The other religious nuts
Are we to exchange
one theocracy for another?
May 27, 2005
The People’s Mojahedin of Iran has of late
been receiving increasing coverage by the Western and especially
the US mainstream press, who quote them copiously, ala Ahmed Chalabi,
as “opposition sources.” Since any aggressive move
to be made against Iran by the US will likely include this opposition
grouping in some form or shape, some of us leftist opposition members
feel obliged to present a dissuasive picture of this organization
to our good friends in the US left, so as to prevent the good folks
from taking the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, in their current
incarnation, as any friend of the Iranian people.
Mojahedin Khalq of Iran was originally created as a revolutionary
urban guerrilla organization during the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s
corrupt and incompetent dictatorship, initially as a study group
in 1965, and later as a guerrilla organization in 1968. From their
inception they formed an alternative to Fada’iyan Khalq,
a contemporary Marxist revolutionary organization, as well as to
the older Jebhe-ye Melli (National Front; a nationalist liberal
party), the mullahs, and the Tudeh Party (the oldest communist
party in Iran; a Stalinist bunch at their cleverest). In subsequent
years, Mojahedin’s supporters came mainly from the educated
urban lower classes whose politico-cultural inclinations were more
religious than secular, and their class aspirations petty bourgeois;
forward-looking and progressive in some areas, not so certain in
others, and reactionary and backward looking in yet others.
Fast forward now to the interval immediately after the overthrow
of the Shah. The period between the installation of Khomeini’s
regime in 1979 and the first wave of bloody crackdowns of 1981
was a historical period filled with excitement as well as with
opportunities. Organizations that had previously worked underground
could now emerge and breathe relatively freely, and start to grow
in the open, make mistakes, learn, and do so with and among the
people. The revolutionary organizations, in their historical fight
to be heard and be allowed to advocate freely, found the new open
atmosphere to their advantage.
The openness, created by the revolutionary surge of the people
and not “given” by some magnanimous state, was filled
with the creative energies of millions of activists of all political
stripes. The openness was also a two-edged sword since the security
forces and fanatic goons were just as actively taking down names
and addresses, following leftists, feminists, communists, minority
activists, as well as the supporters and members of the Mojahedin.
This, so that when they had organized themselves enough, they could
sweep out the opposition as effectively as possible.
So, when the Mojahedin, in true Blanquist fashion, in June 1981
assumed that they could carry the revolution further all by themselves
by calling for a general uprising for which they had done zero
preparation, while making a pact with President Bani-sadr’s
supposed “social democratic” faction already in power,
all they accomplished was to take their first decisive step away
from the people by jumping the gun, by not preparing enough, by
hastening the crackdown, when they should have instead stayed with
the people, educated and been educated better by others, organized
more, worked more patiently, created better underground infrastructure
and a better counter-intelligence gathering system before making
a move that could not have been corrected midcourse.
In short, by refusing to do the hard, long and complicated work,
the Mojahedin leadership exhibited extremely poor political judgment,
fatal immaturity, and an instinctive distrust for the people. On
top of that, they left their cadres and supporters wide open for
brutal repression that they should have expected and should have
been prepared for. The “uprising” in tatters, the Mojahedin
leadership joined President Bani-sadr on his airplane and flew
to Paris to conduct together the upcoming soon (just around the
corner, see it?) revolution, for which everybody is still waiting.
The great leader, Masoud Rajavi, also inaugurated a new protocol
of literally marrying his new allies; in this case, since Bani-sadr
was physiologically a male, his daughter (at the time a minor)
would have to do.
It should of course be pointed out that the Mojahedin have been
commendable and tireless in their diplomatic overtures, mostly
toward European Parliamentarians and US Congressional staffers,
Representatives or Senators who would hold audience with them (before
the Mojahedin joined the US State Department’s list of terrorist
On other fronts, we can be sure they have underground cells in
Iran, something very handy when, for example, it has come to providing
Uncle Sam with information that the CIA was missing, thereby filling
the intelligence gaps regarding the “nuclear issue” in
Iran, so that if/when the time comes that intelligence can be used
to bomb Iranian cities, much like the “intelligence” Chalabi
provided led to the bombings of Iraqi cities and civilians; with
no lives left un-bombed.
