Strange Bedfellowship

by Scott McLemee on October 19, 2007

Suppose there were an Iranian cult combining Islamism and Stalinism, with a history of terrorist attacks, that had enjoyed friendly relations with Saddam’s regime, back when.

Why, that’s something that the American right would fund a special TV network just to denounce 24-7, isn’t it?

Not so fast. Daniel Pipes and Max Boot think the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is just sadly misunderstood. Get the backstory at the Campaign for America’s Future.

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Hermenautic Circle » Strange Bedfellowship
10.21.07 at 2:53 pm



Keith 10.20.07 at 1:17 am

Wow. The Right couldn’t have invented a better villain and so of course, once finding them, they embrace them as useful agents. Yeah, that War on Terror should be over any day now.


bi 10.20.07 at 7:52 am

Oh sheesh. Why am I not surprised? Why?


abb1 10.20.07 at 8:05 am

Ha, I saw these Mujahedeen guys here in Geneva. Every day for several months they were protesting something in front of one of the UN buildings. About 50 people or so, sitting in folding chairs 9 to 5 every weekday; looked like whole families, adults, children and old people. Boombox playing music – yes, sometimes Soviet revolutionary and WWII period patriotic songs. Looked like nice people. Also apparently quite well financed, all with identical umbrellas, signs, and I think even several identical vans. I suspect you need a lot of money to organize something like this to go on for several months.


John Quiggin 10.20.07 at 9:28 am

The links to Townhall are particularly interesting. There are anti-MEK types getting stuck into Juan Cole for overstating the significance of the pro-MEK rightwing sentiment abundantly represented by Pipes, Fox news, Clawson, Max Boot, the Pentagon and so on.


JK 10.20.07 at 11:28 am

I’m not any sort of expert – I have picked up an impression from Iranian friends – and happy to be corrected, but is it really right to call them a “cult” or cast them as the ultimate villains? From my limited knowledge, the wikipedia page looks not outrageously wrong:

People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Are they really worse than either the present government in Iran or perhaps the American neo-cons (of course it should be up to the Iranians, not me)? This is a *relatively* leftist-secular group that lost out after the 1979 revolution.

It once had many tens of thousands of members. That has no doubt dwindled, post-1989 and post-1992 gulf war (end of Stalinism, simlutaneous rise of feminism, Islamism and US dominance). I’m sure the personality cult around Rajavi has intensified. But according to wikipedia the “cult” accusation comes from a 1995 Human Rights Watch report. So far as I can see this misunderstands that the group is more like the remnants of a popular liberation movement. A “personality cult” in such an organisation is rather different than saying that the organisation is simply a “cult”.

If the ANC had not gained power in South Africa I think it would now look very similar to the MEK.


abb1 10.20.07 at 11:44 am

ANC/South Africa situation is quite different, though. The MEK sounds more like the FARC or something.


bi 10.20.07 at 1:59 pm

JK, this is interesting. But I’m still wondering why all the Congressfolks supporting this group are Republicans. I’m guessing there’s more than meets the eye.

What’s this group’s platform anyway, besides the feminism and universal suffrage stuff? What’s their stand on free trade? Taxes? Health care? Stem cell research? And whatever other particular issues pertaining to Iranian society?


bi 10.20.07 at 1:59 pm

s/Congressfolks/prominent Congressfolks/


abb1 10.20.07 at 2:43 pm

They like the group because it destabilizes the Iranian government, obviously there’s no other reason.


bi 10.20.07 at 3:53 pm

The question, why don’t the Democrats like it?


abb1 10.20.07 at 4:26 pm

Well, I suppose most Democrats have a different idea of being consistent than “anything that’s bad for the current Iranian government must be good”.


bi 10.20.07 at 4:48 pm

Then what do the Democrats find objectionable about this group? Or is there some deeper reason I don’t know about? Mohammad Khatami isn’t in power anymore, so there’s no more need to please him…


abb1 10.20.07 at 5:14 pm

Well, I suppose the Democrats just aren’t too crazy about Marxist guerrilla movements.


