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Fanatical Journalism

By  Amin Boroumand


Two somewhat identical articles, authored by journalist and political commentator Amir Taheri, appeared on the pages of The Wall Street Journal a few days apart: the first one, "France Tries to Score Points With Iran" published June 20, 2003 and the second one, "Islamist, Marxist, Terrorist" published June 23, 2003. The latter version, more serviceable for some Iranian websites, was reproduced on their sites in the ensuing days to edify the public. Both articles, written in the 'afterglow' of the operation of French anti-terrorist police, both farcical and sinister, against the National Council of Resistance of Iran stated the obvious politics behind the raid, namely the politics of currying favor with the mullahs. They also aim at discrediting their author's old foe, People's Mojahedin of Iran. To what end, I wonder, Mr. Taheri changed the title of his article, and polished its content only three days after it was first published?


In what amounts to a pathetic attempt to sustain some level of pertinence, Mr. Taheri devotes a few lines in both articles to analyzing the French police raid on NCRI's offices and homes: he suggests that the action should be understood in the context of global jostling for political influence, and that France's attempt to dismantle PMOI "may well encourage the mullahs to warm to France". In this scenario, then, France curtails the voracious appetite of American global politics by securing a strategic relation with the only remaining non-American aligned regime in the Middle East.


Parting company with a host of political figures who condemned the attack on human rights grounds, Mr. Taheri refrains from making any value judgment regarding the attack, opting, instead, to offer a supposedly impartial background information for the attack. The point of this exercise is quite clear: the reader should not be perturbed in the face of such a shameless politics; after all, PMOI is a terrorist organization. The building of his 'historical' case against the group, however, exacts a heavy toll on historical facts, and his tendentious politics becomes a curse for his journalistic integrity. He is more than willing to sacrifice history at the altar of his political ideology. This is, incidentally, the core definition of a fanatic ideologue. The author of these articles was the editor-in-chief of the largest newspaper in Iran during the last seven years of Shah's rule. Understandably, he speaks the language that he helped to formulate some thirty years earlier. This time, fortunately, he does not have the luxury of being on the side of an autocratic regime, the luxury of dictating history without being challenged.


Ironically, Mr. Taheri's own analysis of global politics lets PMOI off the hook. He maintains that PMOI was classified a terrorist organization in 1997 as part of Clinton administration's "forlorn attempt at fence-mending with the ruling mullahs of Tehran". Furthermore, his definition of terrorism, formulated two years earlier, unwittingly perhaps, makes it impossible to designate the group as terrorist. In a tailored article published on June 21, 2001 in Arab News, Mr. Taheri characterized terrorism as a phenomenon that would defy definition; therefore, to delineate it in a universally acceptable term, he proposes that one has to remove it from all "ethical judgments" and define it as "any act or series of violent acts against civilians designed to persuade a part or the whole of a community or a group of communities to do something that the terrorists like or to stop doing something that the terrorists do not like."


The Case


Mr. Taheri's accusations against PMOI are based on two bodies of 'evidence': the first one has to do with PMOI's activities during the Shah's years, and the second one is the allegations of some 'ex-members' of Mojahedin.


In an interview, made at the height of his power, the late Shah of Iran dismissed the assertion that his regime held any political prisoners, retorting that the people whom the interviewer were referring to "happened to be Marixist", an outlawed political ideology. He was basically trying to say that being a Marxist was tantamount to being a criminal. This mentality permeated the psyche of his loyal subjects as well, including Mr. Taheri. In this context, then, it is easily understood why Mr. Taheri is willing to sacrifice the credibility of his account to render PMOI agents of the then Marxist states. This endeavor would have been more successful had he contented himself to stay at the level of rhetoric (made in the first article). To his detriment, however, he wrote the second article to reinforce and validate his ludicrous assertions by invoking some 'historical facts'. Facts, unfortunately for him, have a bad habit of betraying ideologies.

