• 5 August 2011
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Human Rights in Iran, MEK

MEK: Cult of the Chameleon

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.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

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7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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