This interview was conducted on Thursday, 01 Jul 2004 at the Foreign Press Association building in central London.
Note, MA = Mahan Abedin & AS = Anne Singleton
MA: I’ll start the interview by asking you when and where you joined the Mojahedin-e-Khalq.
AS: I first got to know them in 1977 when I was a student in the north of England. I became more intensively involved during the Iranian revolution of 1978-79.
MA: How extensive was the Mojahedin network here in the UK back in the late 1970’s?
AS: They were quite pervasive and they worked very hard to educate and politicise Iranian students abroad. Their methods were so persuasive that they even managed to bring an English person like me on board.
MA: What did you find attractive about their ideology?
AS: There were two things; one was the element of self-sacrifice that appealed to eccentric political activists like me. I found the idea of having to sacrifice one’s life in order to bring about a better word very appealing. The second was their single-minded pursuit of an exceptionally militant form of politics. I would not even call it politics; it was more like confrontation for the sake of it. They were real extremists. On the plus side the Mojahedin differed from other leftist organisations insofar as they translated words into actions. They were genuine activists who got things done.
MA: What was particularly extreme about the Mojahedin at that time?
AS: I would say their willingness to die a violent death for their beliefs. The ideology of the organisation promoted violent death as a virtue.
MA: Let us focus on the post-revolutionary period now. Give me an account of your activities from the early 1980’s to the time you left the organisation in 1996.
AS: I was attending their meetings locally in Manchester and Sheffield.
MA: Were they active in these provincial cities?
AS: At that time yes. I would attend meetings and I would go to demonstrations in London to protest against the actions of the Iranian regime. I was also actively engaged in fund raising and recruiting new members.
MA: How would you characterise the extent and quality of the organisation’s structures here in the UK?
AS: As I have explained in my book “Saddam’s Private Army”, the one person who was truly influential in the development of the Mojahedin’s organisational structure here in the UK was Reza Raissi. The structures that he set up in England were later emulated in Mojahedin stations across Western Europe and North America. Raissi developed the support structures for the Mojahedin in England. Before 1985 the organisation did not really have a presence here in the UK.
MA: But this contradicts what you said earlier about them being active here from the late 1970’s onwards.
AS: They were active then but only as part of the “supporters” of the Mojahedin, the organisation itself did not have a presence. Before 1985 the supporters operated under the rubric of “The Muslim Iranian Student Society”.
MA: I see! So that was their primary cover.
AS: Indeed, everything happened under that name. All the fund-raisings, recruitment and demonstrations; in short all the activities that we have historically associated with the Mojahedin’s activist network took place under that name before 1985.
MA: Tell us more about Reza Raissi.
AS: Raissi was a friend of Mohammad Hanif-Nezhad, one of the original founders of the Mojahedin. Although he never became a professional member of the organisation, he was nevertheless a strong supporter of their ideology and methodology. When the Mojahedin leadership was executed in 1971 he became more actively involved in the organisation. He came to the UK in the mid 1970’s with a mission to organise disparate groups of supporters. He also travelled to France and the USA to discharge the same kind of duties. Raissi particularly focused on students and consequently built up an extensive activist network under the rubric of “The Muslim Iranian Student Society”.
MA: Is it the case that the Mojahedin structures we find in western capitals today originate from the innovations and hard work of Reza Raissi?
AS: Indeed, as I point out in my book when Massoud Rajavi fled Iran in 1981, he did not have to develop organisational structures in Europe and elsewhere from scratch, as the hard work had already been accomplished by Raissi.
MA: What happened to Reza Raissi?
AS: As far as I know he went back to Iran just before the June 1981 Mojahedin armed uprising. He had a lot of issues with the leadership of the organisation, he was not at all happy with the organisation’s post-revolutionary strategy. Therefore the Mojahedin immediately sidelined him and they sent somebody else in his place back to England. This person was instructed to tell the supporters’ network in England and elsewhere that either you follow the line of the organisation unquestioningly or you simply stop being supporters. Therefore when Raissi returned to England he was immediately isolated by the supporters’ network. This was a terrible blow to a man who had made such a tremendous contribution to the development of Mojahedin networks outside Iran. From his perspective Raissi was staying true to the original ideology and mission of the Mojahedin founders, but Massoud Rajavi’s supporters clearly saw things very differently.
