Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Iranian.com, Febrruary 09 2016:… A father from Aurora, Colorado managed a last minute rescue of his daughter and two other girls from the nightmare of travelling to Syria. He said he’d had no previous indication that she had been radicalised, but that his intuition kicked in when he discovered that her passport was missing and…
Deceptive Recruitment – from Canada to Colorado
A father from Aurora, Colorado managed a last minute rescue of his daughter and two other girls from the nightmare of travelling to Syria. He said he’d had no previous indication that she had been radicalised, but that his intuition kicked in when he discovered that her passport was missing and he found texts to Lufthansa airlines and a local taxi firm on her phone.
Once his daughter was home safe he learned how ISIS tricked his daughter and others over the internet.
“ISIS plays on Muslims’ emotions,” he said. “They play on the [idea] that you are living in a country where people are going to go to hell. Your parents, since they are living there, they are the same like these other people, even if your parents are Muslim. And you need to save yourself. How am I going to save myself? You need to come over here .. live under Islamic rule. We’re going to give you a house, you’re going to get married. You’re going to get to have nice kids, have a nice life … and it’s a noble cause. But all that’s wrong. All that’s wrong. There is no safe place there. People are all on the run. There’s always fighting going on somewhere. There’s no houses, there’s no nice life. There are just a bunch of terrorists. And for these females to get there, they’re just going to get raped, get killed.”
This put me in mind of a young Iranian woman I got to know in London in 1996 just as I was on the point of finally severing all ties with the Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) terrorist cult. Interestingly it was through Neda Hassani that I met my future husband because she worked in the MEK’s Westminster based PR office where he was also stationed and I was sent to work with her. How ironic it seems now that while Massoud and I were leaving, she was getting more deeply involved. Like ships in the night we passed each other by, unaware of our future destinies. Even at the time I remember trying to talk to her and explain that the MEK are not what she thought they were. But of course, the radicalisation process had already begun and she couldn’t heed my warnings.
Neda was in London for only a brief time before being dispatched to the military training camp in Iraq. Her parents had sent her from Canada after she had finished her studies and had just begun working. Neda had told me she hadn’t wanted to leave Canada and that she enjoyed her new job there. But the MEK had persuaded her parents that she would be in moral danger if she stayed in Canada, that she would abandon her Iranian upbringing and become a wild, immoral girl, taking drugs, drinking and having a series of boyfriends. Of course, anyone who met Neda could instantly see that she wasn’t that kind of person. Her parents should have been tremendously proud of this kind, thoughtful, ambitious young woman who exuded joie de vivre.
Instead the MEK tricked them into believing that their harsh military camps in Iraq were the ideal place to keep her safe from bourgeoise Western corruption. The MEK, they were told, promoted women and gave them responsibilities above men. Neda, they were told, would be at the forefront of a noble struggle to free Iran and that she would remain celibate until ‘after the revolution’.
As long-time peripheral supporters of the MEK, Neda’s parents had no idea of the reality behind the lies and propaganda. They had no idea of the cultic abuse taking place in Iraq turning ordinary people into disposable brainwashed gladiators.
The next time I came across Neda was in a photograph for a magazine article taken in Camp Ashraf showing her sitting on a tank with another combatant looking relaxed and happy. The writer had clearly been easily fooled by such appearances and wrote in glowing praise about the women there. This was in direct contrast with another article The Cult of Rajavi by Elizabeth Rubin in The New York Times magazine on July 13, 2003. Rubin had also visited Camp Ashraf but was not fooled by the MEK’s talk. She graphically described the cultic conditions in the camp, and the bizarre behaviour of the group and its members, especially the women.
This article was published one month after Neda Hassani’s death. Neda died from her injuries after setting herself on fire in London to ‘protect’ MEK second-in-command Maryam Rajavi. Rajavi, who had been arrested on terrorism charges in Paris only days before, ordered several members to commit self-immolation to force the French government to let her go. Neda’s family found a poem to Maryam Rajavi written the night before she died which said “Against the flow of savage winds, I give my spirit to protect you”.
What kind of brainwashing does it take to get a young woman who has everything to live for to kill herself so that someone else wouldn’t have to face criminal charges? As a leader of a terrorist cult, Maryam Rajavi had already ordered the deaths of thousands of Iranians and Iraqis. This was business as usual for her. But Neda’s death wasn’t even for the cause her parents believed in. They sent her to Iraq to struggle for the freedom of the Iranian people, not the freedom of a vain and cruel woman.
Former members of cults like the MEK are familiar with the deception and psychological manipulation exerted on the members. They now see that young people in Western countries are being deceived in much the same way by ISIS.
Fortunately for the young women in Aurora, at least one parent was vigilant and courageous enough to rescue them. I like to think that Neda’s parents very quickly became aware of their mistake. Certainly when her mother was asked if others should follow her daughter’s example she told reporters: “I hope not, I hope not”.
