The People’s Mojahedin has long been a target of name calling. SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, mischaracterized the resistance organization as “Islamic Marxists” to undermine its support by the Iranian public, which is highly devout. The Shah feared the PMOI because of its potential to mobilize Iranians, particularly young people, against the monarchy.
After the 1979 Revolution, the mullahs – and later the Ministry of Intelligence and Security – continued the fraud in their propaganda, mislabeling the Mojahedin as godless Marxists. Its resort to name calling is on a much larger scale than SAVAK. The mullahs consider the PMOI to be an existential threat and are similarly alarmed by its popularity.
Another name-calling tag employed by the MOIS to vilify the Mojahedin is “cult.” Whenever the MOIS mentions the resistance organization, it nearly always adds the false attribute, hoping by repetition the deception will come to be viewed as the truth.
From its early history, the Mojahedin has been maligned and misbranded by its opponents. Many people know the organization only from the negative propaganda. To set the record straight, this website provides information on the false descriptions of the PMOI perpetrated by SAVAK and the MOIS to damage the organization’s reputation, and presents and overview of the PMOI’s political views and its modern interpretation of Islam.
The term “Islamic Marxist” was employed by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, to disparage political opponents of the monarchy. As explained by the “Economist” in 1978, the phrase was “in much vogue with the Shah and his subordinates.1 The PMOI was one of many opposition groups falsely tagged with the label. Even clerical members were not immune. Ayatollah Shariat Madhari was publicly branded as an “Islamic Marxist” after he turned against the Shah in 1978.2
Among the Shah’s political opponents were “leftist students, Western-educated liberals and other dissidents demanding more political freedoms.”3 News articles regularly grouped them together when mentioning political organizations in opposition to the Shah. It was not uncommon for the People’s Mujahedin to be listed in the same paragraph as the Tudah Party (Communist Party) and the Marxist People’s Fedayeen, giving the false impression their politics could be similar.
The People’s Mujahedin never referred to itself as Marxist and “intentionally shunned Marxist philosophy in order to protect its religious susceptibilities,” according to Ervand Abrahamian, an historian on Iran.4 Additionally, Abrahamian explained, “The [MEK] has in fact never once used the terms socialist, communist, Marxist or eshteraki [Communist] to describe itself.”5
“As [PMOI leader Massoud] Rajavi admitted years later,” Abrahamian wrote, “the organization avoided the socialist label because such a term conjured up in the public mind images of atheism, materialism, and Westernism. For exactly the same reasons, the [Shah’s] regime was eager to pin on the [MEK] the label of Islamic-Marxist and Marxist-Muslims.”6
The People’s Mojahedin derives its political positions based on its interpretation of Islam. The original members of the group spent six years studying Islam, philosophy, history and economics. From this effort, they formulated a democratic and tolerant interpretation of Islam and a strategy to pave the way for a democratic government to replace the Shah’s dictatorial monarchy.
The PMOI believes Islam is an inherently tolerant and democratic religion and fully compatible with democracy, human rights, and the values of modern-day civilization. As explained by Mr. Rajavi in 1982:
“The Islam we want is nationalist, democratic, progressive, and not opposed to science or civilization. We believe that there is no contradiction between modern science and true Islam, and we believe that in Islam there must be no compulsion or dictatorship.”7
After the Shah was deposed, the PMOI worked to establish a democratic government. Ayatollah Khomeini and other mullahs wanted a fundamentalist theocracy. The two groups clashed. Just weeks after the Shah left Iran, the mullahs began to attack the PMOI, directing their Hazbollah gangs, called “club-wielders,” to strike PMOI offices, rallies, and supports. The mullahs also replicated the name-calling propaganda tactic employed by the Shah, mislabeling the PMOI as Marxist. Mr. Rajavi discussed the false description of the Mojahedin in a 1981 interview:
“Every high school student knows that believing in God, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad is incompatible with the philosophy of Marxism. But for dictators like Khomeini, ‘Islamic Marxist’ is a very profitable phrase to use against any opposition. If Jesus Christ and Muhammad were alive and protesting against Khomeini, he would call them Marxists, too.”8
Since the mullahs came to power more than 30 years ago, they have relentlessly attacked the PMOI, mislabeling the organization as Marxist. As a result, many people have come to believe the falsehood. But nothing could be further from the truth. The mujahedin are freedom fighters, named after themujahedin constitutionalists who came to the aid of Iran’s first democratic government during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11. The PMOI specifically rejected Marxism. They offer a modern view of Islam and support democracy as the best way to solve Iran’s social and economic problems.
