Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, January 27 2016:… Other protestors, like the Mojahedin Khalq, are simply ratcheting up a new phase of post-nuclear anti-Iran protest. Their demand is ‘Don’t let Rouhani into France’. They say that the only way to make Iran comply with the international community’s demand for improved human rights is …
Will President Rouhani meet genuine human rights advocates halfway?
President Rouhani’s visit to Europe this week is a reminder of how much has changed since last July. But Iran’s eventual rehabilitation into the international community is by no means a done deal. Now that the nuclear deal has been struck and sanctions lifted, what is the next demand to be made of Iran? All sides appear to agree that it should be based around Iran’s human rights record.
Of course, the ultimate aim of any genuine human rights activist must surely be for the UNCHR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to one day be able to open offices in Tehran. Access for the UN Special Rapporteur Ahmad Shahid to visit Iran would be a good start. The way this might be achieved reveals a lot about the different approaches and real aims of those voicing concerns over Iran’s human rights record.
But although when President Rouhani arrives in France he will be greeted by President Hollande and French businesses, he will also be jeered by protestors and demonstrators.
One group of protestors believe that improvements in human rights will only come about through engagement, dialogue and diplomacy. They demand that Rouhani brings Iran to conform with international standards and laws. The country needs to be opened up to greater scrutiny – a bit like the nuclear inspections regime. Activists like Shirin Ebadi further acknowledge that indigenous pressure groups can only flourish in an atmosphere of security, stability and economic prosperity.
Other protestors, like the Mojahedin Khalq, are simply ratcheting up a new phase of post-nuclear anti-Iran protest. Their demand is ‘Don’t let Rouhani into France’. They say that the only way to make Iran comply with the international community’s demand for improved human rights is for Iran to be isolated and threatened with regime change. This aggressive stance, shared by neoconservatives, Israel and Saudi Arabia, is profoundly incompatible with human rights. Nowhere has this been more nakedly stated than in Senator John McCain’s warning that “peace with Iran could greatly limit our ability to bomb it“. Although recent events in Libya, Iraq and Syria should be a salutary lesson in how difficult it is to bomb regime change into country.
Iran’s president was elected to office on a two-pronged platform of alleviating economic sanctions and improving human rights. He – his government – has achieved the first. Sanctions have been lifted, a sensitive prisoner exchange negotiated with the US and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed a mega $600billion trade deal with the Islamic Republic. Next, Rohani will arrive in France with a shopping list: 114 Airbus jest.
It is not going to be possible to put this economic genie back in the bottle. Britain’s newly appointed trade envoy, Lord Lamont has identified Iran as “the world’s biggest emerging market since the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago“, and warns that “Britain is languishing behind rivals in its share of business.”
So it is certainly right for the international community to hold President Rouhani to his promise to improve human rights in Iran. How this is done demands mutual acknowledgement of where Iran stands and what is possible.
Rohani has said that he will use the nuclear negotiations with world powers as a model for pursuing Iran’s domestic policy goals. Certainly he will capitalise on Iran’s success in Syria and Iraq to assert Iran’s regional power on the international stage – Rohani is unequivocally part of the establishment, Iran’s military are allies not rivals – but his preferred agenda is clearly to strengthen civic society and the rule of law.
Does this signal that Iran is prepared to meet genuine human rights advocates halfway? Dialogue and negotiation will widen Iran’s engagement with the international community just as economic prosperity and stability will provide ground to strengthen indigenous pressure groups. Maybe this is a trade-off Iran is now in a position to accept. In contrast, those who advocate improving human rights through the barrel of a gun will surely become more and more isolated and their arguments more and more redundant.
What does it mean when we say ISIS operates as a mind control cult?
Massoud Khodabandeh, Iranian.com, October 01 2015:… Those camps, often far from the inhabited world, are important in the process. That is where the recruit changes in to a suicide bomber, Khodabandeh concludes. The technique used to brainwash someone only works if you have a place where you are able to isolate people from the family and acquaintances …
What does it mean when we say ISIS operates as a mind control cult?
