has confused the issues of the treatment of the population of Camp Ashraf with the question of whether the MEK should remain on the FTO list. The people at Ashraf should be relocated outside Iraq, and they should not be sent to Iran against their will, but this has nothing to do with the MEK’s designation by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. It ought to be possible to address what is properly a political refugee problem left over from the Iraq war without legitimizing a terrorist group.
Dokhi Fassihian and Trita Parsi have also written about how the “international community” rather than just the U.S. can help the people of Camp Ashraf.
Some of my colleagues have called the the MEK delisting campaign an “Iranian debate” but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of Iranians don’t support the MEK in Iran or outside of it. Most Iranians aren’t debating the MEK’s merits, they’re either loudly speaking out against it, or consider it an annoying distraction from the widely recognized opposition in Iran, the Green Movement. That’s because the MEK killed Iranians through organized terror bombings and assassinations during and after the revolution and because it fought against its own people during the Iran-Iraq war. The war took hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives. It is ingrained in Iranian memory as nearly a decade of suffering imposed on them by the U.S.-backed regime of Saddam Hussein who even used chemical weapons on young Iranian soldiers. Which nation’s people would forgive such an act of treason?
More recently, the MEK’s attempts to paint itself as Iran’s “main opposition” and its declarations on behalf of the “Iranian people” have infuriated representatives and supporters of the Green Movement which, unlike the MEK, brought millions out into the streets of Tehran in 2009.
Those who think Iranians would support the MEK simply because of its number one goal of bringing down the Islamic Republic are seriously mistaken. Every anti-IRI Iranian I have interviewed has said something to the tune of: “They are bad, but the MEK is worse.” Those who think the MEK should be supported simply because it detests the Iranian government as much as they do (see Patrick Kennedy) are also misguided. The chances of the MEK being installed in Tehran are very low; the Iranian population wouldn’t allow it.
The only Iranians who support the MEK are family members of those who were persecuted by the regime and those whose understandable hatred of the current government has driven them to blind desperation. At best, its support base among Iranians is under 30,000 and perhaps significantly less, and Iran is a country of over 70 million. If the MEK has such a large support base as it claims, why was its recent rally outside the Washington Department of State attended by “hundreds” rather than thousands or hundreds of thousands? Why did organizers feel the need to bus and fly people to the rally for free from other cities? As with many of its other events, some attendees admitted to not being familiar with the group or its objectives. Others admitted to being paid to attend.
Some may wonder why I am writing all this if the MEK is so obviously illegitimate. That’s because their delisting campaign has been well-organized and somewhat effective. They have, after all, successfully convinced the U.S. government to reconsider their FTO designation. Their campaign is also currently in full swing and should be addressed as such.
But delisting the MEK is unlikely to result in the group being accepted by Iranians, or the fall of the Iranian government. It may not even impact the status of the 3,000+ people who are trapped in Camp Ashraf, all under real threat by the Iraqi government and many held against their will. But delisting it will result in the leadership being able to raise money easier in the U.S. which they can then use to sway Mideast policy by lobbying congress. It will also harm the most legitimate democratic opposition in Iran: the Green Movement.
A decision to delist will strike yet another blow to the possibility of peaceful U.S.-Iran relations since it will be interpreted by the Iranians as an act of U.S. aggression, adding more fuel to the ongoing Cold War between the two countries. It will also reinforce a well-known stereotype about the U.S. as a country led by people who are indeed gullible enough to believe anything — even the claims of a well-funded terror group that has killed U.S. nationals.
The leadership cannot escape its bloody past. Among Rajavi’s militaristic quotes are: “Take the Kurds under your tanks and save your bullets for the Islamic Guard.” It also cannot erase the abundant information that journalists and other neutral non-state actors have made available about them. The MEK can only counter negative press with fabrications (as it is doing with its cyber army of defamers and lobbyists) and hope that the Obama administration is weak and naive enough to submit to the pressure it has been working furiously to impose upon it.
But as argued by Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times who visited Camp Ashraf in 2003 and experienced the group’s inner-workings first-hand:
- 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.
We can only hope that Mrs. Clinton is listening.