The National Interest has published a strange bit of pro-MEK propaganda by Ilan Berman:
Eliminating that threat, the MeK argues, requires regime change in Tehran. And while many opposition activists advocate “civil disobedience” to achieve this aim, the MeK is convinced that the Iranian regime is simply too brutal, too entrenched and too invested in maintaining its hold on power to be removed solely by peaceful means. The alternative could well be armed resistance, and here the MeK holds a distinct advantage should such action become necessary—both because of the past military-style structure and discipline of its cadres and owing to its past successes against the regime.
Berman does not address much of the relevant criticism of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) in this article, and he takes the superficial “democratic” rhetoric and agenda of a totalitarian cult at face value. The article is titled “Making Sense of The MeK,” but a previously uninformed reader would come away from reading this with a very distorted and false picture of what the group is and what it has done. For instance, he talks about the MEK’s efforts to cultivate U.S. politicians and former officials, including John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani, but he leaves out the part where they have paid their newfound supporters for their endorsement to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per speech. Berman says that their “outreach” has succeeded in “garnering endorsements from luminaries on both sides of the U.S. political aisle and in both chambers of the U.S. Congress,” but he doesn’t tell his readers how they managed to get all those endorsements. The ease with which a discredited cult can buy support in Washington should be a cause for alarm, but in this article it is incredibly presented as proof that the cult is a “relevant” part of the opposition.
The MEK’s history of violence and abuse of its own members is never mentioned. The involvement of the cult and its current leader, Maryam Rajavi, in fighting for Saddam Hussein’s government in the Iran-Iraq war never comes up. The group’s past terrorist attacks inside Iran, including the killing of several Americans, have vanished down the memory hole. The group’s suspected involvement in the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists in the last decade is likewise nowhere to be found. These are fairly relevant details if the purpose of the article is to “make sense” of the group, but the real purpose here seems to be to whitewash its past and present and to repeat its talking points.
Berman also fails to mention that the MEK is hated by almost all Iranians in Iran and the diaspora. Assal Rad confirms that the group has no support in her recent article on the group:
According to a 2018 poll among Iranian-Americans, only 6 percent said that they supported the MEK as a legitimate alternative to the current regime in Iran. The history of this enmity can be traced back to the Iran-Iraq War, when the MEK fought alongside Saddam Hussein.
A group that has virtually no support among Iranians anywhere outside of its own membership is obviously not a viable alternative to the current government. A group that sided with a foreign aggressor against their own country is understandably viewed as an enemy by the vast majority of the population. For these and other reasons, the cult is widely viewed as illegitimate and extremely dangerous. The group is sometimes referred to as the Iranian Khmer Rouge for good reason. John Limbert made a similar comparison when he described the cult and its ideology in an article earlier this year:
Following those defeats, the MEK transformed itself into a bizarre cult, with an ideology combining the practices of Jonestown and the Khmer Rouge.
As in many other similarly deranged cults, members are subjected to physical and psychological abuse, cut off from their families outside the cult, and brainwashed to devote themselves to the cult leader. These abusive practices continue inside the MEK’s compound in Albania. Arron Merat wrote about some of this in his extensive report on the cult last year:
Mostafa and Robabe Mohammadi came to Albania to rescue their daughter. But in Tirana, the capital, the middle-aged couple have been followed everywhere by two Albanian intelligence agents. Men in sunglasses trailed them from their hotel on George W Bush Road to their lawyer’s office; from the lawyer’s office to the ministry of internal affairs; and from the ministry back to the hotel.
The Mohammadis say their daughter, Somayeh, is being held against her will by a fringe Iranian revolutionary group that has been exiled to Albania, known as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq).
Rad also describes the torments that the MEK inflicts on its own members:
According to a report by RAND, the group’s disturbing human rights cruelties against its members include physical abuse, seizure of assets, imprisonment, mandatory divorce, emotional isolation, and forced labor—to name but a few. Former MEK members who have escaped the group also report sexual abuse and forced marriages during their captivity. One of their more nefarious practices of authoritarian control over members is removing children from their parents.
If this is what they do to their own adherents, one can easily imagine how much worse their treatment of everyone else would be if they somehow managed to take control of the coercive apparatus of a government. This is the creepy and dangerous group that quite a few Iran hawks want to promote and possibly install as the next government of Iran. Fortunately, Iranians would never accept such a twisted organization as their new political leadership. The disturbing thing is that so many Americans are still prepared to advocate on behalf of such a horrible group simply because it seeks regime change.