By: Ali Safavi
 January 27, 2006


As a sociologist who has known, closely studied the history and followed the activities of the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), in the past 34 years, I read with amazement and somewhat dismay Michael Rubin’s “Monsters of the Left,” (FrontPageMagazine, January 13, 2006). His article purports to be a scholarly survey of the assistance provided by “the Left” to the MEK.

I was amazed because the author claimed that “the Left [had] subsequently bolster[ed] [Massoud] Rajavi and empower[ed] the MKO [MEK].” Had he visited the voluminous literature on the MEK especially after the invasion of Iraq, he could have easily discovered that his anti-Mujahedeen tirade does nothing more than repeat what those who claim to champion the left have been uttering against the MEK on websites or in tabloid publications.

And I was dismayed because Rubin’s superficial and erroneous recounting of the history of the MEK degenerates into nothing more than a thinly-veiled effort to give his MEK-bashing the veneer of a well-researched paper. The effort, of course, fails miserably. The author attempts to denigrate the support that the MEK has enjoyed for more than two decades in the U.S. Congress and in Parliaments in Europe. He explains this away by suggesting that the MEK has enticed members by sending “pretty young women” to cultivate “friendly lawmakers and commentators” by offering them “Christmas baskets full of nuts and sweets.” Not only is this insulting to lawmakers, but it is also too shallow and silly to merit a response. (Jack Abramoff could have saved millions of dollars and career-destroying scandal if he had only known that Members of Congress have a weakness for pretty girls bearing dried apricots!) In some sense, Rubin’s snideness is perhaps a reaction to the unrivaled role women have been playing in the leadership of the Mujahedeen, particularly in the past 20 years. The MEK’s leadership council consists entirely of women and its Secretary General, elected every two years, is also a woman.

Recognizing that the attack on the MEK from the left flank got nowhere despite the discredited May 2005 Human Rights Watch report, Rubin claims now to be charging from the “right flank” toward the same objective: to thwart the growing consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that the last vestige of appeasement of the mullahs, the terrorist listing of the MEK as a terrorist organization, should be discarded. It is sadly ironic that when discussing the regime in Tehran and its main opponent, Mr. Rubin dances to the same tune as Tehran’s “leftist” apologists do.

As for the specific stale and discredited allegations wheeled out in Rubin’s piece, the following should be noted:

  1. The Mujahedeen have never denied they opposed the unconditional support given by the U.S. to the Shah’s corrupt dictatorship beginning with the August 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s only nationalist and democratically elected government of Dr. Mossadeq, whom Rubin accuses of “flirting with mob violence.” After all, in recent months, both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have boldly criticized the policy that justified backing dictatorships in the name of stability. “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty,” President Bush told the National Endowment for Democracy last November.
  2. The three founders of the MEK were executed on the eve of President Nixon’s visit to Tehran in 1972. Those facts are not lost on the Iranian people who suffered under the Shah’s brutality for nearly a quarter century. The distorted assertion that the Shah’s “reforms catalyzed their [oppositionists’] growth” and the wishful contention that “ordinary Iranians… ask about Reza Pahlavi,” provide a glimpse into the author’s nostalgia about the return of the Pahlavi dynasty. There’s no dispute that Reza Pahlavi does not even have a number on the bench in any game plan for Iran’s political future
  3. The familiar slur that the MEK is an “Islamic-Marxist” movement is an attempt to undercut its legitimacy. The Iranian scholar, Afshin Matin-Asgari [1] describes the term “Islamic Marxism” as “an ingenious polemical label” used by the Shah’s regime in the 1970s to describe its enemies. In fact, the history of the MEK shows a pronounced rejection of the premise and theory of Marxism. Massoud Rajavi’s philosophical discourse, delivered in a series of lectures in Tehran University in late 1979, clearly demonstrates this. Syracuse University professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi,[2] points to Rajavi’s work as “perhaps the best example of the Mujahedeen’s ideological contemporaniety” which can be found in the pages of a 15-volume book Tabiyn-e Jahan (“Comprehending the World”), the organization’s foremost work on ideology. In it, Rajavi presents the Mujahedeen’s critique of the limitations of the positivism of August Comte, Max Planck, and Kant; the pragmatism of William James; Freudian psychoanalysis; Darwinian evolution; and a host of other Western “isms” such as scholasticism, scientism, empiricism, and rationalism. Rajavi saves his most extensive critical commentary for Marxist materialistic epistemology. The book’s chief target is the Russian biochemist Aleksander Ivanovich Oparin (1894-1980), whose theory on the origin of life was first formulated in 1922. By subjecting the materialistic doctrines of Oparin and a host of other orthodox Marxist thinkers to a philosophical critique, the Mujahedeen hoped to challenge the vigorous presence of Marxism within Iranian intellectual circles. The group remained skeptical of Marxism’s philosophical postulates and rejected the latter’s cardinal doctrine of historical materialism. It held firm to the beliefs in the existence of God, revelation, the afterlife, the spirit, salvation, destiny, and the people’s commitment to these intangible principles.