And, of course, there is that part of the organization’s
fighting capability that renders them the “biggest and best-organized” opposition
grouping (which can then be presented to the American people as
the badge of their righteousness): Mojahedin’s armed forces,
currently and for the past twenty years, stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan.
These armed capabilities, including tank squadrons, are mostly
rusted; much like their fighters who are by now mostly graying
men and women. Hardly a guerrilla organization anymore, their fighting
capabilities isolated, demoralized, paranoid, trapped and at the
mercy of various dictators: Saddam Hussein, then Paul Bremer, and
then Allawi/Pentagon. Take your pick which one’s worse.
As for their political maneuverings, the Mojahedin, starting
with their collusion with Bani-sadr, have made one political blunder
after another. Let us not pass too quickly over Bani-sadr. In polite
society he has come to be remembered as a liberal in casual as
well as academic conversations; a man with social democratic visions.
Due to his lack of political foresight, he did not serve long enough
for history to be left with any evidence of his “social democratic” policies.
More comically and to the point, however, his “theoretical” intervention
in the debate over hejab (the covering of hair and limbs required
of women mostly) is better remembered.
When the then newly-self-installed
anti-revolutionary regime was organizing its first attacks against
the people’s democratic demands, by targeting Iranian women,
Bani-sadr, the President at the time, the Sorbonne alumni “liberal” man
of enlightenment claimed that women’s hair, it turns out,
emanate a certain radiation, proven scientifically to exist, which
awaken lust and evil thoughts among men, and that is why they should
spare us the mayhem their hair could unleash and wear that hejab!
This is no satirical hyperbole. He really claimed this.
Women were not the only subjects of Bani-sadr’s espousals.
His government was a strong believer in the “territorial
integrity doctrine,” according to which national minorities
should keep quiet about such basic human rights as speaking their
own languages in their schools, since this would naturally lead
to cessations and the eventual disintegration of the country. Why
the latter would “naturally” follow from the former
is a mystery to democratic-minded people, minority or not.
It took only a few months into the new regime for the national
minorities to start putting forth their demands regarding their
cultural rights and for an end to the oppression of their languages
(among other things). The first provisional government, headed
by Bazargan, had already declared a harsh attitude against voicing
any such rights, and militarily suppressed the Arabs (in the southwest)
and the Turkmen (in the north). After winning the first presidential
elections, Bani-sadr’s government in 1980 continued the same
national-chauvinistic policy, and in response to the just and equitable
demands made by Kurdish political organizations, he sent in the
army, occupied the entire Kurdish province, declared martial law
and suspended all Kurdish citizens’ basic human rights. All
that so the Kurds would not speak their language.
This was the political figure that the Mojahedin, supposedly
respectful of national minority rights, decided to go to bed with,
with disastrous results.
Mojahedin’s move to ally themselves with Bani-sadr was
a very decisive one. Political organizations, revolutionary or
not, make choices based on their vision of the kind of power they
would like to exercise. You either trust in the transformative
powers of your ideas and go to the people, or else you are in too
much of a hurry to get to power and join hands with people up above.
Ever since their marriage with, and later divorce from, Bani-sadr
(and his daughter), Mojahedin’s political strategizing has
consisted in collusion with the people up above.
