How different are the MKO and the Hashashin?

The model that had developed in the MKO from the outset and the fact that there were so many obedient members in the organization could be explained by the esoteric nature and assassin forces affiliated with that organization.

There are strange narratives surrounding the character of Hassan Sabah, the founder of the Ismaili sect in Alamut of Qazvin, which have granted a mystic and magical nature to him and his followers in the history. Some believe that Sabah had trained a group of self-sacrificing devotees who came to be known as Fadaiyan in the history books. The Fadaiyan did everything for the Sabah, and they were under the absolute control of their leader. On the other hand, they were under the assumption that by performing the orders and commands of their leader, they were engaging in acts of goodness, which would be rewarded by heavenly gifts after death. Accordingly, they were called with terms such as Bateniyeh (Esoteric Men) or "Hashashin (Assassins) on the account of their secretive and mysterious activities, and the general panic succeeding their assassination.

One great way of understanding the MKO is undoubtedly the memoirs related by its members, especially the key members of the organization, who elaborate on their recollections and experiences. Bahman Bazargan is one of the major and most influential theorists of MKO. He published his memoir under the title of "Time Retrieved" in Akhtaran publication in the Summer of 2018. Another valuable book entitled “Memoirs and Contemplations in Shah Prison” published by Ney deals with the memories of Mohammad Mohammadi known as Gorgani, who was one of the first founding members of the organization at a level below Bahman Bazargan.

These two figures, especially Bazargan, related copious memories of the leader and early members of the organization, in particular Mohammad Hanif Nejad, the founder of the organization. Due to the high positions that they held in the organization, they provide some invaluable insights and analyses of the readers. Driven by his religious and Islamic beliefs, Gorgani states and analyzes his memories and reflections on the organization with constant reference to Quranic verses and Nahj al-Balagheh.  On the other hand, considering the Marxist tendencies of Bazargan, he prefers to offer a critical analysis of affairs from the perspective of Marxism. In any way, these two works have extensive overlapping the most important of which is the critical approach that both adopt to Hanafi Nejad, the founder of the organization

In different parts of his book, Bazargan describes MKO as a primarily "esoteric" organization, which instead of being founded on an ideological or hierarchical structure is reliant on the ideas of its leader, Hanafi Nejad. The members of the organization had a tendency to await the orders of their leader. In this regard, Hanafi Nejad is often compared to "Hassan Sabah," in terms of his manner and style as a leader with divine status (see Time Retrieved, pp. 77,97).

Bazargan has constantly reiterated the undemocratic nature of MKO due to its esoteric nature throughout his book. Given the blind obedience of an omnipotent leader who always had the last word on religion, combat and other issues, this ruling structure anything but democracy.  Gorgani, who unlike Bazargan levelled theoretical criticisms against the MKO, describes his analysis of this undemocratic organization as follows: “In the prison, they spend 14 hours a day discussing a range of issues, and while the members believed they had come up with the ideas and decisions, it was clear that as far as the basic matters were concerned, the result of discussion were always in keeping with the approach and policy of the organization. (Memoirs and Contemplations in Shah Prison, p. 465)

Bazargan and Gorgani postulate that the MKO considered themselves as the center and the pioneers of the revolutionary Muslims, and as such, they defined everything in relation to themselves. This self-centered and absolute thinking convinced them to resort to violence as a way of dealing with their opponents by eliminating them. Therefore, Bazargan describes the organization as totalitarian and non-democratic one from the outset of its operation.

Gorgani elaborates on other structural problems of the organization. He relates the story of one of the defected members of MKO who refused to be in any way associated with the organization. As such, other members decided to exterminate that person, as the leakage of any information would jeopardize other members, and removing one person was better than losing several people o0r compromising the entire organization. They took the issue up to Mohammad Aqa (Hanif Nejad), and he advised: "Is there anyone among you who dares to assassinate his combatant brother'?" (Ibid., P. 99). Gorgani further explains that the organization, on the account of its secretive and guerrilla structure, had no choice but to engage in violent and aggressive confrontations. However, in one case, Hanif Nejad, due to his charismatic leadership influence on other members, intervened and prevented the elimination of a member. It goes to highlights the leadership and authority of Hanif in the organization.