  4. Rubin absurdly tasks Rajavi with the belief that “death during armed struggle, was consistent with traditional Shi‘i glorification of martyrdom.” Suffice it to quote Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”  No one likes to see their loved ones killed, but many around the world who find themselves in that situation derive solace from the notion that their deaths promoted the cause of freedom. The Mujahedeen does not believe in violence as a matter of philosophy. Here’s what Rajavi said on the subject 22 years ago: “The Islam we profess does not condone bloodshed. We have never sought, nor do we welcome confrontation and violence. To explain, allow me to send a message to Khomeini through you… My message is this: If Khomeini is prepared to hold truly free elections, I will return to my homeland immediately. The Mujahedeen will lay down their arms to participate in such elections. We do not fear election results, whatever they may be… If Khomeini had allowed half or even a quarter of the freedoms presently enjoyed in France, we would have certainly achieved a democratic victory.”[3]
  5. The author cites Ervand Abrahamian to substantiate the claim that the Mujahedeen “opposed the Islamic Republic only after Khomeini purged them from power.” Ironically, in a 1984 report to Lee Hamilton, then chairman of the House International Relations Committee, the Department of State wrote the opposite: “The Mujahedeen have never accepted the Khomeini regime as an adequate Islamic government. When Khomeini took power, the Mujahedeen called for continued revolution, but said they work for change within the legal framework of the new regime. The Mujahedeen also entered avidly into the national debate on the structure of the new Islamic regime. The Mujahedeen unsuccessfully sought a freely elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.” [4] It is rather baffling that Rubin has chosen to ignore the fact, obvious even to laymen in Iran, that the MEK’s dispute with Khomeini began in the mid-1970s, before he came to power, when Massoud Rajavi, then serving a life sentence in prison, wrote that Khomeini was a reactionary cleric. Rajavi’s principled position on the absolute need to respect hard fought freedoms also highlighted the differences between the Mujahedeen and Khomeini immediately after the anti-monarchic revolution. In one of many speeches, entitled “The Future of the Revolution,” in 1980 in Tehran University, Rajavi said, “How fitting that today we are again speaking on freedom at the university, the bastion of freedom. No progress and mobilization for the revolution would be conceivable without guaranteeing freedom for all parties, opinions and writings. If by freedom we specifically have in mind free and just relationships domestically, independence speaks to the same meaning in our foreign and international relations. We do not accept anything less in the name of Islam. Anything to the contrary would be deviation and regression and nothing more.” [5]
  6. Similarly, the assertion that “the group sought to replace Khomeini’s dictatorship with its own,” flies in the face of what Rubin’s claimed “scholarly source,” Abrahamian, actually wrote about the MEK’s views in the days after the fall of the Shah: “In criticizing the regime’s political record, the Mujahedeen moved the issue of democracy to center stage. They argued that the regime had broken all the democratic promises made during the revolution; that an attack on any group was an attack on all groups; that the issue of democracy was of ‘fundamental importance…”[6]  This was entirely consistent with what Rajavi said in 1982 about the MEK’s profound belief in the electoral process: “The Mujahedeen profoundly believe that to avoid the deviations that beset contemporary revolutions throughout the world, they must remain wholeheartedly committed to the will of the public and democracy. If they are to act as a leading organization, before all else, the populace must give them a mandate in a free and fair election. It is not enough to have gone through the trials of repression, imprisonment, torture, and execution under the Shah and the mullahs. The Mujahedeen must also pass the test of general elections. If the Mujahedeen were to choose to compensate for the lack of popular mandate by relying on their past sacrifices or organizational prowess, or arms, their resilient, lively, and democratic organization would soon become a hollow, rotten bureaucracy… If the people don’t vote for us (after we have overthrown the mullahs’ regime), we shall remain in opposition, holding firmly to our principles.” [7]
  7. “Terrorism, the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain, should never be acceptable. Mitigating factors do not exist,” Rubin writes. I agree completely. But nothing that the Mujahedeen has done in waging a struggle against the turbaned tyrants of Iran can be described as terrorism. To his credit, Rubin acknowledges that the ruling regime has denied the democratic opposition the chance to express itself peacefully and has slaughtered thousands of Mujahedeen. But accusing the Mujahedeen of terrorism is rather like accusing the movement for American independence, or the French resistance against the Nazi occupation, of terrorism. The Mujahedeen has never targeted civilians, period.  The fact is that in the face of Khomeini’s bloody onslaught, the Mujahedeen exercised its inalienable right, stated in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression.”  This right has also been recognized by the Catholic Church.  In a press conference in 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and now Pope Benedict XVI, unveiled a document, “Christian Liberty and Liberation,” according to which “Armed struggle is the last resort to end blatant and prolonged oppression which has seriously violated the fundamental rights of individuals and has dangerously damaged the general interests of the country.” [8]  America’s Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1775, “In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms. When that violence shall be removed, when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, hostilities shall cease on our part also.”  And the late John F. Kennedy added, “Those who make peaceful change (reform) impossible, make violent change (revolution) inevitable.”  So, yes, there has been armed struggle, but no, that is not the same as saying that there has been terrorism, practiced, sponsored, or supported.
