A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trita Parsi on the MEK

Trita Parsi (an MEI adjunct scholar by the way) has a good post up at The Huffington Post about the People's Mojahedin of Iran/Mohahedin-e-Khalq (PMOI or MEK) efforts to get themselves off the US terrorism supporters list. His lead says it all succinctly:
In the 10 years that I have lived in Washington, I have never seen lobbyists for al-Qaeda parade through the halls of Congress. I have not seen any events on Capitol Hill organized by Hamas. And I have not seen any American politicians take campaign contributions from the Islamic Jihad.
But the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an organization with the blood of Americans and Iranians alike on its hands, freely does all of these things, despite being a designated foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
I've been here a lot longer than ten years, but I share his view. The MEK have been lobbying hard in Washington since the 80s at least, despite being on the terrorist list for killing American diplomats and military personnel in the days of the Shah. They're slick, they're well funded (how?) and they seem able to persuade Congressmen who would never respond to an Arab group in the same way. Yet besides their track record of killing US personnel in the Shah's day, they are based in Iraq, fought on t he side of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, maintain to this day a cultlike "Camp Ashraf" in Iraq that the Iraqi government is pressuring to leave and threatening to deport to Iran, have a true cult of personality about their leadership, and are uniformly hated by every Iranian I know who isn't one of them, from Pahlavi restorationists to leftists to liberal democrats to people who support the current system. After all, they fought for Saddam against Iranians, and are traitors in the eyes even of those who hate the clerical regime.

Their PR skills are good. In my journalism days they used to drop by regularly to try to cultivate me, and while I listened politely, I had too many US military friends who'd served in pre-revolutionary Iran and knew them as their primary nemesis. (The MEK claim that was because their current leadership was in jail under the Shah, and all the bad stuff was done by somebody else.)

True story: I've only been in Iraq once, for about five days in 1989 in between the Iran-Iraq war and the Kuwait war. I was getting in an elevator in the Sheraton Hotel when a smallish man in an impeccable suit stepped in and asked if I was an American. My first thought was, gosh, he looks and carries himself just like the MEK guys in DC. Guess what? That's exactly who he was. With exactly the same missionary spiel.

These are not democrats or freedom fighters. The more you get to know them the more they seem closer to some kind of odd, almost Manson-like cult. Maryam Rajavi is their leader and she (her husband yielded to her years ago since the mullahs don't treat women well and a woman leader impresses Westerners) will be President of Iran when they somehow sweep away the clerical regime. Not through election, through acclamation. She's the Evita Peron of Iran, or at least a wannabe.

I have no brief for the clerical regime, but these guys worry me, especially for their strange, Svengali-like power over members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. I applaud Trita's warning here. Let the Buyer Beware.


ih said...

Who is funding them?
The Saudis? Gulfies?

David Mack said...

Right wing Israelis and their friends in this country? I can't think of anyone else who benefits from their activities. And some of the MEK's chief advocates in the Congress fit that description, as well as one of their lobbyists in this town.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Yes, there does seem to be a lot of overlap between support for Israel and the MEK, especially now that Saddam's gone.