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The other religious nuts
Are we to exchange one theocracy for another?

Rosa Faiz
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 organizations).

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 apparatus?

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 reactionary coin.

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 Iranian Mojahedin).

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 what happened).

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,” [1] 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.

[1] Abrahamian, quoting Mojahedin’s Proclamation of Introduction of New Leadership (1985), in The Iranian Mojahedin (Yale University Press, 1989), p. 251.

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