  8. With reference to the allegations of Mujahedeen’s involvement in the suppression of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites after the 1991 Iraq war, Rubin has quoted a convenient source, whose group’s ties with the mullahs, especially before the fall of Saddam Hussein, are too well known. There is simply no truth to such allegations. In a 1999 letter to a court in the Netherlands, Iraq’s current Foreign Minister, another Kurd, wrote, “(We) can confirm that the Mujahedeen (sic) were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising nor in its aftermath. We have not come across any evidence to suggest that the Mujahedeen have exercised any hostility towards the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.” [0] More recently, after an exhaustive 16-month investigation of each and every member of the Mujahedeen by seven different agencies of the U.S. Government acknowledged that “there was no basis to charge any member of the group [MEK] with the violation of American law.” The Multi-National Force-Iraq in 2004 recognized the rights of the Mujahedeen as “protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.” [10]  Had there been any evidence of Mujahedeen collusion with the former Iraqi government on any issue, let alone suppressing the Kurdish uprising, it would have surfaced by now. The recommendation by U.S. Lt. General Raymond Odierno that the terrorist designation of the MEK should be reviewed was not an isolated remark by an unsuspecting commander. Indeed, many U.S. officers and soldiers who have been dealing with the MEK in Camp Ashraf in the past three years, where a mutually cooperative and friendly spirit governs the MEK-U.S. relationship, readily acknowledge that the MEK is not a terrorist group, but a legitimate resistance.
  9. Rubin’s hostile invective belies his academic posturing. Here are some examples (there are others): “Rajavi’s life-long megalomaniacal quest for power and his backward blend of Marxism and Islamism;” “in the West, the group forbids its members from reading anything but MKO newspapers and publications;” and “in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, where many members sit in limbo following Saddam’s fall, MKO [MEK] minders enforce celibacy, employ cult methods to break down individual will, and shield members from unsupervised exposure to outsiders.” I seriously doubt that anyone can believe that in the Information Age, an organization can prevent its members from reading publications of outsiders. A 2005 report published by a group of European Parliamentarians, who visited Camp Ashraf last fall, refutes Rubin’s claims. [11] One can only wonder how much such absurd mind-control could go on, while a couple of U.S. Military Police battalions are on guard around Camp Ashraf 24/7. Maybe this too can be explained through the offering of “baskets of nuts and sweets” by “pretty young women,” this time in military uniforms!
  10. The Mujahedeen has made it clear that it had nothing to do with the killing of U.S. military advisors and contractors in Iran 30-plus years ago, in the early 1970s. Absent again is any reference in Rubin’s “academic” work to the MEK’s repeated and unequivocal denials of involvement in those incidents. Even Rubin admits that the Shah’s CIA-trained secret police, the SAVAK, arrested the entire leadership and 90 percent of the MEK members by August-September 1971. All of the leaders, including the three founders, were executed by May 1972, before the attacks on the U.S. advisors. The assassins of the Americans were Marxists who took control after the sweeping raids in 1971 decimated the organization. The same Marxists also murdered those Mujahedeen who refused to espouse Marxism. [12]  While in prison, Rajavi wrote that the killing of the Americans was an attempt to bolster the coup plotters’ credibility and to overshadow the bloody purge they had carried out in the MEK. [13] The Council of Foreign Relations wrote in summer 2002, “Some experts say the attack may have been the work of a Maoist splinter faction operating beyond the Rajavi leadership’s control.” [14] Rubin does not tarry to consider such a possibility.