Let's examine some of these 'facts':

Mr. Taheri writes: "The MEK was founded in 1965, and its ideology emerged as a mixture of Islam and Marxism" in the first article, and then in the second article:  "The MEK was founded in 1965 after a split in a Marxist-Leninist movement that had waged a guerrilla action in northern Iran". Mr. Taheri, with the stroke of a pen re-writes history: in his attempt to give a Marxist provenance to PMOI, he conflates two separate organizations, namely People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran and Organization of Iranian People's Fedayee Guerillas only to split them later, "after 1965". His solemn journalistic research is caught pants down when he implies that "Siahkal" took place before 1965 ("The MEK was founded in 1965 after a split in a Marxist-Leninist movement that had waged a guerrilla action in northern Iran"). For Mr. Taheri's benefit let me state what any student of Iran's contemporary political history knows: the first ever guerrilla action by either of these two groups was carried out in February 8, 1970, and not prior to 1965 as the article asserts, by a team of Organization of Iranian People's Fedayee Guerillas led by Ali Akbar Safayee Farahani against a police station in the jungles of Gilan, a province in northern Iran. The police station was located in the township of "Siahkal". To this day, the occasion is celebrated every year by the leftist organizations as the beginning of the arm struggle against the Shah's regime.

Mr. Taheri's fanatical commitment to his politics distorts history to fit his model. In his second article, he graciously adds more facts that were omitted in the first one: "An MEK team tried to kidnap U.S. Ambassador Douglas MacArthur III in Tehran. The attempt failed and their leader, Rajavi, was handed a death sentence, later commuted thanks to a plea to the Shah from Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny." Douglas MacArthur II (and incidentally not III) was a target of kidnapping attempt in November 1971 (San Francisco Chronicle 11/17/1971). Rajavi was arrested on August 23, 1971 (Mr. Taheri could refer to the Savak files which I am sure he has access to). These dates, then, make it a highly implausible proposition that Rajavi was handed a death sentence for an act that was committed while he was in prison. As history tells us, in September of 1971, Savak, the late Shah's feared and despised secret police, rounded up more than ninety percent of PMOI's cadres (more than 100 people). The remaining members were arrested in October 1971 following a botched operation to kidnap Shahram Shafiq (Septmber 23, 1971), the nephew of the late Shah, in the hope of exchanging him with the imprisoned comrades; this was the ONLY operation that Mojahedin carried out in 1971 - Mohsen Nejat-hosseini's memoir "Over the Gulf". As far as the responsible party who pressured Shah to commute Rajavi's sentence, it is a universal knowledge, and even acknowledged by the mortal enemies of Rajavi, the Islamic Regime of Iran, that his brother Kazem Rajavi organized an international campaign to save his brother's life (Baztab site: Rasul Jafarian's "Re-examination of Mojahedin Khalq Organization" - "BazshenAsi-ye sAzmAn-e mojAhedin-e Khalq"). All these idiotic assertions made to somehow tie PMOI to anything under the sun that is nominally or otherwise Marxist is a neurotic attempt to re-live a past life of being the mouthpiece of the discredited Shah's regime.

 Mr. Taheri enlists the service of some Marxist states and the dreaded KGB in order to, in his clownish way, criminalize PMOI: "the MEK, with help from the KGB, engaged in a campaign against the Shah, and sent its supporters to Cuba, East Germany and South Yemen to train in guerrilla tactics." PMOI did not ever send its cadres to Cuba, East Germany, or South Yemen. To be sure, between 1969 and 1971, PMOI sent some of its members for training to Al-Fatah's camps in Jordan and later on in Syria - for a more detailed account of Mojahedin's training read Ervand Abrahamian's "The Iranian Mojahedin" and Moehsen Nejat-Hosseini's memoir "Over the Gulf". (Mr. Nejat-Hosseini was a member of PMOI between 1967 and 1975, he is currently the head of Physics department at the Nuclear Medicine Center of Stockholm.)