It is in fact very revealing that a certain Mr. Mohaddessin,
in a self-promoting book about the history of The National Council
of Resistance of Iran (the book is titled Enemies of the Ayatollahs),
as pointed out by Ron Jacobs (Counterpunch, April 9-10, 2004),
would make overtures to that sniveling joke of an ideologue Daniel
Pipes. Now, do you think our Mr. Mohaddessin is unaware of the
intricacies of rank and etiquette observed among the US organic
intellectuals at the service of the US’s national security
The Mojahedin have been in the halls of the US Congress lobbying
this way or that, since the late 1970s. So, we are not dealing
with naïve neophytes who do not know their lobbyists and ideologues
from assorted other shysters. Should we not wonder then why the
Mojahedin are so intent on having connections to the Imperial halls
of government? What kind of organization would so consistently
try to secure a leg in the doors of the houses of power in the
foremost Imperial powerhouses, and still call itself progressive
and revolutionary, and insist that it is looking out for the good
of the Iranian people? Are they unaware of the US’s historical
interventions in Iran? Have they so easily forgotten that the Shah,
whom they fought against courageously in the 1970s, was installed
by the very people frequenting those same halls?
But the most important aspect of the Mojahedin that should keep
our attention focused has to do with their ideological make-up.
They are in fact a variation on a theme demonstrated by the regime
that currently suffocates Iran. Those familiar with Mojahedin’s
old newspapers remember well that in Payam-e Mojahed (their political
organ) in the period of 1977-1979, they repeatedly quoted Khomeini
in approving tones and gave him glowing editorials. In fact, the
organization’s original philosophical mentor, Ali Shari’ati,
whose outlook was a mixture of Franz Fanon’s and political
Islam, was the “progressive” flip side of Khomeini’s
An Alternative for Whom?
By 1984, it became obvious to Mojahedin’s leadership that
the Islamic Republic regime would not pack its bags, run and crumble
on Mojahedin’s signal. So, they had to do some real calculating
since the “thinking” behind their previous maneuverings
had not borne any fruits, being based exclusively on the inevitable
downfall of Khomeini’s regime through a spontaneous uprising
of the people, on Mojahedin’s prompting, just like that.
In view of the repeated failures of the revolution to materialize,
the Mojahedin realized an “ideological revolution” was
necessary to solidify the internal resolve of the organization.
Subsequently, cooperation with other organizations and groups became
increasingly unnecessary except for some showcases. The National
Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), initially comprising organizations
and individuals exhibiting the same haste and blindness of political
foresight and mesmerized by the prospects that the “inevitable” downfall
held for them, eventually emptied out and was left with Mojahedin
as the main warm bodies, along with a few small organizations,
mostly civic organizations created by the Mojahedin themselves
(for an excellent account of this, see Ervand Abrahamian’s
The “ideological revolution” for most of us secular
leftists, as well as for the general population, was a source of
astonishment mixed with great amusement. In a series of moves,
topped by an odd divorce/marriage episode among the dear leaders,
the leadership managed to transform the organization into an almost
cult-like, militarized social organism.
The divorce/marriage episode was of the most bizarre, to put
it generously, since it brought out a strange-looking medieval
aspect manifest in Mojahedin’s new face. To most of us staring
in disbelief, it looked like the leadership had decided to commit
something so outrageous that only the truly dedicated would remain
in their ranks, and all others would duly ship out (which is exactly
For the marriage that would bring in a new era, the dear leader
Rajavi had his eyes on his best friend’s wife. Maryam Azodanlu,
the younger sister of a veteran member, and the wife of Mehdi Abrishamchi
(an old veteran and one of the more charismatic leaders of the
organization), was a political asset of huge value due to her political
militancy and credentials, and her nostalgic associations were
deemed important enough to give cohesion to the newly transformed
ideological atmosphere, so she was promoted to the role of “co-leader”.
This promotion of a woman to the rank of “co-leader” was
to prove to the world the organization’s great respect for
women. However, because “To have remained co-leaders, without
being married would have been mere bourgeois formalism,”  there
had to be a divorce so that there could be a marriage between the
co-leaders. Some may ask, as we did: What-on-earth kind of
logic dictates that a woman has to divorce her husband and marry
a leader in order to have a leadership role?! And Iranian women
are supposed to be impressed by that!