  11. As for the MEK’s supposed lack of support within Iran and abroad, Rubin’s article actually demonstrates the opposite. How in the world could an organization survive without any popular support, after it was dealt a “mighty blow” by the Shah, had tens of thousands of its members massacred by Khomeini, had its bases heavily bombed by U.S. and British warplanes, despite its neutrality in the Iraq war, and had its name included in the terrorist watch list with dire and ongoing consequences? Mr. Rubin and like-minded pundits used to claim that the MEK got millions from Saddam. Could they please explain who bankrolls the MEK now?
  12. At a rally in Brussels last November, some 35,000 Iranians of all walks of life turned out to voice support for the MEK. Earlier, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to address the United Nations in September, some 20,000 were on hand at a pro-MEK rally across the street. (By the way, there were a grand total of 200 monarchists also present).  And this past Thursday, thousands turned out at a rally outside the White House, voicing support for the group. As for the extent of support for the MEK in “the power centers of Washington,” the Mujahedeen has enjoyed the support of a majority in the House of Representatives and of 30 senators on a number of occasions. The lawmakers have rejected the “terrorist” label assigned to the MEK, which they consider a legitimate opposition group. And they have voiced that support while fully aware of all the tired allegations rehashed by Rubin.
  13. Rubin’s rationale in dismissing the MEK’s effectiveness in revealing Tehran’s nuclear secrets is also bizarre. He concedes the point, but then writes that “is more a result of corruption and the Islamic Republic’s crumbling control over its periphery. The MKO–and any other group–can bribe officials and penetrate defenses,” he wrote. Earlier, those on the “left,” were claiming that it was actually Israeli intelligence services that had obtained the information, but passed it on to the MEK to reveal!  If that is all it takes, one wonders why have western intelligence services, as resourceful as they are, not succeeded in “brib[ing] officials and penetrate[ing] defenses?”
  14. The source of Rajavi’s power lies not in Washington, Paris, London, Berlin or Rome; it lies in the hearts and minds of millions of Iranians, many of whom continue to join the ranks of the MEK even after the war in Iraq. I happened to see a photograph of graffiti on a Tehran wall after the MEK voluntarily handed over its weapons to the U.S. military in May 2003. It said, “Disarmed Mujahedeen, our hearts are your weapons.” Ironically, the venomous campaign of character assassination by the “left,” Rubin and, of course, the Iranian regime, have put Rajavi in the company of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mohammad Mossadeq, Charles de Gaulle and Martin Luther King, Jr., as a champion of liberty. Frankly, that’s not bad company.
  15. The fact remains that neither the U.S. nor the Europeans have succeeded in formulating an effective policy to contain the growing nuclear and fundamentalist threats posed by the Tehran regime. The MEK’s warnings about Islamic fundamentalism emerging as the new global threat, beginning in 1993, have gone unheeded. [15]  Attempts at striking a deal with the cunning mullahs of Iran failed in 1985, when the U.S. sent them a cake, a pistol and the Bible, and, of course Hawk missiles and was willing to declare that the MEK was terrorist. [16]  The same thing happened when the Clinton administration eased the sanctions on Tehran and designated the MEK as terrorists in 1997, [17] when the Bush administration bombed MEK camps in 2003 [18] and when the European Union blacklisted the group in return for Iran’s compliance with its nuclear obligations in 2004.[19] The efforts to appease Tehran led not to moderation but to the ascension of Ahmadinejad who is dubbed the “terminator” in Iran, not for his likeness to the California governor in his acting days, but for personally delivering coup de grace shots to more than 1,000 political opponents.