The second body of (mis)information that Mr. Taheri utilizes to vilify PMOI, without any source criticism scruples, is the articles and statements made by some ex-members of PMOI. Quoting faithfully from the articles written by these ex-members, Mr. Taheri claims that: "By 1988, the MEK had created a 10,000-strong fighting force in Iraq, which helped Saddam in his genocidal campaign against the Kurds, and also to crush the Iraqi Shiites in the south in 1991." The myth of genocidal campaign against the Kurds come from two sources, as it turns out, both notoriously tied to the Islamic regime in Iran: PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and ex-member of PMOI. PUK was assisted with "the gathering of intelligence and planning operations" (Roger Howard "Jane's" August 10, 2002) by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods and Badr divisions against the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and later on PMOI. In return, PUK allowed Qods and Badr divisions to setup camp in the region under their control. These camps were only dismantled as a result of the American pressure during and in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

In order to ascertain the validity of the claims made by the ex-members of PMOI, let's look at some of their other claims that could now be verified by international community. Assad Pak, an ex-member, in an interview with Jon Swain from the Pakistan Daily Times (February 17, 2003) credits Saddam for being "very clever in hiding all the weapons". The over-enthusiastic but not-so-bright journalist, then, gleefully announces the discovery of the decade: "They had first-hand evidence, they (ex-members) said, of how Saddam uses elaborate subterfuge to move and hide nuclear, biological and chemical weapons at secret sites used by Iranian rebels inside Iraq." The article goes on to say:

"Pak is a rare dissident to speak out about the camps set up in Iraq for the MKO. He says, backed by the testimony of another former MKO member, that he saw how the Iraqis used the camps as cover for their own activities, which he believes were related to weapons of mass destruction. Describing events as late as 1998, he says he once saw MKO officials wearing body-suits for protection during the movement of big guns, missiles and other military hardware. He also described how six years ago major construction works were carried out at night at Ashraf, the MKO's main military base 43 miles north of Baghdad. Initially, he and his colleagues were told by their commanders that it was to be a swimming pool."

So much for "the testimony of former MKO member", and so much for the investigative journalism!!!

But why are the ex-members (by the way these ex-members do not add up to more than 50) bent on making false accusations? Baztab site, run by Mohsen Rezaei, a Secretary of Islamic regime's Expediency Council and a close associate of Rafsanjani, commenting on recent attack on NCR's Paris headquarter, declares that the French anti-terrorist police has accused PMOI of planning to assassinate ex-members of PMOI who are now collaborating with the Islamic Security and Information Ministry (Baztab site: "Mojahedin's Plan to Seize American Embassy" Naghshe-ye mojAhedin-e khalq barAy-e taskheer-e sefaarat-e America).  In other words, the source of this piece of information is none other than Iran's infamous Intelligence Ministry. In an interview with an ex-member, Massoud Tayebi, Radio Farda's journalist Amir Mossadegh-Katouzian challenges the validity of this allegation as self-serving and unverifiable: the information fed to the French police is by the very same 'ex-members' who are the supposed target of assassination plots (Radio Farda: Mojahedin's plan to assassinate its ex-members, argued from the standpoint of two ex-members and a supporter", "Tarh-e sAzm

An-e mojAhedin-e khalq barAy-e teror-e 'a'zAy-e jodAshode-ye khod dar oroopA, az deed-e do 'ozv-e jodaa shode va yak modAfe'"). Why, Mr. Taheri does not ask, would a group that has survived for so many years against incredible odds risk its very existence in this way?

It is unfortunate that a 'journalist' should find it necessary to falsify and vilify in order to score political points. We know from experience that ideologues of this kind, when in power, would no longer need the service of words. This was our problem in the Shah's time. And it is our problem today.



About the author:
Amin Boroumand lives in the Bay Area.

... Payvand News - 7/18/03 ... --

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