Daniel Nexon 10.20.07 at 5:38 pm

The MEK has long been a pet cause for neo-conservatives.


bi 10.20.07 at 7:32 pm

“The MEK, which is on the State Department’s list of international terrorist organizations since 1997 because of its assassinations of six U.S. citizens (three soldiers and three contractors) involved in selling weapons to the shah, was partially disarmed as part of a cease-fire deal with U.S. forces in Iraq.”

Yeah, this is some powerful crap.


Laleh 10.21.07 at 2:09 pm

I used to have lots of MEK friends in Iran who were excuted and in fact they were quite legit until they decamped to Iraq, where they lent their arms and training to Saddam to put down the Kurds in Kurdistan, and they actually fought against Iranians. I am not a nationalist and find their former act more heinous than the latter act. But lots of Iranians will never forgive them for having fought against Iranian kids in the Iran-Iraq war; and they are NOT at all comparable to ANC.

As for why they are being called a cult; i have heard nightmare stories about cyclical purges, masive surveillance of doubting members by the apparatus of the organisation etc. Cult is probably too much, but they are NOT a democratic organisation.

Finally, I wouldn’t call them necessarily a terror group, but that is mostly because “terror group” is such a stupid term describing/defining nothing and illuminating nothing except for the US’s particular politics….


Michael Pugliese 10.21.07 at 6:05 pm

BBC Newsnight on the MEK,
BBC Newsnight: Mujahideen-e-Khalq Terrorist MeK MKO – Part 1


Michael Pugliese 10.21.07 at 6:10 pm

The Cult of Rajavi from the NYT Sunday magazine,
Good book on the Iranian Left, by a former participant in their struggles, Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 1999 by Maziar Behrooz who teaches at SFSU in Ca. See also his “Iranian Revolution and the Legacy of the Guerrilla Movement,” in Stephanie Cronin, ed. Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on The Iranian Left (London: Routledge Curzon, 2004)


Michael Pugliese 10.21.07 at 6:15 pm

bi>…JK, this is interesting. But I’m still wondering why all the Congressfolks supporting this group are Republicans. I’m guessing there’s more than meets the eye..
Nope, Rep. Bob Filner a left Democrat (has written pieces for In These Times, a paleo-con blogger claims he is the Son of a CPUSA cadre who ran for a Congressional seat) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, a liberal Democrat support the NCRI.
Who is the MEK? Why are they protected in Iraq? (Part two)


Michael Pugliese 10.21.07 at 6:21 pm

In late 2001, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) tells the Village Voice, “I don’t give a shit if they are undemocratic. OK, so the [MEK] is a terrorist organization based in Iraq, which is a terrorist state. They are fighting Iran, which is another terrorist state. I say let’s help them fight each other as much as they want. Once they all are destroyed, I can celebrate twice over.”


Geoff Robinson 10.22.07 at 2:44 am

Looks like the cultish sub-marxism you find among rank and file members of many revolutionary groups in the west. Sparts anyone?
Bit seriously it shows the weakness of the left in the Islamic world, Kemalist nostalgia or 70s third-worldist marxism offer no effective guidance.


bi 10.22.07 at 3:48 am

Michael Pugliese: Wow. Just wow. The other day I was wondering if some people are supporting the MEK not to promote democracy, human rights, free trade or whatever, but just to see people blow up crap.


Leinad 10.22.07 at 4:00 am

bi: you make it sound like there’s something wrong about wanting stuff to be blown up…


albertchampion 10.22.07 at 4:10 am

the mek is a very interesting group. my info is that it remains a SAS-operated entity. infiltrating iran, committing acts of gangsterism, then returning to iraqi kurdistan were it is sheltered by the peshmurga, and clandestine us/brit operators.

what i continue to pray for is the iranians capturing the sas/mek gangsters and holding them for a show trial.


derrida derider 10.22.07 at 5:26 am

I just finished reading a book on ME history in the war and interwar years. It’s interesting that both the Iranian far-right (ie the mujahideen) and far-left (the Tudeh) originally started in the 20s as opposition to treaties aimed at stealing their oil (for the benefit of the firm now called BP), and then got their biggest boost in the armed resistance to British occupation in WWII.

I wonder what future extremists will exist in Iraq in 80 or 90 years time?

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