  16. The West is now faced with the prospect of the world’s most dangerous regime arming itself with the world’s most dangerous weapon. How does one thwart this threat? Rubin’s lashing out at the MEK, albeit cloaked under a facade of anti-Tehran rhetoric, would have the opposite effect. His implausible proposal to support nameless and faceless Iranians is more a pie in the sky than a practical and concrete solution to prevent the proliferation of fundamentalism sponsored by a nuclear power, headed by unaccountable and increasingly unpredictable leaders. Because, regardless of one’s opinion about the Mujahedeen, the litmus test of crafting any effective policy on Iran is how one deals with the MEK as Tehran’s greatest and most feared nemesis. The solution, as the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi articulated during an address at the European Parliament in December 2004, lies neither in appeasement, nor in a shooting war. It is democratic change by the Iranian people and their organized resistance.[20] Labeling the main component of the resistance, the MEK, as “terrorist,” however, has hamstrung its potentials and posed as a serious barrier to realizing that change. The terrorist designation must be removed. As an anti-fundamentalist Muslim movement, the MEK is an ally and an asset in the fight for democracy in Iran and as the world is trying to grapple with the specter of Islamic fundamentalism threatening not just the Middle East, but Europe and America as well. A quarter century ago, former Undersecretary of State George Ball wrote, “The sloppy press habit of dismissing the Mujahedeen as ‘leftists’ badly confuses the problem. Masud [Massoud] Rajavi… is the leader of the movement. Its intention is to replace the current backward Islamic regime with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principles from Koranic sources rather than Marx.”[21] Had his advice been heeded, the history of Iran and the Middle East would have taken a very different course. We should not let the opportunity get by this time. The choice is ours. 


[1] Afshin Matin-Asgari, 2004. From social democracy to social democracy: the twentieth-century odyssey of the Iranian Left. In:  Cronin, Stephanie, editor. Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on the Iranian Left: London and New York: Routledge Curzon. pp. 37-64 (cited originally in Iran Policy Committee, White Paper, Sept. 13, 2005, p. 42.
[2] Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism. Syracuse (cited originally in Iran Policy Committee, White Paper, Sept. 13, 2005, p. 42.
[3] Massoud Rajavi, interview in L’Unité, Paris, January 1, 1984.
[4] U.S. Department of State, unclassified report on the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, December 1984 (originally cited in Democracy Betrayed, a publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, March 1995, p. 100).
[5] Massoud Rajavi, “Future of the Revolution,” speech in Tehran University, January 10, 1980, text published in Mojahed, Vol. 2, no. 19.  January 15, 1980.
[6] Ervand Abrahamian, Radical Islam: The Iranian Mujahedeen, (New Haven: Yale University, Press, 1989), p. 215.
[7] Massoud Rajavi interview, in Nashriye Ettehadiye Anjomanhaye Daneshjuyane Mosalman Khareje Keshvar (Journal of the Union of Muslim Iranian Students Societies outside Iran), Paris, January 9, 1982, p. 3.
 [8]  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican, publication, April 5, 1986.
 [9]  Jonathan Wright, US says Iraq-based Iran opposition aids Iraq government, , Reuters news agency, May 22, 2002
 [10] Official Statement by the Multi-National Force-Iraq, Maj. General Jeffrey Miller, Deputy Commanding General, July 2, 2004.
[11] “The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran,” Mission Report, by Friends of A Free Iran, André Brie, Paulo Casaca (members of the European Parliament), Azadeh Zabeti, Esq., L’Harmattan, Paris:2005
[12] Sazman-e Paykar dar Rah-e Azadi-e Tabaqeh Kargar (Organization of Struggle in the Path of Emancipation of the Working Class),  The Middle East Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2, Spring 1987.
[13] Massoud Rajavi, writings in prison in 1976, first published as “Tahlil-e Amouzeshi-ye Bayaniye Apportunist-haye Chapnama,” (Educational Analysis of the Statement of the pseudo-Leftist Opportunists), (People’s Mujahedeen of Iran: spring 1979), pp. 237-239.
[14] Council on Foreign Relations, summer 2002.
[16] Mohammad Mohaddessin, Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat, (Seven Locks Press: 2002, 2d Ed.).
[16] John G Tower, Edmund S Muskie, Brent Scowcroft ,The Tower Commission Report, Introduction by R.W. Apple Jr., New York: Bantam Books: Times Books, c1987. pp. 359-361.
[17] Norman Kempster, U.S. Designates 30 Groups as Terrorists, The Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1997. 
[18] David S. Cloud, U.S. Bombs Iranian Fighters on Iraqi Side of the Border, The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2003.
[19] Preparatory text for European proposals on Iranian nuclear program, Agence France Presse, October 21, 2004.
[20] Future of Iran: Oppression or Democracy, Friends of A Free Iran, European Parliament, December 15, 2004.
[21] George W. Ball, Op-Ed, “Iran’s Bleak Future,” The Washington Post, August 19, 1981.


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