The former Islamic militant
48, was recruited into the mujahedin at university, and was active for seven
years. She left the organisation in 1996 and now campaigns to warn others
University in the early 1980s was very political. My then boyfriend Ali, an
Iranian, was interested in the mujahedin, and I became interested in them
and Islam. I have never been religious, but the structured life Islam
offered made sense to me.
seemed to be the only group who were doing anything, fighting the regime of
the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran after the revolution. I went to so many
meetings that I neglected my studies and flunked my exams (I completed my
degree at Sheffield poly). Their religious role-modelling was intense, and
their behaviour so righteous. They were willing to sacrifice their own
interests for that of their society. I worshipped them.
In l985 the
mujahedin leader Massoud Rajavi took over and married a woman called Maryam
whose role was to encourage women to break away from male control. As a
feminist, this appealed to me. They had used bombers from the early 1980s.
They said they wanted to break the atmosphere of terror by killing their
oppressors, and it seemed noble.
I spent all my
spare time with the movement, caring for members' children, cooking and
monitoring media reports. If they asked me for a úl0 donation I'd give úl00
to impress them with my commitment. They flattered me, and then would make
me feel guilty, pushing for more so I'd feel worthy enough to be recruited.
I got totally hooked.
I did temporary
jobs and lived frugally in bedsits, my walls covered with posters of their
martyrs - suicide bombers and women with guns. I felt part of something very
right. Everyone else had posters of Che Guevara who was part of an armed
struggle. I was just supporting a different revolution. We saw fighting
films and listened to heroic poetry and revolutionary music. I had had such
a boring childhood, this was what I had been looking for. My working-class
family was quite political but never did anything except watch telly. There
wasn't much debate, so I grew up seeing life as black and white.
I moved to London
in 1989 and found some activists at a safe house in Finchley who treated me
as a trusted supporter. The UN Human Rights Rapporteur visited Iran in l990
and we wanted to put pressure on him to ask about all the mujahedin
prisoners so we went on hunger strike.
After five days I
felt high as a kite. My perceptions changed, and I felt I had transcended
normal humanity. I had so much energy and felt as if I were walking in a
bubble. Food deprivation is a classic recruitment technique used to weaken
I quit my job as
a computer programmer and became a full-time worker for the mujahedin. I
didn't question a thing, even the violence, which they inure people to so
cleverly. I was shown a film of a female suicide bomber blowing up an
ayatollah in Iran. It was horrific, and very shocking, at first, but I was
shown the film many times, and each time was less distressed. Then they put
it on over dinner and I didn't bat an eyelid. I believed she had a duty to
perform, this brave, wonderful martyr.
I barely saw my
parents, I'd ditched all my friends, and I'd publicly burnt the diaries I'd
kept since childhood, insisting "my past means nothing", but it wasn't
enough. I still wasn't seen as 100 per cent obedient.
In l992 they
asked me if I'd like to go to Iraq for some military training. I knew as a
member of an "armed struggle" this might be required, so I didn't resist,
although I knew I could never kill anyone. I learned how to drive a truck,
march and shoot a gun, but I clearly wasn't soldier material. I loved the
camp and the irresponsibility - I obeyed orders and it felt liberating. I
had this childlike feeling that if I put myself in their hands, I'd be OK.
Then they decided
marriage was banned. I couldn't agree as I wanted marriage and kids. I was
punished and they put huge pressure on me to conform. I returned to London,
telling myself I'd sort my head out then return refreshed to the movement,
but it wasn't to be.
In l993 I met my
husband, another disillusioned member, and we were drawn to each other. I
resisted constant pressure to be re-recruited and we broke away for good in
l996. We acted as counsellors to each other, de-programming ourselves from
the horrific abuse we had endured. But we didn't recover properly until
1999, when we read literature from the Cult Information Centre. I was
furious when I learned that everything we'd been through was on a
"recruitment techniques" list! The anger and betrayal I felt was enormous,
but I felt relief that it wasn't my fault, and I could put a name to it -
psychological coercion. It didn't mean you were weak, evil or stupid.
We believed we
had reached the pinnacle of human existence, that the worst thing in life
was to be ordinary. Well, we're ordinary now and it's wonderful. We had a
son in 2000 and live in a three-bedroom semi in Leeds. A life where we make
our own decisions is amazing.
I still think of
myself as Muslim, I still think it is a good belief system, but I eat pork
and drink like a fish.
word about the dangers of cults is my new cause. When people are recruited
into these groups they have no critical ability. It can happen to anyone,
any time. If you're lucky you end up with a timeshare. If you're unlucky you
end up blowing people up on the Tube.