The Hostages of Camp Ashraf

Cult-like.  Brainwashed.  Victims of mind control.  Such are the descriptions given of the three thousand-plus residents of Camp Ashraf, where marriages have been banned and male members have been ordered to suppress their attraction to women, all by the orders of the camp's absentee leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.

The declared purpose of Camp Ashraf -- to serve as a headquarters for the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., and to start another revolution -- came as a welcome opportunity for Rajavi's suggestible supporters.  Lost on them, however, in their blind faith to the charismatic Rajavi was the irony of wanting to bring down the very person they originally fought to put into power (Ayatollah Khomeini), so that they could then put yet another potential despot into power -- Massoud Rajavi.

The price Rajavi charged for admission to Camp Ashraf was a complete surrender to the cause.  Members had to relinquish their pasts, their current lives, and whatever hold they had on their tenuous futures.

And now, after enduring 25 years of manipulative tactics to keep their minds and hearts suppressed, the residents of Camp Ashraf face imminent danger.  In 2003, U.S. troops were able to convince them to relinquish their weapons in exchange for U.S. protection.  

Regardless, Iraqi forces have cooperated with the Iranian regime to have the camp attacked several times, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded.  And now the Iraqi government has given a deadline of December 2011 for the residents to evacuate.  With the downfall of Saddam Hussein, who provided Rajavi with financial and military support, they are no longer welcome.  Nor can it be believed that they are any longer relevant to their original cause.  What, after all, can 3,400 unarmed Iranians in their forties possibly do to assist with overthrowing a regime?

The Rajavis, meanwhile, have left the residents to the camp.  Maryam resides comfortably in Paris, and Massoud is in hiding.

What reason, then, for the continued existence of Camp Ashraf?  Why do the Rajavis hang onto their followers in their prison-like enclave, even with the deadline fast approaching?  They understand well that without the camp, the MEK would lose its legitimacy, and so, therefore, would the Rajavis.

 The Rajavis have collected millions of dollars from supporters, yet none of their money has been used to free the people in Camp Ashraf, or, for that matter, to fund any direct attempt to free the people of Iran -- their stated goal.  They have spent millions on legal fees to fight the foreign terrorist designation and on advertisements in major U.S. newspapers naming several U.S. figures as supporters of their delisting, even hiring a top lobbying firm in the U.S. to help them in their efforts.  And yet, where are the ads to promote the freeing of the people in Camp Ashraf?

The Rajavis' goal is to replace the brutal Iranian regime and to be delisted.  Camp Ashraf is their bargaining tool.  They falsely claim that they must be delisted in order to free the camp residents, despite the fact that they were offered several opportunities over the years to be relocated to safe locations outside of Iraq.  Rajavi halted such actions, as he would no longer be able to use the human rights issue as a scapegoat to elicit sympathy.  It is in his best interests to keep the residents in harm's way, as this is his key to accessing and manipulating U.S. politicians and the American public.

The camp is currently surrounded by tanks and Iraqi military forces; residents fear another attack prior to the December deadline.  But the looming possibility of a full-blown massacre or mass suicide has given Massoud Rajavi yet another opportunity to further his personal agenda.

The Iranian community needs to consider making an effort to unshackle the minds of MEK supporters through forgiveness and education about the consequences of thought reform.  As a clinical psychologist, I know that no one is immune to the kind of manipulation executed by Massoud Rajavi.  The genocide committed by the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda exemplifies the depth of our susceptibility to influence.  Families that were close neighbors, who for years cared for each other's children, were suddenly brutally murdering each other because of a message they received from an authoritarian leader.

Since the residents of Camp Ashraf have a diminished capacity to grasp their circumstances, the international community must protect their lives by demanding their immediate relocation, and defying the wishes of Massoud Rajavi to keep his hostages there for his own self-interest.

For the long-term future of Iran as well as the short-term future of the 3,400 lives in Camp Ashraf, the stakes are the same.  Will it be freedom, or tragedy?