MA: Was that the end of Raissi’s connections with the organisation?
AS: Yes, he returned to Iran and as far as I am aware he is currently a university lecturer in Tehran. I don’t think he has any involvements with politics at all these days.
MA: That is very interesting. What were your involvements with the organisation in the latter part of the 1980’s, especially during and after the so-called “eternal light” operation in July 1988?
AS: At that time I had become quite passive and I had returned to my ordinary life. Around 1986 I became somewhat distanced from the Mojahedin for a variety of reasons.
MA: When did you become active again?
AS: It was around 1989 that I fully re-connected with the organisation.
MA: At what point did you become so disillusioned with the organisation that you wanted to break away for good?
AS: It was a gradual process. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the manner in which the Mojahedin were pursuing their political objectives. I was also not happy with the demands that they were making on me.
MA: What kind of demands were they making?
AS: The most basic one was their insistence that people should sever all their contacts with their families and forgo hopes of ever getting married and starting a family of their own.
MA: Were you a professional person at this time; by that I mean were you devoting your entire life to the organisation?
AS: From 1990, around the time of Professor Galindo Pohl’s visit to Iran, I became a more committed supporter. I participated in the hunger strike connected to Pohl’s visit and consequently became so involved with the organisation that I gave up my job and worked with the Mojahedin on a professional basis for 3 years. However from 1993 onwards I began to question the organisation’s nature and methodology seriously and gradually disengaged from them as a result.
MA: Therefore from 1993 to 1996 you underwent a gradual process of severing your ties with the organisation.
AS: That is right; it took me 3 years to leave them.
MA: How did the irreversible separation come about? Was there a dramatic moment or event that convinced you to leave them for good?
AS: No, it was generally a gradual process. The Mojahedin strategy is always to try to prevent people from leaving. They allow you to return to normal life but then from time to time they ask you to come to their meetings inside their bases and residences. They use these occasions to psychologically manipulate disaffected members and supporters. They say things like: “You are not made for a normal civilian life, you belong to the organisation; listen to Maryam Rajavi, she has all the answers to your problems.” They say things of this nature to try to win you over again.
MA: Presumably these psychologically manipulative techniques were no longer effective as far as you were concerned.
AS: I wish I could say that! Mentally you knew that everything that was being said was simply nonsense, but emotionally you are still vulnerable to their propaganda.
MA: Okay, so what happened? Was there a catalyst that eventually disconnected you totally from their world?
AS: Yes, eventually I got a message from one of their supporters whose task was to liaise between disaffected members like myself and the organisation. One day she told me that the organisation was getting really fed up with all my doubts and questionings. This basically gave me the opportunity to make a decision that I had wanted to make for years. From that point onwards I left the Mojahedin and their crazy world for good.
MA: Okay, let us talk about the Mojahedin more generally. Former members and supporters like yourself often contend that the Mojahedin are a cult, how do you justify this contention? Elaborate on some of the characteristics that make them a cult.
AS: Well, in fact there are 5 characteristics. These characteristics are recognised by a major cult-busting organisation here in the UK. All cults share these 5 characteristics. Firstly they have a self-appointed, messianic and charismatic leader. Secondly they believe the means justify the ends (?). Thirdly they have financial wealth that does not benefit the ordinary members. Fourthly they employ psychological manipulation to control their members and supporters. In the case of the Mojahedin much of this manipulation revolves around the control and abuse of sex and sexuality. Fifthly (?) (?)
MA: You mentioned a cult-busting organisation; I note you have a link to that organisation on your website. Has this organisation done any research on the Mojahedin?
AS: This organisation is called “The Cult Information Centre”. They have not researched the Mojahedin specifically, but from the information that we have given them, they readily concur that the Mojahedin are a cult.
MA: Therefore this whole contention that the Mojehin are some kind of sect is validated by experts. Presumably the Mojahedin can not turn around and accuse their detractors and critics of labelling tem out of malice and political rivalry.