I don’t know what lesson can be drawn from this except that every society needs to learn about deceptive recruitment and cultic abuse. People – young and old – who know how deceptive psychological manipulation is used will not succumb to its persuasions.
Brainwashing? There should be a law against it
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Iranian.com, December 09 2015:… Prime Minister David Cameron has already uttered the word brainwashing in speeches about Radicalisation. There was no public outcry or panic. Ordinary people know what he means. What a law would do is to give a precise definition which would allow us to ‘join the dots’ between seemingly …
Brainwashing? There should be a law against it
Shocking revelations about Maoist cult leader Aravindan Balakrishnan and his female victims in a suburb of London shone a light on the normally hidden phenomenon of cultic abuse which pervades society. The danger now will be that this is treated as just another sensational story before being placed on a journalistic ‘bizarre incident’ list along with Jonestown, Wako and Heaven’s Gate, as a freak occurrence.
Sadly, practitioners in the field of cult awareness know of thousands of lonely families suffering the loss of loved ones to cultic abuse with little recourse to help or even acknowledgement.
As a former member of the political cult Mojahedin Khalq, I am intimately familiar with the methods which Balakrishnan used to control and exploit his victims. As this case has highlighted, for a person caught up in cultic abuse there is no exit, they are in fact modern slaves. Indeed, the 2005 report on the MEK by Human Rights Watch was named ‘No Exit’.
If the experience of the daughter and the other victims in the Balakrishnan case are to teach us anything, it is that this is more common than we’d like to believe and that such ghastly behaviour – much like child abuse – thrives on secrecy and collusion; that is, the unwillingness of successive governments to acknowledge this as a widespread problem. More than anything we need to explode the myth that cults are about religion. They are not. The illusion that ‘new religious movements’ are relatively harmless belongs thirty years in the past. But for years, families and former cult members have been dismissed, even denigrated, as hysterical, malicious or delusional or have been exploited for entertainment by the media. No wonder they are reluctant to speak out.
Even when families do bravely confront the cults which have enslaved their loved ones, they find themselves battling litigation, intimidation and disbelief.
Government failure to engage with this phenomenon has left the public unprotected. While civil law protects a designated group of vulnerable people from undue influence, cult experts argue that anyone can be susceptible to deceptive cult recruitment at some point in their lives; people are usually in a state of transitioning when they get involved in cults. This emphasis on susceptibility not vulnerability is an important distinction because it places culpability directly on the intention and activities of the perpetrator rather than looking for deficiencies in the victims. The Balakrishnan cult case is unusual because the leader was prosecuted, not just because the victims were rescued.
Interestingly, techniques for deceptive psychological manipulation are already acknowledged and understood in various modern contexts where coercive persuasion is used for cynical exploitation and enslavement. These include partner abuse, grooming for sex, spiritual abuse, abusive therapy, extremist violence and terrorism. All these are regarded as morally repugnant. But as yet we lack a law which covers the activity which underlies them all.
In the modern vernacular, the term brainwashing is used by ordinary people exactly to describe an unaccountable change of mind and/or personality in an otherwise normal person. Bewildered families of young people travelling to Syria say their children have been brainwashed. The government needs to catch up with scientific and social understanding of this phenomenon if we are to be protected. Are MPs aware, for example, not whether, but how many fully brainwashed cult members are working in sensitive national security roles? We know they exist because as cult counsellors we talk with their families. Yet the phenomenon is glossed over as almost immaterial.
Cultic abuse – known in the vernacular as brainwashing – has a very precise definition. It is not about ‘using advertising to brainwash us into buying things’ or ‘brainwashing us into becoming docile citizens under government dictates’. These are false and unhelpful myths. Neuropsychology explains that ‘changing your mind’ is a physical experience which can be scientifically identified. Brainwashing is not about doctrine, it is about the psychologically manipulative techniques used to literally ‘change’ our minds.
In more legalistic terms it is ‘the deliberate and systematic application of an array of recognised techniques for psychological manipulation without the knowledge or informed consent of the victim in order to effect a breach of a person’s mental, emotional, intellectual and social integrity for the purposes of abuse, exploitation, slavery and/or pecuniary gain, and to so inhibit their critical faculties that they do not recognise their own predicament so that they may act in ways harmful to their best interests and the interests of society on instruction or by command or by neglect.
The advantage of criminalising cultic abuse in this way is that it is ideologically neutral and does not reflect any particular belief system but straightforwardly describes harmful behaviour. This would protect all our citizens and an obvious place would be an amendment to the new Modern Slavery Bill passed in March.
Prime Minister David Cameron has already uttered the word brainwashing in speeches about Radicalisation. There was no public outcry or panic. Ordinary people know what he means. What a law would do is to give a precise definition which would allow us to ‘join the dots’ between seemingly disparate events like the Balakrishnan cult, the Rotherham grooming for sex scandal and terrorist recruitment.