- “Time and Oil Run Against the Shah,” The Economist, March 4, 1978
- “An AP News Special,” Associated Press, November 9, 1978.
- “The Iranian Mojahedin,” Ervand Abrahamian, Yale University Press, 1989.
- “The Iranian Mojahedin,” Ervand Abrahamian, Yale University Press, 1989.
- “The Iranian Mojahedin,” Ervand Abrahamian, Yale University Press, 1989.
- “Mujahidin’s Masud Rajavi: “We are the only real threat to Khomeini,” MERIP Reports, March-April 1982.
- “We Are On the Offensive,” Time magazine, September 13, 1981.
Modern Vision Of Islam
U.S. Undersecretary of State George Ball chastised the press in 1981 for misdescribing the PMOI as Marxist. “The sloppy press habit of dismissing the Mujahedeen as ‘leftists’ badly confused the program,” he said. “Massoud Rajavi … is the leader of the movement. Its intention is to replace the current backward Islamic regime [Khomeini’s mullahs] with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principals from Koranic sources rather than Marx.”1 (emphasis added)
Mr. Rajavi joined the PMOI in 1967 and sat on the original Central Committee. He and other early members of the organization spent years studying Islam, history, philosophy, and economics, seeking to develop a new pathway to restore democracy to Iran.
The three founders of the PMOI were previously members of the Liberation Movement, created by Medhi Bazargain in 1961, to promote “democratic principles enshrined in the fundamental laws of the 1905-09 Constitution” of Iran. After operating for just two years, the group was shut down by the Shah. Bazargain was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Repeating Bazargain’s footsteps, the PMOI realized, would lead to the same fate. Their intellectual inquiry led to a new vision of Islam, based on a modern interpretation of the Quran and the traditions and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Shiite Imams, and leaders.
Mr. Rajavi and other original members of the PMOI were “skillful men of ideology,” according to Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iranian-American professor at Syracuse University.2 The PMOI’s interpretation of Islam proved to be politically very popular and succeeded, he said, in “exhorting a great many Iranian youth to rediscover Shi’ism and return to the Muslim fold, which they were deserting in large numbers.”3
When the PMOI was established in 1965, Marxism enjoyed a large following in developing countries, especially on university campuses. Iran was no exception. The PMOI’s political platform was at odds with the two major Marxist political organizations, the Tudeh Party, the communist group supported by the Soviet Union, and the Fedayeen, a Marxist-Leninist group.