AS: There is no doubt they are a cult. People have been saying this for nearly 20 years. But I think the real question is whether cults are inherently dangerous and whether we should confront them decisively.
MA: What is really interesting about the Mojahedin is that they differ radically from all other cults insofar as they aspire to take over a whole country and turn it into a reflection of themselves. Usually with cults we find that their ambitions are not as grand as this.
AS: I disagree with this. I think al-Qaeda also operates as a cult, although its aims and ambitions are completely different from the Mojahedin.
MA: One of the more interesting features of the Mojahedin’s history is the ideological revolution of 1985. How important was this event in transforming an eccentric and exceptionally radical leftist organisation into a fully fledged cult?
AS: I would say it was the defining moment. It was the central event that changed the Mojahedin overnight.
MA: Would you say it changed them beyond recognition?
AS: No, I think it consolidated a process that had been in the making for several years.
MA: What is your take on the ideological revolution? From a layman’s perspective it seems that it was all about the sexual lust of one man being marketed as a political and socio-cultural breakthrough.
AS: Certainly this aspect was very important. Massoud Rajavi took a fancy to Maryam Ghajr and Maryam reciprocated these feelings and things developed from there. I should point out that they got together well before Massoud Rajavi divorced Firoozeh Banisadr. But the ideological revolution also fitted into Rajavi’s vision of himself as a totalitarian icon and the sole leader of the Mojahedin. Rajavi wanted a buffer, a second in command, who whilst totally obedient to him would be able to consolidate his leadership through her own charisma.
MA: I see; so Maryam Rajavi is a mechanism he has used all these years to consolidate his own power.
AS: She is the executive. He is the ideology and she puts this into practice.
MA: It is interesting you mention ideology. What is interesting about the Mojahedin is that they make this definitive distinction between politics and ideology. What does ideology and the “ideological leader” mean in their culture?
AS: It essentially means that the leader dictates what should or should not happen in every respect. The leader is assumed to have some transcendent authority to exercise this right.
MA: But surely this happens in every extreme authoritarian and totalitarian organisation. What is different about the Mojahedin?
AS: They are different because they consciously reject all types of politics. For them politics represent changing dynamics and contingencies and of course this totally conflicts with Massoud Rajavi’s conception of seizing and holding power. Rajavi’s conception is static and premised on a set of rigid presuppositions. This is why Rajavi can not act politically.
MA: Presumably this explains why they have disconnected from the rest of the world for so long.
AS: Absolutely! It also explains why they have two very different faces. One is the real Mojahedin which is totally insulated and ideological and the other face is the political front represented by the National Council of Resistance. The second face is of course fake and illusory and is designed to deceive the outside world.
MA: This has been a very successful deception campaign; would you not agree?
AS: I don’t think they have been successful in deceiving Iranians. I think the vast majority of Iranians see them for exactly what they are. They have deceived the outside world primarily because their main body has been in Iraq and until very recently nurtured by Saddam Hussein. Their presence in Iraq has enabled them to hide their worst cult-like excesses from the outside world. Moreover they are astute in their propaganda and have been able to project a positively benign image. They have capable propagandists who routinely lobby influential western politicians and media people.
MA: On the point of propaganda, you have often claimed that the Mojahedin are primarily a propaganda outlet. Please elaborate on this.
AS: Their only aim is to take over power and establish a regime that reflects their totalitarian values. I think Massoud Rajavi realised early on in the early 1980’s that a second revolution would be most unlikely. Therefore his only hope was to enlist the help of foreign powers in order to destabilise the Islamic Republic. This informed his decision to move the Mojahedin to Iraq and establish the National Liberation Army. But the NLA was also a failure. Therefore the only option left for Rajavi was to exaggerate the capabilities of his organisation in order to attract potential foreign sponsors. This occurred in tandem with their extensive propaganda campaigns against their critics and detractors. Their aim has always been to sideline all other forms of opposition to the regime in order to assure their own dominance. They have become so immersed in propaganda that it now constitutes their very nature. Everything about their messages and slogans are now reducible to propaganda and disinformation. Of course their presence in Iraq was again the determining factor insofar as they had to continuously prove to Saddam Hussein that the money he was giving them was being put to good use. They had to prove to Saddam Hussein that they were a viable force and could potentially attract the support of the west.
