Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mujahedin al-Khalq

Why Does the Clarion Project Endorse Mujahedin al-Khalq?

The Clarion Project dedicates itself “to exposing the dangers of Islamic extremism while providing a platform for the voices of moderation and promoting grassroots activism.” Progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress as well as those close to the Muslim Brotherhood like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America have condemned the group, more often than not by labeling it to try to stigmatize it and its supporters so as to avoid a much-needed debate on issues surrounding radical Islamism.

A truism of radical Islamism is that those most in its cross hairs are moderates. For all American officials talk about “green on blue” violence in Afghanistan, they often omit that rates of “green on green” violence is about three times as high. An extremist’s attempted assassination of then-14-year-old school girl Malala Yousefzai was followed by the silence of Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist awarded the Nobel Peace Prize precisely because the committee wanted to depict the Muslim Brotherhood, an affiliate of which she is a member, as a peaceful organization. CAIR, an unabashed supporter of Hamas, often keeps its powder dry to attack groups like the American Islamic Congress or the American Islamic Forum for Democracy precisely because they refuse to deny the links between terrorism and more extreme interpretations of Islam.

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The Clarion Project dedicates itself “to exposing the dangers of Islamic extremism while providing a platform for the voices of moderation and promoting grassroots activism.” Progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress as well as those close to the Muslim Brotherhood like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America have condemned the group, more often than not by labeling it to try to stigmatize it and its supporters so as to avoid a much-needed debate on issues surrounding radical Islamism.

A truism of radical Islamism is that those most in its cross hairs are moderates. For all American officials talk about “green on blue” violence in Afghanistan, they often omit that rates of “green on green” violence is about three times as high. An extremist’s attempted assassination of then-14-year-old school girl Malala Yousefzai was followed by the silence of Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist awarded the Nobel Peace Prize precisely because the committee wanted to depict the Muslim Brotherhood, an affiliate of which she is a member, as a peaceful organization. CAIR, an unabashed supporter of Hamas, often keeps its powder dry to attack groups like the American Islamic Congress or the American Islamic Forum for Democracy precisely because they refuse to deny the links between terrorism and more extreme interpretations of Islam.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Clarion Project, as it is dedicated to countering radical Islam, lists  a number of progressive Muslim organizations. What is surprising is that they list among them the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the front organization of the Mujahedin al-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group. The Mujahedin al-Khalq may be a lot of things, but it is neither progressive nor is it non-violent. Progressive movements tend not to dictate to women who to marry and who to divorce. It has its roots in the same Islamist currents that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini drank from, and only abandoned the Islamic Republic when its revolutionary vortex turned on the movement. Then it attached itself to Saddam Hussein and allowed itself to be used almost as a mercenary organization against both Kurds and Iraqi Shi’ites.

That does not excuse Iran’s targeting of the group, but the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is not always wise, unless those who criticize Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was too close to Iran really want to embrace Muqtada al-Sadr. To accept the Mujahedin al-Khalq as a moderate organization is analytically shallow given the group’s record of behavior, its dishonesty in its written work, its past targeting of Americans, and the fact that its rhetoric about democracy does not match its practice.

To counter Islamist radicalism and the totalitarianism and anti-liberalism it represents is a noble goal. And those on the front line are the moderate Muslim organizations that are willing to take on radicals like CAIR and weather the often-unhinged hostility of the progressive left in America. But to lump the Mujahedin al-Khalq in with progressive Muslim organizations not only erodes the credibility of Clarion, but tars legitimate progressive Muslim organizations that already have an uphill battle.

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Yes, Mujahedin al-Khalq Is a Dishonest Cult

Back in the 1990s, when I was working on language study and then dissertation research in Iran, it was apparent that the vast majority of Iranians did not care for their government. While many Iranians readily acknowledged their own participation in the revolution against the dictatorial shah, they also realized that Ayatollah Khomeini played them for fools when he had promised them “Islamic democracy.” Within six months, they recognized that what they got was neither, but it was too late as Khomeini consolidated control.

Iranians are politically engaged—even if not within the system—and did not hesitate to talk. Many spoke of their desire for alternatives. Some asked about the son of the late shah, living in exile in the United States. Others would speak more theoretically about a desire for a republic, a parliamentary democracy, or other alternative. The only thing on which Iranians agreed was their dislike of the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MKO). Several years ago, I wrote a piece outlining their history and ideological evolution. Long story short, the group’s involvement in terrorism that killed not only regime officials but ordinary Iranian citizens, as well as their willingness to accept aid and shelter from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the years after Iraq’s invasion of Iran, delegitimized the group in the face of the public they claim to represent.

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Back in the 1990s, when I was working on language study and then dissertation research in Iran, it was apparent that the vast majority of Iranians did not care for their government. While many Iranians readily acknowledged their own participation in the revolution against the dictatorial shah, they also realized that Ayatollah Khomeini played them for fools when he had promised them “Islamic democracy.” Within six months, they recognized that what they got was neither, but it was too late as Khomeini consolidated control.

Iranians are politically engaged—even if not within the system—and did not hesitate to talk. Many spoke of their desire for alternatives. Some asked about the son of the late shah, living in exile in the United States. Others would speak more theoretically about a desire for a republic, a parliamentary democracy, or other alternative. The only thing on which Iranians agreed was their dislike of the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MKO). Several years ago, I wrote a piece outlining their history and ideological evolution. Long story short, the group’s involvement in terrorism that killed not only regime officials but ordinary Iranian citizens, as well as their willingness to accept aid and shelter from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the years after Iraq’s invasion of Iran, delegitimized the group in the face of the public they claim to represent.

The Clinton administration designated the MKO to be a terrorist group, but after years of lobbying—and buying support by paying huge honoraria to a bipartisan array of senior officials—the MKO was delisted in 2012. No longer being considered a terrorist group does not make the MKO democratic, however, as anyone who has ever studied their internal workers can attest. It is against this backdrop that this diary, written by a Kyrgyz student recruited to attend an MKO rally in Paris, is so interesting. It seems that the MKO leaders must now not only pay speakers to sing their praises at their rallies, but also the audience members. The MKO is not only a creepy cult, and willing to say anything to buy support regardless of the group’s record, but an empty shell as well. Let us hope that one day their remaining congressional supporters will recognize that if they truly want to bring change to Iran’s odious regime, they would best reach out to the Iranian people and not associate with groups which repel them.

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