The PMOI argued the restoration of democracy and its modern vision of Islam, as opposed to Marxism, were the best way to remedy Iran’s social and economic ills. It said only Islam was “capable of mobilizing the masses for such a colossal struggle.”4
Mr. Rajavi presented the views of the PMOI in lectures he gave once a week at Sharif University. He contrasted the PMOI’s vision of Islam with Khomeni’s fundamentalist interpretation, at one extreme, and Marxism, at the other extreme. An article in “Le Monde” by Eric Rouleau described the occasion:
“One of the most important events not to be missed in Tehran is the courses on comparatiave philosophy, taught every Friday afternoon by Mr. Massoud Rajavi. Some 10,000 people present their admission cards to listen for three hours to the lectures by the leader of the People’s Mojahedin on Sharif University’s lawn.”5
Rajavi’s lectures were recorded on video cassettes and distributed in 35 cities throughout Iran. They also “were published in paperback and sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies,” Rouleau said.6
The lectures were later combined into a three-volume book titled “Tabyin-e jahan” (Comprehending the World). It presents the PMOI’s beliefs on the nature of existence, humans, history, and epistemology. In the lectures, Bouroujerdi explained, “Rajavi saves his most extensive critical commentary for Marxist materialistic epistemology.”7 Bouroujerdi continued:
“By subjecting the materialistic doctrines of [Aleksandr Ivanocich] Oparin and a host of other orthodox Marxist thinkers to a religious critique the Mojahedin hoped to challenge the more vigorous presence of Marxism within Iranian intellectual circles.”8
Bouroujerdi stated the PMOI “remained skeptical of Marxism’s philosophy postulates and rejected the latter’s cardinal doctrine of historical materialism. They held firm to their beliefs in the existence of God, revelation, afterlife, spirit, expectation, salvation, destiny, and the people’s commitment to these intangible principals.”9
Given the above backdrop, it is clear the PMOI is not, and has never been, a Marxist organization. It politically opposed the Marxists, offering a pro-democratic Muslim alternative.
The mullah’s name-calling propaganda campaign to label the PMOI as Marxist would likely have met limited success in western countries had it not been for the U.S. State Department. To gain the support of Iran’s mullahs in freeing American hostages, the Department agreed, as part of a deal, to publicly brand the resistance organization as Marxist.
- “Iran’s Bleak Future,” Washington Post, August 19, 1981.
- “Iranian Intellectuals and the West,” by Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1996
- “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
- “Iranian Intellectuals and the West,” by Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1996.
U.S. State Department
Nothing unusual was expected at a subcommittee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 24, 1985. Richard Murphy, a high ranking State Department official, was scheduled to give testimony on “recent developments in the Middle East.”
But to the surprise of everyone, he want off on a tangent and began to discuss the People’s Mojahedin. He alleged they had “advocated violence since their inception, and have worked for a re-emphasis in Iranian society of Shia Islam reformed in the light of Marxist principals.”1 He also said the Mojahedin was “anti-democratic, anti-American, and anti-Western.”2
Members of Congress could not explain the reason for the unsolicited remarks by the State Department official. The PMOI was equally taken aback and issued a response the following day. Massoud Rajavi, believing the mischaracterization of the PMOI was an honest mistake, exclaimed “to my sorrow, the background information provided to the American State Department was incorrect.”3
The reason for Murphy’s diatribe was not revealed until two years later, during an investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal by the Tower Commission. It obtained a letter, dated July 9, 1986, written by Manucher Ghorbanifar, a former SAVAK agent, that was addressed to a high-ranking Iranian official.
Ghorbanifar was working as an intermediary between the U.S. and Iran to help gain the release ofAmerican hostages in Lebanon. The U.S. had taken numerous steps to encourage Iran’s assistance and Ghorbanifar wanted Iran’s mullahs to reciprocate. In the letter, he listed “positive and constructive steps as a sign of goodwill” taken by the U.S. during the previous year. Number four on the list, Ghorbanifar wrote:
“[Issuance] of an official announcement terming the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization terrorist and Marxist….”4
Richard Murphy’s testimony, it turned out, was a “goodwill” gesture the mullahs had demanded to gain their support to free the U.S. hostages. Terming the PMOI as Marxist was not based on a diligent and fair assessment, but was disinformation distributed at the behest of the mullahs.
The damage, however, had been done. The State Department is viewed as a reliable source of information. After Murphy’s testimony, the media regularly repeated the Department’s mischaracterization when discussing the PMOI.