MA: Do you think their anti-Iranian propaganda has been effective? After all they are not a particularly popular organisation.
AS: They are a useful propaganda outlet insofar as they can disseminate Israeli and American disinformation. Their services relieve the Americans and in particular the Israelis from having to rely on their own propaganda outlets. We can see this with the Iranian nuclear power issue. Most of the stuff the Mojahedin are putting out is disinformation fed to them by the Israeli intelligence services. This is part of an elaborate Israeli strategy to force a confrontation between Iran and the west.
MA: How do the various constituents of the Mojahedin, what they call the “Iranian Resistance”, i.e. the National Council of Resistance, the (former) National Liberation Army and other front organisations, come together to serve the totalitarian interests of Massoud Rajavi?
AS: Well, at one level these divisions are real insofar as they reflect institutional functions. The former NLA did constitute their military wing and the NCR did indeed constitute a political wing. But the point to stress is that all these different branches have very little autonomy insofar as they are all subject to the authority of Massoud Rajavi. The so-called “Iranian Resistance” is effectively a one man show. What they call the “Moghavamat” is ultimately Massoud Rajavi. He dictates everything and all the key decisions are made by him alone.
MA: You said earlier that Maryam Rajavi constitutes the “executive” branch of the organisation, could you expand on this; how does she fit into the picture that you have just outlined?
AS: She acts as a buffer between Massoud Rajavi and the rest f the organisation. This has several effects. First and foremost the fact that she is a woman enables the organisation to market itself as a feminist enterprise in the west. Moreover the fact that she is a woman enables her to control all the other women in the organisation who collectively shield Massoud Rajavi from the men of the organisation. It is the men that Massoud Rajavi fears the most; he has this perennial fear of being displaced as the central authority of the organisation.
MA: This all very interesting. But I suppose the most interesting aspect of what you are outlining is the sustained marketing of Maryam Rajavi as not only a feminist icon but also as some kind of sex goddess. Many people may remember, back in the mid 1990’s the Mojahedin put out this picture of hers to attract people to their concerts. What was striking about this picture was not only the fact that it was several years old but also that it portrayed Maryam Rajavi in a strangely erotic state.
AS: Did that picture not remind you of anyone? The Mojahedin were trying to make her look like Farah Diba, the wife of the deposed Shah, in order to recruit sympathisers in exiled Iranian communities. Back in the early 1990’s the Mojahedin embarked on a charm offensive. They sent Maryam back to France and began a massive deception campaign. They embraced the Old Iranian flag and tried to present themselves as a moderate and democratic political force. But of course that charm offensive failed because everyone saw through their deception. The Mojahedin may be able to fool a naïve western audience, but they can not deceive Iranians.
MA: Going back to the issue of feminism, what has been its overall impact on the organisation? Do you think they have sacrificed competence for their deception campaigns?
AS: Of course they have! The elevation of some of these women to top positions seriously disturbed many of the supporters. It was one of the reasons I just had to leave the organisation. I will give you one very good example. I used to work with Bahman Etemad, who was once the representative of the NCR in the UK. Etemad was a very experienced diplomat who had provided a fabulous service to the Mojahedin for many years. But suddenly in the mid 1990’s the Mojahedin replaced him with Beheshteh Shadrou who everyone knew was close to Rajavi’s inner circle. Shadrou could not even speak English and yet she was expected to represent the NCR’s interests in the UK! This was a truly stupid move which consequently sabotaged the organisation’s diplomatic initiatives in the UK and Western Europe generally.
MA: From what you are describing it seems that “feminisation” has been used by Rajavi to consolidate his control over the organisation; would you say this is a fair assessment?
AS: I would say this is an absolutely accurate assessment. Rajavi has transformed the Mojahedin into an incompetent and irrelevant cult in order to preserve his own power. The abuse of women has been a central feature of this strategy.