I tremble at the thought of such organizations in power as much
as I fear and loathe the mullahs’ theocratic state. As should
any secular progressive, any socialist, any leftist, feminist,
anarchist, human rights activist, or democrat, as do most ordinary
Iranian citizens. The stuff of liberation the Iranian Mojahedin
does not make.
The Mojahedin, should they fail to prefigure themselves into
some calculation of Uncle Sam’s, are for the most part politically
obsolete as an alternative. And should they find in America a suitable
patron, they will then be the very opposite of progressive. Lacking
the US patronage, at best they have to compete on very stiff terms
with most other oppositional groupings, no matter how small and
no matter how disorganized, when it comes to vying for legitimacy
among the Iranian public.
They have very little public support
inside Iran, and are in fact reviled by most ordinary people because
of the patronage bestowed on them by Saddam, the invader of Iran.
Being political creatures with a thick skin, however, the Mojahedin
leadership has to ignore their own impotence and instead resign
to repeating habitually to all that they are the “biggest
and best-organized” opposition, and can provide a “safe” alternative
to the mullahs. Safe for whom, we wonder!
In spite of the large size and the organizational aptitude, the
Mojahedin leadership seems to have gained next-to-zero insight
into Iranian society. It is stunningly clear what the Iranian people
yearn most when it comes to the question of governance: separation
of religion from the state. And yet the Mojahedin insist on keeping
the religious adage in their vision for Iran’s future.
But the Iranian public has learned its lesson where the West
and the Mojahedin seem to have learned very little. Are we to exchange
one theocracy for another? Or are we to go along with another US-imposed
puppet? But, we did not go along with a US-imposed puppet the last
time around. Equally, we have not bought into a theocracy either.
Today’s Iranian society is far more thoroughly anti-religious
than any atheistic communist regime could have dreamed of.
Which way not out?
Others may, but we cannot afford to forget
that Khomeini and his “liberal” cohorts too (including Bani-sadr, who
did them wondrous service), while still in Paris, and before Khomeini’s
flight home, knew of the necessity for international public consumption
to talk approvingly of democracy. Some of us remember the headlines
very vividly to this day: Even Communists Will Be Free!
Well, we saw how free we ended up. An entire movement decimated,
with thousands dead, tens of thousands in jails tortured, hundreds
of thousands dispersed around the globe, and our women comrades
raped before execution, on the pretext that should a woman die
a virgin she will go to heaven, and such cannot be allowed a woman
daring to speak against a bunch of sociopathic and dictatorial
men. Are we to fall for the same line again, especially when recited
by an organization displaying overt religious overtones?
The absolutely necessary, but by no means sufficient, requisite
of any democracy is a complete separation of organized religion
from the state. The most elementary tasks and fundamental duties
of any Middle Eastern leftist, at this point in our history, revolve
around creating a more effective secular language and practice
with which to engage the ongoing political struggles, in an effort
to rebuild a secular and progressive alternative. The way forward
can only be in that direction. Any form of a religious regime or
a puppet government imposed by imperialists is only a step back,
a dead end.
Since the Mojahedin refuse to eject religion from their politics,
and since, knowing their real political chances, they depend increasingly
on imperial backing, it is only natural for the people to mistrust
them instinctively. From a practical viewpoint, the Iranian people
have learned how to live with the irrationalities of a really existing
theocratic state. And for this they have paid a huge price. Any
move to an “upgraded” religious state, especially if
it is to be imposed by the imperialists, is a move promising more
viciousness and oppression, and is simply not worth the sacrifices
needed for a truly transformational social upheaval. Deals can
be made, coups can be arranged for sure, but a true social transformation
requires enlightened inspiration, and the Mojahedin’s doctrines
and their active role as Uncle Sam’s snitch simply do not
inspire confidence among Iranians of all political persuasions.
 Abrahamian, quoting Mojahedin’s Proclamation of Introduction
of New Leadership (1985), in The Iranian Mojahedin (Yale
University Press, 1989), p. 251.