The U.S. government’s collusion with Iran was compounded by the Clinton Administration. In 1997, President Clinton sought a rapprochement with Iran’s mullahs. To curry their favor and demonstrate America’s willingness to improve relations, the U.S. designated the PMOI as a Foreign Terrorism Organization – another “goodwill” gesture.5 In its literature, the State Department reiterated the false claim that the Mojahedin followed a “philosophy that mixes Marxism and Islam.”6
Information to dispel the mislabeling of the PMOI as Marxist was repeatedly brought to the attention of the State Department, but to no avail. Had the government accurately described the Mojahedin as a pro-democratic organization, offering a modern view of Islam that discredits the mullahs’ violent ideology, discussions with the regime would have been derailed and with it the possibility of a rapprochement. So the charade continued.
In the years that followed, the U.S. repeatedly reached out to the mullahs for help. And each time the response to gain their assistance was the same – attack the PMOI as a “goodwill” gesture, which the U.S. readily agreed to do. And year after year, the State Department repeated the false description of the resistance organization as Marxist. (Click here for more details.)
A former U.S. ambassador said people working at the State Department were aware of the inaccurate description but feared for their jobs if they challenged the falsehood.
1) “Developments in the Middle East,” Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asia Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, July 24, 1985.
3) International News, Associated Press, August 8, 1985.
4) “Report of the President’s Special Review Board,” U.S. Government, February 26, 1987.
5) “U.S. Designates 30 Groups as Terrorists,” Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1997.
6) “Designation of Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. State Department, 1997.
“Cult” is another name-calling buzz word Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) uses to vilify the People’s Mojahedin. It has increasingly resorted to the false label as other name calling descriptions have grown less effective. Rarely does a day go by in which the mullahs’ propaganda does not mention cult in the same breath as the PMOI. “Rajavi cult,” “cult bastion,” “terror cult,” and “dishonest cult” are just a few examples. (See www.moisdisinformation for additional details on Iran’s propaganda campaign against the PMOI.)
To demonize the PMOI as a cult the MOIS even set up a website dedicated to this issue.1 The MOIS hopes by repeating the false allegation over and over and over, it will eventually be viewed as the truth – the same strategy applied to the Marxist tag.
What is a Cult?
A cult, as defined in a dictionary, generally involves a relatively small number of people who share a religious extremist view of the world and live in an unconventional manner under the guidance of a domineering charismatic leader. Two cults well known because of suicides are:
Heavens Gate – The group was founded in the early 1970s by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, who claimed they were extraterrestrial beings. The cult members lived together in a large house in a gated community in San Diego. They believed Earth was about to be “recycled” and committed mass suicide in order to reach Comet Hale-Bopp, which at the time was approaching Earth and they believe was an alien space ship.
People’s Temple – Founded in 1955 by Jim Jones, its members believed a nuclear holocaust was imminent that would give rise to a socialist Eden. The group relocated to Guyana where 920 members committed mass suicide.
Numerous governments and world bodies have attempted to create directories of dangerous movements and cults without success. Developing an acceptable definition of a cult has proved impossible. Descriptions are either too subjective, too vague, and just plain unworkable.
A 1995 report by a French parliamentary commission listed 195 groups/movements as potentially dangerous. The report was severely criticized and eventually was invalidated. The same response met a 670-page Parliamentary Report by a Belgian commission in 1997, which named 189 organizations as possible dangerous cults or sects. Some groups listed, while certainly unconventional, had never been violent and objected to their inclusion in the report.
A 1997 a German Senate Committee released a report called “Cults: Risks and Side-effects: Information on Selected New Religious and World-View Espousing Movements and Psycho-Offerings.” It listed a small number of groups that were Christian, pagan, Hinduistic, life-help, occultism/satanism, and multi-level marketers.
Needless to say, none of the reports listed the PMOI.
