Ali Safavi’s response is dishonest but useful as a study of Mujahedin-e Khalq (MKO) tactics.
Let there be no mistake: Masud Rajavi’s Mujahedin-e Khalq is a terrorist group; Rajavi is as much a “Monster of the Left” as Yasir Arafat or Robert Mugabe.
Mujahedin-e Khalq members trained with Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and in Qadhafi’s Libya. The group’s terrorists have assassinated Americans, Iranian civilians, and bombed public buildings. Its members embraced Saddam Hussein and participated in the slaughter of Iraqi Kurdish civilians following their 1991 uprising against Saddam’s dictatorial rule.
Safavi’s endorsement of violence parallels the logic expressed by supporters of Islamic Jihad, Abu Sayyaf, and al-Qaeda. Comparisons betwen the Mujahedin-e Khalq and either American revolutionaries or French partisans ring hollow: The Mujahedin-e Khalq has no support among Iranians inside their own country. Citing the group’s own publications to claim popularity—as did Jalal Arani—is dishonest.
True, some Iranians did support the Mujahedin-e Khalq in 1972. Many Iranians, chafing under the Shah, accepted the rhetoric of demagogues like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and groups like the Mujahedin-e Khalq. But Iranian public opinion has changed over the past 34 years. That Mr. Safavi has to return to 1972 to claim public support underlines the fallacies of his argument. Supporters who did not abandon the Mujahedin-e Khalq when it murdered civilians and planted bombs washed their hands of the group after Rajavi allied himself with Saddam Hussein. Many have since fled the Rajavi personality cult.
Mr. Safavi may want to dismiss Ervand Abrahamian’s The Iranian Mojahedin. It is a devastating and careful study of the Mujahedin-e Khalq. Abrahamian’s books exploring torture in Iran, Khomeini’s philosophy, and the history of the Mujahedin-e Khalq are well-reviewed and well-regarded by both left and right. Reviewing a book of Abrahamian’s essays, Daniel Pipes (neither a communist sympathizer nor a cheerleader for the Islamic Republic), wrote “Abrahamian makes his case the old-fashioned way, through a close reading of texts and study of events.” Abrahamian’s scholarship rests on archival research and documentary evidence. He is no Rashid Khalidi. He did not cherry-pick his sources or remove context. Rather, he examined the opus of Rajavi’s works and charted their development.
Mr. Safavi is likewise dishonest with his dismissal of “Islamic Marxism,” which was oft-discussed within Mujahedin-e Khalq circles and Iranian society.
Mr. Safavi poses a false choice: Theocracy or Mujahedin-e Khalq. Iranians want neither. They are sophisticated and vocal. They opine openly about various opposition groups, figures, and movements. They do not need to Mujahedin-e Khalq to channel their thoughts; they speak for themselves. They despise the Mujahedin. Safavi should not dismiss seventy million Iranians as agents of Tehran’s intelligence ministry.
The only constituency that matters is Iranians residing inside Iran. Getting the signature of European parliamentarians and a few U.S. congressmen on petitions means little. Nor is the Mujahedin-e Khalq honest with its sponsorship. Few politicians make the mistake of signing their petitions twice. The U.S. government chronicles an ever expanding number of Mujahedin-e Khalq front organizations. The group forms short-lived proxies to capitalize upon existing public support for issues ranging from calls for a constitutional referendum to earthquake relief. But the Mujahedin-e Khalq’s strategy of deception has undercut the Iranian people’s struggle for liberation by cynicism about and politicians’ detachment from legitimate opposition movements.
How pervasive is the group’s dishonesty? In his letter to Frontpage Magazine, Safavi describes himself as a sociologist who has studied the activities of the Mujahedin-e Khalq for 34 years. Actually, Ali Safavi is a senior member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Mujahedin-e Khalq’s political wing.
Most of Safavi’s prose and notes are irrelevant to the argument and obscure or ignore points raised in “Monsters of the Left: The Mujahedin al-Khalq.” He seeks credibility by citing everything from the Pope to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cults often use similar strategies. Often Safavi’s notes refer to points tangential to the original arguments and, in some cases, even to points Mr. Safavi himself makes. Several look credible, but do not say what Mr. Safavi alleges.
Nor does Mr. Safavi gain credibility for the Mujahedin-e Khalq by cherry-picking statements. Mujahedin-e Khalq publications are infamous in Washington for using ellipses to alter the meanings analysis published elsewhere by policymakers. Citing statements replicated in recent Mujahedin-e Khalq publications brings as much credibility as quoting from Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review. Quality of sourcing always matters: Justin Raimondo is hardly a trustworthy authority. David S. Cloud, having left the Wall Street Journal, has quickly become the New York Times’ new Jason Blair.
That the Mujahedin-e Khalq helped expose Tehran’s secret nuclear program does not give it a free pass to popular legitimacy. Previous and subsequent Mujahedin-e Khalq revelations proved false. So, too, are Mujahedin-e Khalq pronouncements that they had the support of the Bush administration. It is unfortunate that left-wing bloggers like Laura Rozen and Juan Cole advanced such statements. They substituted accuracy and sourcing with speculation and fabrication. Their statements helped the Mujahedin-e Khalq claim false legitimacy.
Mr. Safavi is right that the Islamic Republic is the antithesis of democracy. The nuclear threat is real. The problem is not political, but rather ideological. Iranian leaders mean what they say. Neither European engagement nor flaccid diplomacy will work. It is an embarrassment that, as the Bush administration enters its sixth year, there remains no policy toward Iran. Bush’s rhetoric means little when his administration is unwilling to act in support of the Iranian people. But solidarity with the Iranian people should mean what Solidarity meant to the Polish people. When the Reagan administration debated how to support Poland against the tyranny of the Soviet Empire, career diplomats and European officials counseled a do-nothing approach, for fear that real support for the dockyard workers in Gdansk would cause complicate diplomatic initiatives. President Ronald Reagan dismissed such concerns. So, too, should Bush.
But support for freedom in Iran means listening to the Iranian people. It means funding independent labor unions and unlicensed, truly independent civil society. So that the New York Times no longer accepts Iranian government statistics like voter turn-out at face value, the U.S. government should fund independent Iranian organizations to conduct true surveys. Iranian universities are full of honest sociologists, statisticians, and students who chafe under their government’s rule and can participant. Nor, if the Bush administration is serious, should the Los Angeles-based Persian-language media want for funds.
The Mujahedin-e Khalq remains a terrorist group. That its target is not a friend of the U.S. government should be irrelevant. Under no circumstances, though, should Congressmen or Senators be duped into believing the rhetoric of a group like the Mujahedin-e Khalq who may see a cash cow, but whose ideology and actions are out-of-step with the freedom and liberty Iranians desire and deserve.