The world is waking up to the fact that some kind of brainwashing is involved in the ISIS campaign to recruit and deploy fighters in Iraq and Syria. This even extends to importing thousands of brainwashed ‘family’ recruits to populate its declared Caliphate.
As an expert on this subject, I was interviewed by Dutch writer and journalist Judit Neurink as part of her new book ‘The war of ISIS: On the road to the Caliphate’.
Judit has lived and worked in Iraqi Kurdistan for nearly a decade. This is important because she has been able to get into the hearts and minds of the people she shares this life with and they have rewarded her with a unique and intimate understanding of this region. This book is a reflection of that.
The book sets out to answer the questions which we all have about ISIS. “Who they are, how did they get their ideals, how do they operate and are they really as dangerous as they would like the world to believe?”
Avoiding any sensationalism, Judit intersperses hard facts, information and analysis with individual accounts and sharp descriptions. She allows other people to speak about their knowledge and experience and by doing so brings the ISIS phenomenon to life in a way no external observer can hope to do.
My contribution has been to talk about the cultic nature of ISIS and the specific methodology it uses to deceive and brainwash its victims into becoming killers and suicide bombers. In this respect it is very similar to the Mojahedin Khalq.
The external behaviour of such groups can sometimes lead people to the false conclusion that one is worse or better than the other. The truth is that because of their internal cult dynamic all terrorist groups are not only dangerous to their intended targets but are also destructive of their own members. Like ISIS, the MEK has killed and tortured thousands of its own members over the years.
ISIS is much more than just an Islamic group that has established its own state. It is a sect which brainwashes and indoctrinates its members. All new members must first follow lessons in sharia, the Islamic Legislation. “Not in the principles of Islam, but those from the Islamic state”, a young man who left ISIS tells the BBC.
“They teach you the Islam that they want”
Whoever enters ISIS start with forty days in a religious training camp, led by a charismatic trainer. The young man said that his had come from Saudi Arabia, and was so “nice and convincing” that he was “prepared to become a suicide bomber if he has asked”. The training “aims at your heart and not your head, so that your heart becomes filled with passion for their words”.
According to Massoud Khodabandeh, who for years was in the leadership of the Iranian political sect Mujahedeen Khalq (MKO), charismatic trainers play a far more prominent role than the ideology. That is secondary to the goal of the sect, which usually revolves around the well-being and the ambitions of the leader of the group and those around him. Concretely, with ISIS it’s about Baghdadi and the group around him, and their ambition to become powerful.
“With ISIS it is not about Islam”, khodabandeh said resolutely. “No one becomes a member of a sect because of their message”. The recruits from ISIS know nothing about Islam. Because it they did, they would not allow themselves to be lured in”.
Khodabandeh broke with the MKO and now leads an organisation from Great Britain to help people follow his example. Internationally he is well known as an expert on the subject of political sects.
According to him only people who were easily influenced beforehand will fall in to the net of the recruiters. “They have problems; they are running away from something. One from his father. The other one from debt collectors. They have failed in love or at university. They are already a victim before they fall in to the net”.
For the training of its recruits ISIS had at the end of November in 2014 twenty five camps, fourteen in Syria and eleven in Iraq. One of those was exclusively for fighters from Kazakhstan. After the indoctrination a military training follows, fighters receive physical training and learn how to handle weapons.
Those camps, often far from the inhabited world, are important in the process. That is where the recruit changes in to a suicide bomber, Khodabandeh concludes. The technique used to brainwash someone only works if you have a place where you are able to isolate people from the family and acquaintances, where there are no credit cards, and no place to go back to”.
For the indoctrination of a fighter the recruitment focuses on separating them from everything they had, up to the point that they no longer want to live. For a suicide bomber live itself is a burden. If you are leading a life that you do not want, then you can convince yourself of the beckoning paradise. You only give up a life if you do not have one anyway”.
To show the extent of this, Khodabandeh uses the example of an eighteen year old fighter who was taken prisoner by the Iraqi army before he could carry out his suicide mission. With the approval of the Iraqis, he spent 48 hours with the young man in an effort to pry him loose from the grip of ISIS. “I thought that I should be able to convince him to think differently about things. But after two days and nights he said that I had committed the greatest sin. I had kept him from reaching paradise for forty eight hours. It went that deep. His life was a burden. He begged to end it”.