MA: But what is striking is that the men of the organisation have generally accepted this feminist transformation. How has this come about?
AS: Again Massoud Rajavi has used psychological manipulation techniques to ensure the men’s obedience. The fact that the organisation has become progressively depleted over the years has also helped. Remember that many members—particularly male members—have deserted the organisation in recent years.
MA: What has been the extent of this depletion?
AS: I am not in a position to give you any figures, but I would say that the Mojahedin are currently very weak both in terms of personnel and peripheral loyalists. Even of the 3,800 detainees in camp Ashraf, around 1,000 are kept in separate quarters by the Americans as they have effectively deserted the organisation.
MA: Okay so they have around 3,000 people in Iraq. What is their strength in Western Europe and North America?
AS: I don’t have any accurate figures. But I don’t think they have more than 700 cadres in the west.
MA: How about supporters?
AS: I don’t know, but again it is clear from the demonstrations they hold once in a while, that they command the loyalty of several thousand Iranian exiles. But many of these supporters are now falling away as a result of the pressures that are being brought to bear on the Mojahedin in Europe.
MA: I was going to ask you about that. What has been the impact of all the crises that has engulfed the Mojahedin over the past 15 months on the supporters’ morale?
AS: Historically crises of this kind tend to have an adverse impact on supporters’ morale. For instance when Maryam Rajavi was forced to quit France in December 1996, this resulted in mass disillusionment and consequently many supporters severed their contacts with the organisation. This time around the on-going debacle in Iraq and Maryam Rajavi’s arrest in Paris has opened many people’s eyes to the hopeless situation of the Mojahedin. Many supporters now realise how irrelevant the Mojahedin are to Iranian politics.
MA: Many former members contend that the Mojahedin have been irrelevant for some time, but that what kept them going was the support of Saddam Hussein. This was the key factor that allowed them to punch above their weight for so many years and bully many of their critics into silence. Now that Saddam is gone, the Mojahedin can not keep up the pretence anymore. Would you concur with this analysis?
AS: Yes, but I think there is more to it than that. Many supporters have been shocked by the organisation’s massive manipulation by the Israelis in recent months. The image of Ali Reza Jaafar-Zadeh spewing out Israeli intelligence disinformation on Fox News has killed off the organisation for many supporters.
MA: Okay let us discuss the plight of the Mojahedin in Iraq. You wrote your book just prior to the invasion of Iraq and it is interesting to see that many of your predictions have been borne out by events. Nevertheless are you not surprised by the way the organisation has adapted to the radically transformed political and geo-strategic environment in Iraq?
AS: Firstly don’t forget that Massoud Rajavi has not been apprehended. If he were detained by the new Iraqi authorities then the whole Mojahedin charade will come to an end, for everything in that organisation revolves around Massoud Rajavi.
MA: Okay, but you are addressing a different point. I asked you whether or not you are surprised by the way they have coped with these crises over the past 15 months.
AS: The Mojahedin are about propaganda; that is what they are really good at. It is their propaganda that depicts them as coping well with all their strategic setbacks over the past 15 months. In the Mojahedin’ propaganda world they are always victorious no matter what. In reality they are in serious stress for the downfall of Saddam Hussein effectively removed their last hope of ever being an irritant to the Islamic Republic.
MA: How would you characterise their post-Saddam strategy; would you say that they are now solely interested in survival or do you think they entertain hopes of scoring long-term strategic gains from their current misfortune?
AS: I think Massoud Rajavi is currently engaged in intensive negotiations with would-be foreign sponsors in order to save himself and as much of his organisation as possible. The search for another foreign sponsor is the core issue of the organisation right now.
MA: Given that Mojahedin cadres are trained not to think, do you think that they have a sense of the magnitude of the crisis that has engulfed them and the misfortunes that presumably awaits them, at least at an emotional level?
AS: No, because they have such trust and faith in their leadership and ideology that they will not allow themselves to feel as though they are in dire crisis. Also the fact that they have weathered several crises in the past has strengthened their belief in the immortality of the organisation.
