Former Mojahed tries to come
April 5, 2005
Masoud Banisadr's Memoirs
of an Iranian Rebel (Saqi Books, London, 2004) begins
his story with his dysfunctional upbringing. The
love that his divorced mother gave him was a short respite
in between the harsh treatment of his father who left him emotionally
Masoud is typical of his pseudo-intellectual generation.
Disgruntled by many things around him from politics to the economy
, he is deluded into believing that only the country run by certain
ideological manifestos can truly liberate the masses. The promises
of milk and honey, emancipation of workers from their overlords,
equality and peace finally won him over to the Mojahedin Khalgh's
But the "reactionary" behavior of Khomeini
after arriving in Jamaran from exile and the gradual sidelining
of the Mojahedin turned to outright hostility toward their members
and sympathizers and changed the course of their organization,
putting them on the path to another "revolution".
Masoud is not knowledgeable enough about Iranian
history. He seems to accept as factual what his parents and grandparents
tell him about Iranian history. You hope, as an educated person,
he would try to test the veracity of such family proclamations
but he does not. He even falls into the trap of echoing some of
those claims himself. Of course this is a sad story of many revolutionaries
who do not understand their own history very well; for it is much
easier to cling on to a manifesto of some sort than research and
When Masoud tells us about his passion for reading
history books, he does not show any in depth understanding. He
says he has read Ahmad Kasravi's Varjavand Bonyad but
he reduces this profound book to a proposal to reform the Persian
alphabet and portrays Kasravi as an anti-Arab. For the innocent
reader, Masoud paints a distorted picture of one of the greatest
intellectuals, not only of Iran but the Middle East, by quoting
Kasravi out of context.
Also, the fact that Kasravi was primarily against
the mullahs and later assassinated by their thugs is inexcusably
overlooked. Any one who purports to have some understanding of
modern Iranian history cannot fully understand it without understanding
Kasravi and his writing as a social commentator and critic.
Masoud's book is not exclusively about Iranian history
but it spans twenty years of the writer's life and his roller-coaster
ride with one of the most active Iranian political parties. He
tries to be honest about his failures, his shattered dreams, his
enslavement to political ideals that were never realized but instead
took away his family, relatives and friends from him and wasted
some of the best years of his life.
By sharing his thoughts and feelings toward the Mojahedin,
Masoud takes the reader behind the scenes and shows the horrid
treatment of members by the organization. His story is also the
story of many thousands of young men and women who were lured to
various political parties by promises of freedom, justice and equality.
Masoud is lucky enough to have survived his ordeals in order to
warn others about such perilous associations.
Although the book is 473 pages, it gives a sense
as if it was written in a hurry. There are many insignificant details
while more important matters are under-written. For example, his
departure to England to study with his wife is dealt with in one
short paragraph. Yet, he writes a page about driving a car without
a license and bribing a policeman and justifying his action. professional
Still there are many good accounts of the early months
after the success of the revolution in 1979 when many political
parties and personalities wanted to imprint their own ideology
onto the new government. Khomeini is accurately depicted as a scheming,
calculating despot who believes power cannot be shared with anyone
outside the realm of Hezbollah. This is a fact that high ranking
Mojahedin knew, according to Masoud, but still supported the ayatollah,
hoping that later on they can take over the government due to their
popularity with the people at the time. But Khomeini proved them
In the beginning of this struggle for power one cannot
help but see the striking similarities between the Mojahedin and
Hezbollahis, the two most radical Muslim groups in the country
at the time. They shared the same concepts on martyrdom, the rule
of the oppressed (mostazafin), Western imperialism, as
well as blind, hysterical following of their leaders as God's representatives
on earth. They are both also modern pioneers in the use of suicide
bombers to terrify their enemies.
In later years the Mojahedin began to adopt new policies
to portray themselves as more progressive. For example, by appointing
a Maryam Rajavi as co-leader with her husband, forming the National
Council of Resistance in a democratic parliamentary environment,
attracting popular singers and artists for live concerts and adopting
the lion and sun emblem. But every policy the Mojahedin adopted
failed. This is something Masoud could see clearly but couldn't
understand why the leadership didn't acknowledge. Masoud, however,
does not disagree with them as a matter of principle (which is
very disturbing) but as wrong tactics.
According to Masoud, since early days the organization
has run itself like a cult movement. Members are not allowed to
read anything except what the organization approves. They are told
how to think and behave publicly as well as privately. Their opinions
about the running of the organization are never welcomed, regardless
of proven abilities. Members work tirelessly and give all their
hard earned money to support the organization. Their private lives
are probed and judged with rigid moral and revolutionary standards.
But the leadership itself has been exempt from any accountability.
And when members complain, they are ostracized.
Mojahedin leader Masoud Rajavi
displays all the classical symptoms of a cult figure, as this quote
from Masoud Banisadr shows: "They should seek to burn,
burn, die, die in the fire of love for freedom. They had to die
and be reborn, not from their mothers' wombs but from [my wife]
Maryam's. No one who has not been reborn could call himself a Mojahed...
Yes, I have come to sacrifice myself and my organization and my
generation for the sake of people's freedom... I am the representative
of infinite generations. I have come to sacrifice myself for the
freedom of my chained people. Is there anyone who would
help me [a famous plea from Imam Hussein]?
To completely brainwash members and ask them to do
what they wanted them to without questioning, the Mojahedin devised
an 'ideological revolution.' Every person had to write a self-effacing
essay about their 'old values' and express desire to break away
from the past and be born into the Mojahedin's set of values. Then
they had to send these essays (or exams) and wait for the result.
In a meeting in London with Mehdi Abrishamchi, a
senior Mojahed and Maryam Rajavi's former husband, Masoud Banisadr
recalls this conversation. Abrishamchi asked:
'I have a question. You asked in your essay to
be permitted to burn yourself. May I ask why?'
I replied, 'Well, thanks to the "revolution",
I have seen my filthy past and I hate it with all my being. I
want to burn so I can be born again, and be as fresh and clean
as a baby born from Maryam.'
Banisadr gives some good accounts of the Mojahedin's
operations outside of Iran and their initial popularity with some
Western governments and freedom fighters around the world. He expounds
on their military wing, National Liberation Army, and how they
conducted their attacks into Iranian territory, believing that
they could advance all the way to Tehran which later proved to
be just a grand illusion.
Banisadr experiences serious setbacks through his long service with the Mojahedin,
which makes one wonder why he didn't leave earlier. He is aware of this question
that inevitably enters his readers' mind and tries to answer it but his reasons
are inadequate. He believes despite of it all, his "dignity" and "honor" are
Time and again he missed chances to leave the organization and he fails to
redeem himself by condemning violence. The twentieth century produced remarkable
leaders and human rights activists such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bishop
Tutu, and Nelson Mandela, all of whom chose non-violent resistance and civil
disobedience to achieve freedom and dignity for their people. For them, the
end didn't justify the means.
Banisadr writes, "... I sincerely did what I
could in the service of liberty and justice, those pillars of morality
that make us human." This is a bit hard to take when throughout
his 20-year involvement with the organization, the Mojahedin led
many thousands of young people to their slaughter. In other words,
they were only good enough to die for the Mojahedin's quest for
of an Iranian Rebel is the accumulation of emotional
setbacks, grievances, blind devotion, poisonous hatred of so
many things, and theological chauvinism that consumed the writer.
But it is not introspective and contemplative enough. It doesn't
dig deep enough. Recalling hurtful episodes alone will not provide
the critical reader real reasons to be sympathetic.