A sect exists from a nucleus with layers surrounding it. Like and onion, Khodabandeh says. The nucleus is the suicide bomber, for ISIS also the fighters who go in to battle to die. “You only need a certain number of these. But in order to recruit and indoctrinate them there are many more people needed”.
Not everyone becomes a suicide bomber. And that prospect alone will not lure any recruits, neither does the idea of going to kill people, or decapitate leads, khodabandeh believes. They come from money, for charity, for a role in the new state or the army. “In Syria they realize; I have to kill someone while I only came here to bring medicine. The pressure to do that is immense. Because their entire world is now ISIS. If it says that you have to chop off heads, then you do that. Otherwise you will become a victim yourself”.
From that fear, ISIS members convince themselves if they have doubts that they are wrong, and the others, in ISIS, are right. Because everyone outside of ISIS is considered to be the enemy, this would relate to them too should they turn their backs on the group. “they believe they do not have any choice; if they do not cut off that head then they will lose their own”.
Villepinte – the real message behind Maryam Rajavi’s anti-Iran speech
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Iranian.com, June 16 2015:… Rajavis are afraid of the questions even their own MEK members are asking. Their leader is in hiding not because something might happen to him but because, as MEK founding member turned critic Lotfolah Meisami said “we can answer the question ‘where is Rajavi’ with the simple answer …
Villepinte – the real message behind Maryam Rajavi’s anti-Iran speech
The few curious Farsi speakers who bother to look will have noticed that the Mojahedin e Khalq (MEK) has removed all trace of Farsi language from its National Council of Resistance of Iran website. This is an extraordinary move considering that this Council claims to represent Iranians and its leader styles herself the ‘President elect’ of Iran.
So why not speak to this constituency?
The answer is very simple. There is no constituency of Iranians which the MEK or Maryam Rajavi can speak to or on behalf of. Thanks to the work of real Iranian oppositionists and the efforts of former members of this already notorious terrorist group (which sided with Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 war against Iran), Iranians inside and outside the country are now fully aware of its true nature and that it operates as a mind control cult; meaning it should be avoided at all costs. As a result, the MEK is no longer able to use deception and lies to recruit or even maintain members from the Iranian community. Iranians, thankfully, have achieved immunity.
The same cannot be said for Western political communities who appear as ready as ever to co-opt or be co-opted by the MEK in pursuit of forcing regime change on Iran. This is interesting because it is this enduring slogan of the MEK – that it will violently overthrow in its entirety the ruling system of Iran – which pitches Iranians living inside and outside Iran on one side and the MEK on the other. Iranians want to be normal oppositionists, not terrorists.
Thirty years ago the MEK hijacked the narrative on Iran with false and misleading propaganda and fed it to a gullible West – as has been described in a peer reviewed paper by Khodabandeh. It used its apparently unlimited finances (provided by Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia and other Western interests) and unpaid labour to wage a self-serving propaganda war against Iran which has resulted in it achieving only total isolation and inevitable disintegration.
Evidence of this can be found in the MEK’s annual rally to celebrate the start of its armed struggle in 1981. The MEK holds this expensive rally every year, but why do they need to do it and why has it become so non-Iranian? Why does Maryam Rajavi persist in this charade?
One obvious explanation is that the rally acts as make-up to disguise a reality she can’t change; the slow demise of the MEK. Throwing a huge party for your creditors is one way to hide the fact you are bankrupt. Then we need only look to the target audience of the rally to find out who Rajavi’s creditors and benefactors are. Rajavi’s speech is littered with so much trite regime change jargon that it might have been lifted from PM Netanyahu’s own speech writer. It so closely matches the extremists’ anti-Iran platform that we could see Villepinte as nothing more than make-up on the face of the Israeli war lobby to make it look like Farsi.
But don’t dismiss the MEK just yet. Closer inspection of other hidden elements will reveal the real state of the Mojahedin Khalq organisation.