Various entities such as the American Family Foundation, Cult Information Centre, University of California at Berkeley have published attributes they believe to be representative of a cult. Generally accepted common attributes are:
– Involve a small number of people
– Live in an isolated and often segregated community
– Have a domineering leader who claims to have mystical or superhuman powers
– Restrict the departure of members
– Use guilt to manipulate members
– Attract members who are often imbalanced or mentally ill
None of the above attributes apply to the PMOI. The organization is not small and insular, but has members worldwide. They do not live in isolated communities. The PMOI’s Secretary General is elected every two years by the Leadership Council and approval of members.
The MEK has charismatic leaders but they do not claim to have any mystical or superhuman power. NCRI President-elect Mrs. Rajavi has received the praise of parliamentarians and dignitaries worldwide for her democratic vision and political platform.
Tens of thousands of people in the Iranian Diaspora, many of whom are well educated professionals, regularly attend PMOI events. The PMOI and NCRI coalition are, by far the largest, most active Iranian organizations, in regular contact with political parties, political officials, human rights activists, and media around the world.
No one is required to remain in the PMOI and can leave at any time. What motivates members to join the group is not guilt or manipulation, but a passionate determination to rid Iran of its brutal theocracy and replace it with a democratic government. Many members are highly educated and have given up their careers and normal family life to achieve this goal. Iran’s mullahs have executed 120,000 members and supporters of the PMOI and have failed to destroy the organization.
Former French First lady Danielle Mitterrand said describing the PMOI as a cult is “completely false.” At a press conference she said the group should be compared with other resistance movements against tyranny and dictatorships.2
No Resemblance to a Cult
Alain Vivien, a former French minister, examined the cult allegation leveled at the PMOI in a book published in France on sects. He said there is nothing in the behavior of the PMOI that would, by any stretch of the imagination, resemble a cult. In fact, the PMOI, as a democratic organization, he said, is diametrically opposite a cult.3
“The PMOI goes counter to the usual operations of sects who, as far as possible, avoid endowing themselves with a democratic status,” Vivien said.4
Vivien also dismissed the allegation that the PMOI is a cult of personality. He said the “PMOI supporters do not form any kind of visible cult around her [Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI]. She does not prophesize for their benefit alone, and does not have a Holy Office to counter any possible heresies.5 About Massoud Rajavi, Vivien said he had “never decreed by any act whatsoever the inviolable nature of his opinions. Nor has he ever published a fatwa.”6
The leaders of the PMOI enjoy a loyal following because of their leadership skills, values, and shared personal sacrifices to bring democracy to Iran.
SAVAK agents executed Massoumeh, Maryan Rajavi’s sister. Massoumeh was pregnant when she was apprehended by the mullahs’ regime, tortured, and then murdered. Massoumeh’s husband suffered the same fate.
Massoud Rajavi was imprisoned for seven years by the Shah. On February 8, 1982, Khomeini’s agents raided his house in Tehran. They killed Ashraf, his wife, and his deputy, Moussa Khiabanni. His infant child, Mostapha, was held aloft above Ashraf’s bullet-ridden body in front of television cameras by Assodollah Lejevardi, the infamous Butcher of Evin, who vowed to make a “good Hezbollahi” out of the child.4
Massoud Rajavi’s brother, Professor Kazemi Rajavi, was gunned down by MOIS agents in Geneva in April 1990. Moire, Massoud’s sister, and her husband, Asghar Kazemi, were executed in 1988 during the mullahs’ massacre of political prisoners.
The personal suffering of the Rajavis is not unique. Many members of the PMOI have had their loved ones murdered by SAVAK and MOIS agents, creating a unique bond and determination to replace the tyrannical mullahs with a modern democracy.
Just as Marxist is a false moniker applied to the PMOI, so is the term cult. Both are name-calling tags used in propaganda first by SAVAK and then by the MOIS. Both descriptions are blatantly false and should not be used to describe the Mojahedin.
1) See www.moisdisinformation.com, Attack Websites, CultsandTerror.com.
2) Statement by Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand, Enemies of the Ayatollahs, Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London 2004
3) Les Sectes, by Alain Vivien, Paris, Odile Jacob, September 2003.