Bookmark and Share

A Contemporary Sha'baan Ja'fari


By Rostam Pourzal

"The general effect of Cold War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union."
Cold War pioneer George Kennan, International Herald Tribune, 10/29/92

One image from the 1953 coup that ended Iran's experiment with democracy is burned in the national conciousness of Iranians like no other. Dozens of books and conferences have been devoted to the US role in that event, and in every one of them Sha'baan Ja'fari (known commonly as "Sha'baan the Brainless") has occupied a special place. He was the vigilante whose followers made downtown Tehran safe for the coup makers. Hundreds of Iranian patriots were tortured and executed in the months that followed. That US intervention lies at the root of Middle Eastern terrorism now, argues Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah's Men.

I was painfully reminded of Sha'baan and his activists last Friday when supporters of another US protégé, Massoud Rajavi, took to the streets. In Washington. They were lending their support to another generation of US planners of regime change in Iran. Rajavi and his National Liberation Army are now under US protection in eastern Iraq, near the Iranian border. Conditions have never looked so good for the coup they have dreamed of for twenty years.  

Carol Moore

Back in 1953, the Iranian people were deemed unworthy of self-determination with regard to their oil industry. Today, the West similarly argues that it should be in charge of another Iranian source of energy and self reliance. Nuclear technology is the pretext this time, but the real issue is still Iran's independence. Once again,  all factions within Iran predict that foreign intervention will again postpone any chance of democracy for decades. And once again, it is deemed beneficial to put an Iranian face on the coup. Enter Rajavi's Mojahedin, known also as MEK, MKO, and PMOI, who operate as a dozen front organizations with names built around "freedom" and "democracy".  Let the street show begin.      

Mojahedin's November 19 Washington rally and march from the White House to the US Congress was well organized and disciplined, even though the promised American entertainers were absent. The target audience were, of course, the US politicians and opinion makers who favor what Mojahedin call "appeasement" with regard to Iran. Hence the event posters and props that focused on Iran's "nuclear terrorism." Hence also the need to impress the wimps with inflated strength.

No sane eyewitness would agree with Mojahedin's PR about 15,000 participants. As someone who believes it is a mistake to underrate your opponent, I esimate 1,500 to 1,800. Mojahedin's own photos of the event on their websites and TV broadcasts, showing the entire procession, make this abundantly clear.

For further evidence, I refer you to a file photo of Freedom Plaza, where the march started. On type in "freedom plaza", then go to the third screen, second row, then click on the third picture from the left. Mojahedin suporters filled LESS THAN HALF of the right side of the Plaza (raised one meter above the surrounding sidewalks) on November 19. No "feeder marches" or individuals joined their procession later on its way to Congress. You can judge the scale of the Plaza by the dimensions of the windows and the cars.

On the
map, Freedom Plaza is the area bounded by 13th and 14th Streets, E Street, and  Pennsylvania Avenue ( the White House is on the left). Judging by the map scale, the entire Freedom Plaza -- including the four sidewalks, the thick waist-high walls, the raised grass platform on the right end, and the raised pond on the left end -- cannot be more than 10 thousand square meters. Usable space on the right half could not possibly be more than 2,500 square meters. If Mojahedin supporters stood tightly one per square meter of that space with their paraphernalia, that would be 2,500 demonstrators. But they were instead moving with their hundreds of flags and banners in a circular pattern while they chanted, leaving the center of the circle nearly empty.

So there could not have been more than 1,800 participants at most (a veteran of Washington antiwar demonstrations estimated the crowd at 900). Is the Mojahedin leadership lying when it claims 15,000 demonstrators?  Can we now trust their strength estimations at their other rallies in the recent past? If they lie on purpose, is that meant to help them milk their supporters for the "campaign contributions" (we used to call that bribery in Iran) that flow abundantly to their "friends" in Congress according to official records? More importantly, was it similar exaggerations of their strength that convinced hundreds, if not thousands, of their impressionable volunteers to rush to their tragic deaths in Operation Forough Javidan in Iranian Kurdistan in1988?