Indeed, public apprehension over the war on terrorism in Syria and the perceived threat of blowback, is the perfect opportunity for the government to introduce and explain the phenomenon of brainwashing in this narrowly defined sense as an element of the Prevent Strategy. The introduction of a criminal offence which allows the detection, prosecution and punishment of this abhorrent behaviour will aid public understanding and allay fears.
Anne Khodabandeh @AnneKhodabandeh
Anne Khodabandeh, a leading authority on cultic abuse and terrorism, works as a consultant within the remit of the UK Prevent Duty. After twenty years in the MEK, a dangerous, destructive mind control cult, she helps families through Iran-Interlink.
‘Who could hang a saint?’ – Maryam Rajavi’s crocodile tears over human rights
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Middle East Strategy Consultants, October 09 2015:… The MEK are no longer needed or wanted beyond backing up the efforts of a few regime change pundits clinging to the past. And of course, Maryam Rajavi is acutely aware of the fate of her benefactor Saddam Hussein. When he was no longer needed, his former allies handed him over …
Middle East Strategy Consultants,
Author of “Saddam’s Private Army” and “The life of Camp Ashraf”
‘Who could hang a saint?’ – Maryam Rajavi’s crocodile tears over human rights
Human Rights advocacy is a laudable activity. Advocates automatically occupy the high moral ground in pursuit of their goals – and this of course reflects on their status. But as with everything we must examine their underlying motives before we accept at face value the posturing of every Tom, Dick and Harry who jumps on the bandwagon of human rights. Above all, we must examine the person before we listen to their inviolable message.
In reaction to the ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 10), notorious cult leader Maryam Rajavi will use the occasion to announce to a specially assembled audience that she is against the death penalty.
That will be news indeed to the thousands of former members and indeed the current members of the notorious terrorist Mojahedin Khalq cult which she leads. Maryam Rajavi’s MEK has not only killed over 12,000 Iranians and 25,000 Iraqis as part of its violent regime change agenda, but inside the group, Rajavi has been personally responsible for the extra-judicial murder and torture of countless members behind the closed doors of the cult.
So, what could be behind this dramatic volte-face? Has Rajavi really undergone a unique transformation of belief and if so, is she sincerely contrite for all the deaths she is personally responsible for within the Mojahedin Khalq? Does she regret her past? Will she now apologise to the thousands of former members of her organisation who are victims of heinous human rights abuses for which she and her husband are culpable?
For various reasons this is impossible. Not least because as the leader of a mind control cult such an admission of guilt would undermine the whole foundation of her organisation and throw the remaining vulnerable brainwashed members onto the path of a mental breakdown.
Or is this, as we have every reason to believe, a politically motivated fake stance brought about by panic and despair, just as once the MEK’s manufactured nuclear intelligence bought them artificial status brought about by opportunism. Since July, the negotiated Iran nuclear agreement has irrevocably changed the political landscape. The MEK are no longer needed or wanted beyond backing up the efforts of a few regime change pundits clinging to the past.
And of course, Maryam Rajavi is acutely aware of the fate of her benefactor Saddam Hussein. When he was no longer needed, his former allies handed him over to the Iraqi people for judgement and punishment. He was, as we all know, hanged.
So, Maryam’s Rajavi’s sudden and specific and uncharacteristic condemnation of the death penalty should be judged in this context. Her underlying message to her sponsors is, ‘who could hang a saint?’
A number of survivors of Rajavi cult, August 31 2015:… This summer, your charity floated an engaging invitation on its Facebook page for women to nominate their ‘women’s rights idol’. Sadly, perhaps inevitably, Womankind was then inundated with nominations and praise for Maryam Rajavi. The effect has been to hijack the page and spoil its intent. The Mojahedin are …
Family Survival Trust, May 24 2015:…Anne Khodabandeh, representative of The Family Survival Trust, was in a unique position to brief M. Blisko and the audience about this issue. She explained that it is possible to construct a model for describing and analysing the use of cultic abuse by terrorist entities without mentioning religion. Anne then went on to describe …
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Iran Interlink, April 14 2015:… It will come as some surprise to you therefore, that a group of Iranian war-mongering regime change proponents, the terrorist Mojahedin Khalq (MEK), claim to have your support. In an astounding act of hubris, the MEK has not only appropriated your good name and …
Iran Interlink, February 04 2015:… A review authored by Massoud and Anne Khodabandeh has been published in Asian Politics and Policy, Media Reviews. The article titled ‘The Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and Its Media Strategy: Methods of Information Manufacture’ looks at the MEK’s historical manipulation of various media over thirty years …
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton) , Iran Interlink, January 24 2015:… Albania’s efforts to improve its human rights and bring them into line with European and international standards could be seriously undermined if it does not take action to curtail the activities of the terrorist Mojahedin Khalq cult organisation in that country. There is strong evidence that …
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Iran Interlink, January 14 2015:… Whether delusional or corrupt, this gang – listed below and now posing as the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ) – says the residents of Camp Liberty should have their “personal protection weapons returned to them for self-defence following serious threats and attacks [sic] as the …