MA: But is this not a positive feature of the Mojahedin, the fact that they can cope so well with serious crisis and weather the storm no mater what?
AS: It would be if they had some kind of future. But these people are irrelevant since nobody in Iran wants them. Therefore all these activities are all ultimately in vain.
MA: You are saying that they have achieved nothing?
AS: Well, the Mojahedin certainly believe they have had some achievements, the most important one being the consistent distortion of the Islamic Republic’s image in the west. They have sustained the myth that Iran has the worst human rights record in the world. This is not to say that there are not serious human rights abuses in Iran, but to say that Iran has the worst record is patently a myth. Ultimately the Mojahedin take pride in having been a reliable propaganda outlet against Iran for more than 2 decades. But of course in the real world their achievements have been scant. In fact one could argue that their activities have ironically strengthened the Islamic Republic in several ways.
MA: Going back to the question of foreign sponsors, who are they specifically negotiating with?
AS: Well, reliable information points to the Americans and the Israelis. In any case these are the only 2 viable sponsors at this stage. The Mojahedin are trying to market themselves as an irritant against Iran and of course this argument has supporters inside the Pentagon.
MA: How about emerging political forces in the new Iraq?
AS: The Mojahedin are extremely good at the “charm offensive” and they have put this to good use in Iraq in recent months. They have tried to cultivate people in Iraq and there are reports of them bribing tribal forces to support them.
MA: What is going to happen to them in Iraq in the decisive months ahead? Can we expect the new Iraqi government to expel them?
AS: The Iraqi will is to get rid of them as nearly all sides in Iraq view them as a remnant of the former Saddam Hussein regime. People in Iraq still remember the brutal manner in which the Mojahedin helped Saddam’s shock troops quell the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in March 1991. But how to get rid of them is a big question.
MA: What you are outlining here is a contestation of wills between the Americans and the Iraqis, insofar as the Americans are keen to keep them in Iraq.
AS: I am not sure it is as straight forward as that. I think even many of the neo-cons and the Likudniks realise that it would be extremely difficult to keep them in Iraq. Their problem is how to secure a new shelter for the organisation. Presumably not many countries are keen to give shelter to a notorious terrorist organisation.
MA: Do you think that despite their propaganda the Mojahedin are in fact keen to depart the Iraqi arena?
AS: What is happening is that Massoud Rajavi knows that should he raise his head above the parapet he will be shot at from all directions. We have reached the conclusion that he is in Ashraf camp and is surrounded by his loyal followers. He knows that he cant stay in Iraq indefinitely, but he is also anxious not to be isolated from his people. His man concern is to stage an escape with as much of his organisation as possible. And this can only be done through extensive foreign sponsorship. Rajavi is effectively holding his own people at ransom. This is the kind of psychological blackmail that he is truly good at.
MA: Therefore all the extensive activities that the Mojahedin has undertaken over the past 15 months to secure its presence in the new Iraq is all ultimately geared towards saving the skin of one man?
AS: I believe so, yes.
MA: I recently came across an article on your website that detailed the Mojahedin’s connections to the Israeli intelligence services from 1996 onwards. How important has this connection been to their on-going efforts to stay in Iraq?
AS: I came across that article on another site, found it quite credible and subsequently put it on my own website. But certainly the Israelis are keen to maintain the Mojahedin as a credible force against Iran.
MA: What about Jaafarzadeh’s regular appearances on Fox News. How do they justify this to their own supporters? How do they explain the fact that a supposedly Islamic and radical pro-Palestinian organisation is effectively doing the so-called Zionists’ bidding?
AS: I think the Mojahedin should be doing the explaining here! But this just underscores the point that the Mojahedin are a desperate for a foreign sponsor and their best bet right now is the Israelis and their American supporters.
MA: Let us discuss your recent trip to Iran to check up on the treatment of Jamil Bassam and Ibrahim Khodabandeh. Were you surprised by the treatment meted out to them?
AS: Yes I was. I went to Iran with some expectations; I knew they were not being harmed since they had been able to consistently visit their families. I knew they were not being mistreated but I could never have expected how well they had been treated. I was truly shocked.