Many years ago the MEK held at least three public demonstrations per year across many major European and North American capitals and cities. Its finances allowed it to maintain self-styled ‘safe houses’ in those cities in which MEK members and supporters would gather. Supporters were recruited from the pool of Iranian refugees who were still, in the 1990s, unaware of the MEK’s cult nature. Meals and entertainment were provided in exchange for unpaid work. Using psychological coercion many supporters were transferred to the military bases in Iraq and sent on terrorist missions. Those who could not be brainwashed to this extent were maintained in the west in a state of dependent unemployment by supplementing social security benefits.
Three times a year the MEK spent over six million dollars on these public demonstrations. In comparison the MEK now spends only a tenth of what it used to. Money has become an issue. The MEK’s finances have dwindled to the point that it is now cheaper to bus in rent-a-crowd once a year than maintain its safe houses and subsidise a supporter base all year round. Ironically, because of this the MEK has chosen to shed much of its Iranian base. The reason Villepinte is now held inside a venue rather than on the street is because behind closed doors nobody will see that only a small proportion of the audience is Iranian. The MEK’s latest public picket, which was held in Washington, had a core presence of only five people. Nobody will turn up without being paid.
But this abandonment of pretence over its support base among Iranians is not just about finance. Significantly the MEK has even abandoned using Afghans or Iraqis or any other refugees who look like Iranians. This is to prevent any former members, critics or Iranian journalists getting inside to film and write about the event. Instead the audience is made up of thousands of students bussed in from Eastern Europe and African heritage refugees from France.
Maryam Rajavi is running away from Iranians. The reason is that the Rajavis are afraid of the questions even their own MEK members are asking. Their leader is in hiding not because something might happen to him but because, as MEK founding member turned critic Lotfolah Meisami said “we can answer the question ‘where is Rajavi’ with the simple answer, ‘where he doesn’t have to answer anyone’.
These awkward but natural questions focus on a few key issues. ‘Why can’t we have contact with our families?’ And, ‘why, after three decades, have we made no progress in our struggle to overthrow the Iranian regime?’ And, ‘where is Massoud Rajavi, why is he in hiding?’ And, ‘why aren’t the residents of Camp Liberty being transferred to safe countries rather than remaining in danger in Iraq?’
June 2015 Families of Camp Liberty residents want to meet their loved ones
To circumvent criticism of her evasiveness, Rajavi has drafted in the grownup offspring of MEK members to parade with. For example the Gharari children whose uncle is still a thug with the MEK and whose only claim is that their father was executed thirty years ago. For an all-expenses paid trip from Norway to Paris, they will not be rocking the boat.
It is not only an Iranian audience Rajavi is afraid of. Apart from well-rehearsed MEK stooges slipped in to demonstrate pluralism, she is the only Iranian speaker at Villepinte where non-Iranian paid members of the panel are all happy to conform to MEK prepared scripts. There is no risk of any alternative Iranian voice being heard. No risk of other points of view. This time the cost is political capital. No other Iranian, not even former members of the so-called Council (NCRI) like Karim Ghassim, will risk their reputation by regurgitating the MEK script. Even has-been former MEP Struan Stevenson has tried to salvage his reputation by claiming in a book that he supported the MEK for humanitarian reasons; adding disarmingly that he had been warned to avoid them by the UK government and MI5. Last year the French Foreign Ministry denounced the MEK saying that France knows it inside out and is of the conclusion it is not trustworthy. But the likes of John Bolton and Rudi Giuliani have no such compunction and will happily spout MEK jargon for a fee.
So, if the message of Villepinte is not one any Iranian or right minded person wants to be associated with, what is it?
Essentially the rally is not held to project power as an opposition against Iran but as a CV for Western payers. Since the loss of its military camps in Iraq, the MEK’s terrorist planning headquarters has transferred to Auvers-sur-Oise where Maryam Rajavi had already set up a de facto independent enclave. From here she is able to access western political circles.
