October 6, 2016

A First Hand Account of Life and Death in the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq Cult

Watch An Unfinished Documentary For My Daughter Somayeh here.

The dynamics between politics and family are complicated enough for many people. For some, devotion to one comes at a cost to the other, tearing lives apart and upending basic morals. Mustafa Mohammady and his family lived through such an ordeal during their years with the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK). They watched as the MEK devolved from communists fighting the Ayatollah into an esoteric, tyrannical cult that became more and more controlling of its members as its defeats mounted. Unlike many other members, however, the Mohammadys actively recorded their lives in the MEK on camera. Their patriarch Mustafa pieced together various family videos, interviews of other survivors, and his own observations into one film, “An Unfinished Documentary For My Daughter.” The resulting work offers a rare glimpse into the MEK’s bizarre inner workings and the tragic toll it takes on its members.

The MEK started as a band of Islamic-influenced Marxist guerillas fighting the Shah; from the start, its preferred tactics were assassinations and bombings against the Shah and foreign workers, including American diplomats. After participating in the 1979 Revolution, the MEK was expelled by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who saw it as a potential rival in the new government. First it fled to France, and then to Iraq; in exchange for fighting for him in the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein let the MEK use Iraq as a base to combat Khomeini. As the MEK’s failures multiplied and members left, its leaders Masoud and Maryam Rajavi reorganized the MEK as a personality cult which forbade all non-MEK related thoughts.

The frenzy of devotion they started climaxed in 1988 with Operation Eternal Light: After a ceasefire was signed in the Iran-Iraq War, the MEK tried to trigger a counter-revolution in Iran by attacking the bordertown Khosravi Checkpoint in full force. The MEK was decisively pushed back into Iraq, where it remained at the time of the documentary. There it put up a front of normalcy, and was eventually delisted as a terrorist group by the US. As of this writing, it is relocating its members in Iraq to Albania with American assistance; only time will tell what the MEK will do in its new home.

The documentary weaves these historical events into the more personal narrative of the Mohammadys: In 1986, they fled Iran, and then moved to Canada in 1993. There, Mustafa became a prominent participant in the MEK’s outreach to the US and Canada. His doubts about the MEK began when his daughter Somayeh was drafted to return to Iraq, and was not allowed to contact him. Gradually, the group forced Mustafa and his family to perform more and more extreme acts to prove their loyalty. However, his devotion only began to break in 2003 when he was instructed to self immolate in front of the French embassy in Ottawa to protest the arrest of MEK leaders in Paris.

Thankfully, he was stopped by bystanders and was allowed by the MEK to visit Camp Ashraf to see Somayeh as a “reward”. There, he saw the breadth and depth of the MEK’s control over its believers: They were forbidden from talking in pairs; from marrying, having children, or even having sexual thoughts; and were tortured for even minor disobedience. The final straw came when his son Mohammad told of his ordeal in the compound – after he arrived, he was be raped repeatedly by his superiors within the MEK. When he attempted to report them, his pleas were ignored by the leadership. Ultimately, he left the MEK, and inspired most of the Mohammadys to do the same.

Sadly, they were unable to convince Somayeh to leave Ashraf with them. Although her lack of Canadian citizenship would have made it harder for her to go, she had been utterly indoctrinated into the MEK and declined to join her family. She was unable to believe her own brother’s stories, and was unmoved by the pleas of her father Mustafa. He spoke with American soldiers about recourses he had to force her out or make the MEK surrender her, but there were simply no legal means to do either. Ever since, he has devoted his life to convincing Somayeh and other MEK members to leave Camp Ashraf. He has yet to succeed, and declared his documentary will be unfinished until she returns home.

Woven throughout this larger narrative on the Mohammadys are stories from other former MEK members of what the group put them through. The picture painted of the MEK by their testimony and that of the Mohammadys is one of an organization that has abandoned whatever purpose it may have had in favor of decadent adulation for authority and brutal mind control. As former MEK members try to pick up the pieces of their lives, the film makes a convincing case that the US should not treat the MEK as legitimate opposition group. To do so would give the MEK power that they will not wield in America’s interest, and would be a betrayal to its victims.

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