Bazargan argues that the role and share of the leader in such an organization is beyond an ideological ruler, and the events following the death of Hanif, including taking power and leadership by Taghi Shahram, can be explained in terms of this esoteric nature of the organization. They refused to release a note condemning the fratricide of Taqi Shahram, as the elimination of Majid Sharif Vaghefi, as quoted by Naser Johari (Mohammad Ebrahim) due to the firsthand information he possessed, was not concerned with the organization's ideology change. In fact, harif Vahefi was not eliminated on the ground of religious considerations, as many of members were devout and religious people and no one was rebuking them for their religious beliefs. Vaghefi and Samadi Labbaf were murdered for intra- organization treason, confiscation of weapons and insurgency (ibid., p. 250 and 256). The third person was Sa'id Shahsavandi, who was not a dedicated Marxist, but essentially did not have any Islamic concerns as well. He manages to survive this intra-organizational assassination and proceeds to join Rajavi-led MKO.

Indeed, there is a struggle over power and unconditional leadership, a position that formerly belonged to Hanif, and his successors were even ready to commit acts of fratricide to assume the leadership of the organization. It was the model that had developed in the organization from the outset and the fact that there were so many obedient and submissive members in the organization willing to murder their comrades and fellow combatants is due to the same esoteric nature and the dominance of assassin- mindset within the organization. On the other hand, Gorgani posits that the killing of the Sharif Vaghefi and Marxist tendencies of the leaders of the organization held the organization back for more than fifty years.

Bazargan further contends that Rajavi's leadership in the organization was characterized with a sectarian ruling based on blind obedience, which was typical of the famous Fadayians, but Gorgani prefers to assess problems from the perspective of ideology, organization and its policies. Bazargan, who seems like a relativist and agnostic person, dismisses all of these theories as frivolous and futile. On the one hand, he writes about the Marxist theories and the necessity of an armed struggle, and with the defeat of armed combats in 1976, he concocts the same so-called insensible theories by penning an article in the rejection of armed struggle (ibid., P. 280). Bazargan take a relaxing (unbiased) and sometimes humorous retrospective glance at his past and basically refuses to take ideological theories and the issues seriously. On the other hand, Gorgani seeks to justify all matters from a theoretical point of view.

Before Bahman Bazargan, Reza Raeisi Tusi, a close friend of Hanif Nejad who was intimately involved in the activities of the organization, draws an analogy between intra-organizing relationships and activities typical of sects such as the Ismailis, a sect that interferes in the most ridiculous and unpardonable manner in the smallest and most private affairs of the family like marriage. However, much like Gorgani, they contend that these problems especially arose after the death of Hanif and during the rule of Rajavi, while as Bazargan claims in his book with strong evidences, this sectarianism can be traced back to rule of Hanif Nejad.

Gorgani, irrespective of his abundant criticisms of the organization and its policies and the personality of Rajavi, portrays Hanif Nejad as a charismatic religious figure who is adherent to the clergy and the Qur'an, arguing that most of the problems arose due to the propagation of Marxist deviations and the individualism, especially Rajavi's personality and his power.

On the other hand, Bazargan compares Hanif Nejad to Hassan Sabah, and identifies him as a combatant for whom the belief in struggle against despotism took precedence over any other faith, even religious commitment. He posits that Hanif essentially did not take the clergy seriously and strived to tackle problems in a scientific way, especially based on an Islamized version of the theories of Marxism and leaders of the organization such as Taghi Shahram, Bahram Aram and Rajavi were following the path taken by Hanif Nejad in the past.

Bazargan, in a clear and concise manner and in accurate chronological order, explains and analyzes history, but Gorgani's book, a third of which appears redundant and is basically the reiteration of the same concepts, even lacks an index to help the reader search through the book.

Perhaps, more than anything, the Gorgani’s book, like that of Bazargan, is in need of a meticulous and intelligent scrutiny. This is why the Infallible had been quoted saying: Questioning is half the knowledge”. In light of these features, both books are infused with firsthand accounts of historical events, the description of personalities such as Massoud Rajavi, and the struggles between religious and devout figures and the advocates of MKO in prisons as well as the fatwa regarding the uncleanness of Marxists, which would be fascinating for those interested in these topics.

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