For three decades the MEK has tried to win western support by pretending to be an Iranian opposition group. But everyone knows that its only use is for violence. Saddam knew it and Donald Rumsfeld knew it when he kept the MEK intact in post-Saddam Iraq against the constitutional demands of successive governments of a sovereign Iraq. Since then the MEK has tried to hide the fact it is finished. Wearing the mask of political activity it campaigned to be removed from Western terrorism lists. Then it was all ‘nuclear revelations’ – which turned out to be mostly fabricated. And then it was human rights advocacy as a spanner in the works hoping the P5+1 negotiations would grind to a halt. Now that hasn’t happened, Rajavi has latched on to a new crisis – the Daesh carnage – to keep her cult alive. She has lost the ability even to put a mask on it and is straightforwardly advertising her failing cult as a terrorist entity.
It is an interesting advertising campaign. Struan Stevenson’s book plays its part in a way he probably has no knowledge of. It is doubtful he knows the history of the woman featured on the dust jacket. Throughout the 1990s Zohreh Ghaemi commanded terrorist operations, sending MEK members into Iran to perform acts of violence. In the end she perished in controversial circumstances as one of 53 people killed in Camp Ashraf, Iraq in 2013. An official investigation was inconclusive due to lack of cooperation by the MEK, but some evidence pointed to this being an inside job. The MEK killing its own unwanted people? It wouldn’t be the first time. The message of this book therefore is that we can still deliver any act of violence required.
Struan Stevenson’s book advertises the MEK as a terrorist tool
The background to Villepinte 2015 has been a long campaign to get support not only from war mongers but from those waging war. Already in 2012 Maryam Rajavi was begging the Syrian rebels to absorb them into their struggle, and more recently she has visited the Saudi ambassador in France to offer the MEK’s services in Yemen. But the MEK is not an attractive prospect even for them. From past experience they know that Rajavi cannot be trusted.
Now, however, it looks as though there is some hope for the MEK. In Albania.
In 2012, Albania bowed to pressure from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to accept several hundred MEK members from Iraq. This was a way to keep the Iraqis happy by removing these former terrorists, and to keep Rajavi quiet by moving them as a group rather than dispersing them among different countries; a move Rajavi resisted with the blood of his members in order to keep the cult intact. There are now well over four hundred who came from Camp Liberty, and a handful of cult commanders transferred from Europe to take charge of them.
The MEK tried everything in its power to get the President of Albania, Bujar Nishani, to speak at the Villepinte rally – to be the first governmental representative to support the MEK in its history except Saddam Hussein. This would act to legitimise this movement of personnel as a humanitarian gesture. Except Albania has done nothing for them except allow them in. The refugees are actually supported by the UNHCR. Furthermore, the MEK has been paying them to remain loyal to the cult, asking only that they keep quiet and don’t talk about what happens inside the MEK, and also to work as keystroke operators in the MEK’s famous cyber-wars.
In spite of every effort to keep the cult intact in Albania – using coercion, blackmail, intimidation and psychological manipulative tactics in addition to the payments – at least half the newly arrived people have separated from the MEK. Some of them have risked the (very real) wrath of the MEK and are in touch with former MEK members in Europe with whom they share information about conditions on the ground. What has been disclosed is revealing. The MEK has bought land and property around Tirana and is building a replica cult camp to replace the one it is slowly but irrevocably losing in Iraq. Several top level cult commanders have been brought from Paris to facilitate this. Troublesome and non-compliant members have actually been forced to leave the MEK’s accommodation. Again, the MEK is not averse to shedding a few people to achieve its aims and this activity gives every indication that Rajavi himself intends to transfer there where he will be safe behind closed doors. This is bad news for the individuals trapped in the cult. But it is also an indication of Rajavi’s plans to rescue the MEK. Certainly it makes sense that a deal was struck with Hillary Clinton to have Camp Liberty residents moved to Albania in exchange for removing the MEK from the US terrorist list in 2012.