Mojahedin's claim of 15,000 was also refuted by the Capitol Police Chief, in an otherwise favorable report in Saturday's Washington Post.  But Mojahedin's Farsi translation of that report fails to mention the chief's comment. The translation also left out the US State department's explanation to the reporter of the reason Mojahedin were designated a "terrorist organization." (see the translation at ).

As a seasoned observer, I have no doubt that many tens of thousands of dollars were spent to stage the November 19 event. To that you must add the cost of airfare and hotel (not cheap in this city) for hundreds of "warm bodies" to attend. A dozen participants who I talked to had all traveled from faraway places, including three from Europe. Several said they came for the free weekend in Washington. Although presumably several hundred must have been locals, my friends and I did not encounter any.

Ten of us were there to waive oversize "Freedom Yes; Mercenaries No" and "US Hands Off Iran"  placards and be generously photographed and videotaped by the rally organizers. Three of us gave interviews to reporters, but the Washington Post reporter refused to talk to us. See the Post's glowing account of the event at:

It was sloppy journalism when the Post reporter named the "Council for Freedom and Democracy in Iran" and the "Global Coalition Against Fundamentalism" as sponsors of the event, because no such organizations exist anywhere. All the reporter had to do was search the internet for one minute or ask the organizers for the names and addresses of the principals and the size of the membership of these "organizations", and their tax status. By law, the organizers would have to be registered with Justice Department in order to lobby the government as they did. The reporter could also have inquired how a group designated as a "terrorist organization" (officially in the same league as al-Qaeda) could obtain a permit to march in an area where the country's most important leaders are at work.

A high school newspaper editor would have wanted to obtain this information before publishing a report that helps demonize an entire nation, especially if Americans may soon be paying with their dollars and their lives to "civilize" that nation. The Post sent a "general assignment" reporter, according to his bio. This is incredible when Washington Post's own Iran specialist, Robin Wright, wrote two articles just last month to argue that Iran is at the top of the US foreign policy agenda  (see for example ). Couldn't America's second most influential newspaper send a reporter who knows more about US-Iran tensions than his readers do to cover this event ?  

The event organizers were careful not to allow their participants to challenge our small group, as this would have attracted more attention to us. We also remained calm and friendly, even though every one of them who approached us initially suspected us of working for Iran's government. One of them followed us for a little while during the march, stopping to tie his shoelaces every time we stopped. But I was so friendly to him that he gave up and left. My attitude was that many, if not most, in their crowd were well-meaning Iranians and I would do anything not to alienate them more than I had to.

Photo: Carol Moore
One Rajavi fanatic was so incensed at my "Rajavi = Chalabi" placard (a reference to the Iraqi traitor who brought war on his own country last year) that he ranted at me nonstop for 10 minutes to say that my comparison was worse than calling his mother and sister something or other! No less brainwashed were others who insisted they were there not to encourage US aggression on Iran, but to persuade the Bush Administration to stop helping Iran's government!  Bush HELPING Iran??  We must be living on different planets. None could explain to me how their quest for improved "human rights" in Iran explained the 25 foot model missile that accompanied them in downtown Washington. I understood then why Ervand Abrahamian, author of the most authoritative history of Mojahedin said to a New York Times reporter last year, "If Massoud Rajavi got up tomorrow and said the world is flat, his members would accept it."
Something else that was new to me was that every marcher to whom I talked believed that Mojahedin should ally themselves with whoever they can grab to overthrow Iran's government, no questions asked. US warmongers, Likudniks, Israel, whoever. If this is what Mojahedin's supporters believe, I am not surprised the Rajavi mafia became Saddam's mercenary army. I shudder to think how my country will go from bad to worse if these delusional fanatics take over in Iran.  

Lastly, it is interesting that Mojahedin's multiple Farsi websites immediately posted details of what their bought politicians and other allies said at the podium on Friday and what the US media reported. Proclamations and coverage glorifying Mojahedin, but all in Farsi. You think possibly that the text of the same are left out on their English-language websites for a reason?

© Copyright 2004 (All Rights Reserved)