MA: How well have they been treated?
AS: They can have leave from prison. They can visit their families regularly and they have access to all sorts of resources. For instance they can read any magazine and newspaper they wish, something they could not have done when they were with the Mojahedin. Also I found the conditions of the prison to be really surprising. I was amazed at how that particular section of Evin prison—the section that houses inmates who are deemed to be a threat to national security—was spacious, well-kept and well-managed. Of course I did not see the whole prison, but what I saw completely undermined--in my mind at least—all the news reports about the awful conditions of Iranian prisons.
MA: Then how do you explain the Islamic Republic’s poor human rights record?
AS: I don’t want to make a general statement on the human rights situation in Iran, as I simply do not have the information and expertise. I can only tell you what I saw; and what I saw completely conflicts with what I have been told by the western media over the years.
MA: Would it be fair to say that for someone like yourself who had dedicated many years of her life to fighting the Islamic Republic, the recent trip to Iran has been an eye opener insofar as it has undermined some of the propaganda that you had yourself been spinning several years ago?
AS: The trip was interesting since I went along with two MP’s, Teddy Taylor and Wynne Griffiths. Wynne Griffiths is of course a long time supporter of the Mojahedin. I think all of us found this trip an eye opener.
MA: Going back to Bassam and Khodabandeh, what were the specific circumstances surrounding their detention in Syria and what were the Mojahedin hoping to achieve from their detention?
AS: They had travelled from the UK to Syria to undertake smuggling activities on behalf of the organisation. I cant really say more than that as I do not want to prejudice their trial. The Mojahedin claim they were there to see family and this story is clearly false.
MA: Okay I appreciate the fact you need to be circumspect. But what have the Mojahedin been hoping to achieve from the extensive propaganda campaigns that they have staged on behalf of these men over the past year?
AS: The first two months they were being held by the Syrian authorities the Mojahedin kept silent as they did not want to jeopardise their broader smuggling activities in Syria. Remember that the war in Iraq had just ended and the organisation was desperately trying to smuggle documents and money out of Iraq via Syria. But as soon as it transpired that the men had been taken to Iran the Mojahedin started their noisy campaign. The reason is simple; they need new blood to sustain their organisation. They need more and more martyrs to keep the whole Rajavi enterprise going.
MA: From what you are describing it would appear that they would have preferred it for these men to have been killed.
AS: Well, that would have solved a lot of problem for them.
MA: Why do you think the Iranian authorities have adopted a “soft” approach towards the Mojahedn? Why are they treating their worst enemies so well?
AS: This was a very big question in my mind. I presumed that this new policy was ushered in by the presidential victory of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. But a security official in Evin told me that this simply is not true insofar as there was never a radical policy change. He said that Iran gradually changed its policy towards the Mojahedin from the early 1990’s onwards. Moreover he hinted that the treatment of the Mojahedin has a direct correlation to the level of threat that they pose to the Islamic republic. Therefore back in the 1980’s when this threat was particularly acute the Mojahedin were dealt with harshly. But now that the threat is practically non-existent they are no longer employing harsh security measures.
MA: So it is all reducible to their threat assessment.
AS: Yes, but this official said something else that was particularly interesting. Apparently the Mojahedin were using the harsh treatment to recruit new members and sympathisers, therefore the “soft” approach is designed to dry up the well of potential support.
MA: Okay some final questions, how do you see the Mojahedin in 10 years time?
AS: I think if they are still a coherent force in 10 years time they are likely to be severely diminished and will function more like a socio-cultural cult on the fringes of western society rather than an ostensibly political organisation.
MA: And what will happen to Massoud Raavi in this time frame?
AS: Well if he is not put on trial either in Iraq or the west, he will likely be hiding somewhere. I don’t think the Iranians are particularly interested in him since a potential trial in Iran will likely cause headaches for the Iranian government.
MA: What would you like to see happen to him?
AS: I would like to see him behind bars for the rest of his life for all the hurt, loss and anguish that he has caused to so many people.