But there is more to this than at first appears. While American officials no doubt hoped that the Rajavis would be happy to continue with their delusion of playing at being spiritual leader and president for their own mini-Iran, and allowed that the group would want to be used as part of the anti-Iran phalanx led by Israel, they have shown woeful ignorance as to the depths of perversity and treachery they are capable of. For, while Rajavi and his wife are happy to continue to rule over their cult members, they still need to find the money to finance it.
As part of the advertising campaign to find a new ‘landlord’, Maryam Rajavi has popped up on Fox News and in the Washington Times to repeat the false narrative about Iran. With this kind of publicity she may not even need to spend money on Villepinte next year, and could easily reach her target audience with a few cheap screen appearances. Rajavi’s message of regime change is not her own of course. It belongs to some other interests. She is simply using this message to make the MEK attractive to people with deep pockets who can use her brand of publicity. But even this is not enough to fund a cultic base in Europe.
It is instructive to dissect Maryam Rajavi’s message at Villepinte and to the European Parliament and to Washington to find out what else is going on here. Rajavi repeatedly pitches herself on the same side as the anti-Assad forces in Syria, as Daesh in Iraq and Saudi Arabia in Yemen. She is actually saying that America should openly commit to backing Daesh and other terrorist forces alongside the MEK to attack Iran. This is the same message as Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri’s before he died and is what the remnants of Saddam’s regime still say: use our forces against Iran, because whether they are called AQI or insurgents or Sunnis or now Daesh, we are all on the same side against Iran. Rajavi wants the Obama administration to stop sitting on the fence between Daesh and Iran and choose the side of the terrorist forces in Iraq.
With its defunct force and ageing, sick population in Iraq, it is not clear on the surface what contribution Maryam Rajavi is suggesting that the MEK could make in such a scenario. However, the MEK has a long history of training, planning and providing logistics for terrorism which could be exploited as an educational resource. The MEK are expert in the use of the sophisticated mind control and psychological coercive techniques which underpin terrorist activity. This means suppressing a person’s authentic moral, ethical and emotional values, and brainwashing them into acting in ways illegal, immoral and unethical and certainly against their better interests on the whim of the leader; perhaps the definitive definition of terrorism. Massoud Rajavi doesn’t really expect America to arm the group in Iraq, nor does he expect to be able to hold on to many cult members in Albania, let alone recruit any more Iranians. They, as has been previously stated, are immune to deceptive recruitment by the MEK. Instead, while the various routes to Turkey, Syria and Iraq are under scrutiny, terrorist commanders from any mercenary group can slip beneath the radar and seek training and logistical support in Tirana.
What better location to establish a clandestine terrorist training camp than in Albania. It is in Europe, but not in the EU and therefore not so open to scrutiny by the international community. It is a Muslim country but is also notorious for corruption and mafia-like gangs. The Rajavis will fit right in. The real message of Villepinte is this: the MEK have branched out and are open to do business with any terrorist group.
And if this sounds implausible, just think, is it really more plausible to believe that Maryam Rajavi will be president of Iran one day?
By Anne Khodabandeh and Massoud Khodabandeh
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Middle East Strategy Consultants, December 27 2013: … In the past year over 8,000 people have died in violent incidents in Iraq. The problem is not that the MEK are being singled out for attack, the real problem is that nobody is allowed to get inside Camp Liberty to help rescue these people from their enforced captivity. Nobody is allowed to help them or
Holly Dagres, Huffington Post, December 12 2014:… Maryam Rajavi’s marriage to one of the original founders of the MEK symbolized the transformation from an organization to a “cult of personality.” With the money provided by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein–they formed an alliance due to a deep disdain for the Iranian regime–to “construct self-sufficient camps” …
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, Foreign Policy Journal, November 08 2014:…In addition to the “Iran experts”, Washington has found itself other sources of ‘intelligence’, foremost; the Mojahedeen Khalg (MEK) terrorist cult. This group feeds Washington information provided them by Israel. Previous to this assignment, the cult was busy fighting alongside Saddam …
Fars News, Tehran, November 27 2014:… the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has come to realize that the allegations raised by enemies and the terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, also known as MEK, PMOI and NCRI) against Tehran’s nuclear program have all been fake and wrong. “Today, the IAEA has come to this conclusion …