Maziar Bahari’s fascinating 2007 documentary on the Mujahedin-e Khalq, “Cult of the Chameleon,” deserves special attention given Secretary Clinton’s upcoming decision on the group’s terror designation. The film, which was featured yesterday at a panel event assessing the ramifications of taking MEK off the terror list, is notable for its focus on the humanitarian aspect of the MEK issue.
Bahari, who appeared on yesterday’s panel along with Brian Katulis of Center for American Progress and journalist Barbara Slavin, has consistently emphasized that we must consider the individuals who have been swept into the MEK as victims of both Iranian government repression and victims of the cult’s leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi (read a full summary of the event here).
Bahari’s documentary features interviews with several former MEK members who discuss how they endured torture, psychological manipulation, bizarre cult practices, and extortion at the hands of the group’s leadership.
The film also includes a gut wrenching interview with the mother and father of a man who disappeared into the MEK web. Fearing their son had been killed, they were relieved when they were contacted by him after fifteen years of silence. He told them he was trying to leave the MEK but needed money for a lawyer. “I was happy to send him that money,” explains the father tearfully. “I thanked God that he could finally come back to us, come home.”
Instead, the son took the money and turned it over to the Rajavis and now acts as a legal representative in Camp Ashraf.
A New York Times article from last week, Iranian Exile Group Poses Vexing Issue for U.S. in Iraq, outlines how the MEK leadership’s pressure campaign in Washington is undermining American diplomats who are working to negotiate a humanitarian solution regarding the residents of Camp Ashraf. But the MEK leaders based comfortably in Paris are more than willing to sacrifice the blood of their members, even warning that if there is an attempt to close down Ashraf, “there will be no choice left for Iran’s freedom fighters other than resistance at any price.”
What’s clear is that any delisting or support for the MEK organization under the auspices of human rights is dangerously misguided. The MEK leadership continues to utilize its rank and file as pawns to achieve the quixotic goal of installing Maryam Rajavi as Iran’s next dictator. Key to this fantasy is for the MEK leadership to keep what it believes to be its greatest leverage–their followers–under their tight grip as sacrificial lambs in the MEK compound in Iraq, Camp Ashraf.
A humanitarian solution must provide those who have been swept into the MEK cult with a way out. RAND estimates 70% of the residents of Camp Ashraf were brought there under false pretenses and would leave if they could. Yet many on Capitol Hill and in policy circles in Washington, and in Europe, have been suckered into claiming the opposite–as if providing the leaders of a cult with even more power and credibility can somehow protect the members they have victimized.
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MEK: Cult of the Chameleon