Renee C. Behinfar is a licensed clinical psychologist and Iranian-American human rights activist.

Cult-like.  Brainwashed.  Victims of mind control.  Such are the descriptions given of the three thousand-plus residents of Camp Ashraf, where marriages have been banned and male members have been ordered to suppress their attraction to women, all by the orders of the camp's absentee leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.

The declared purpose of Camp Ashraf -- to serve as a headquarters for the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., and to start another revolution -- came as a welcome opportunity for Rajavi's suggestible supporters.  Lost on them, however, in their blind faith to the charismatic Rajavi was the irony of wanting to bring down the very person they originally fought to put into power (Ayatollah Khomeini), so that they could then put yet another potential despot into power -- Massoud Rajavi.

The price Rajavi charged for admission to Camp Ashraf was a complete surrender to the cause.  Members had to relinquish their pasts, their current lives, and whatever hold they had on their tenuous futures.

And now, after enduring 25 years of manipulative tactics to keep their minds and hearts suppressed, the residents of Camp Ashraf face imminent danger.  In 2003, U.S. troops were able to convince them to relinquish their weapons in exchange for U.S. protection.  

Regardless, Iraqi forces have cooperated with the Iranian regime to have the camp attacked several times, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded.  And now the Iraqi government has given a deadline of December 2011 for the residents to evacuate.  With the downfall of Saddam Hussein, who provided Rajavi with financial and military support, they are no longer welcome.  Nor can it be believed that they are any longer relevant to their original cause.  What, after all, can 3,400 unarmed Iranians in their forties possibly do to assist with overthrowing a regime?

The Rajavis, meanwhile, have left the residents to the camp.  Maryam resides comfortably in Paris, and Massoud is in hiding.

What reason, then, for the continued existence of Camp Ashraf?  Why do the Rajavis hang onto their followers in their prison-like enclave, even with the deadline fast approaching?  They understand well that without the camp, the MEK would lose its legitimacy, and so, therefore, would the Rajavis.

 The Rajavis have collected millions of dollars from supporters, yet none of their money has been used to free the people in Camp Ashraf, or, for that matter, to fund any direct attempt to free the people of Iran -- their stated goal.  They have spent millions on legal fees to fight the foreign terrorist designation and on advertisements in major U.S. newspapers naming several U.S. figures as supporters of their delisting, even hiring a top lobbying firm in the U.S. to help them in their efforts.  And yet, where are the ads to promote the freeing of the people in Camp Ashraf?

The Rajavis' goal is to replace the brutal Iranian regime and to be delisted.  Camp Ashraf is their bargaining tool.  They falsely claim that they must be delisted in order to free the camp residents, despite the fact that they were offered several opportunities over the years to be relocated to safe locations outside of Iraq.  Rajavi halted such actions, as he would no longer be able to use the human rights issue as a scapegoat to elicit sympathy.  It is in his best interests to keep the residents in harm's way, as this is his key to accessing and manipulating U.S. politicians and the American public.

The camp is currently surrounded by tanks and Iraqi military forces; residents fear another attack prior to the December deadline.  But the looming possibility of a full-blown massacre or mass suicide has given Massoud Rajavi yet another opportunity to further his personal agenda.

The Iranian community needs to consider making an effort to unshackle the minds of MEK supporters through forgiveness and education about the consequences of thought reform.  As a clinical psychologist, I know that no one is immune to the kind of manipulation executed by Massoud Rajavi.  The genocide committed by the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda exemplifies the depth of our susceptibility to influence.  Families that were close neighbors, who for years cared for each other's children, were suddenly brutally murdering each other because of a message they received from an authoritarian leader.

Since the residents of Camp Ashraf have a diminished capacity to grasp their circumstances, the international community must protect their lives by demanding their immediate relocation, and defying the wishes of Massoud Rajavi to keep his hostages there for his own self-interest.

For the long-term future of Iran as well as the short-term future of the 3,400 lives in Camp Ashraf, the stakes are the same.  Will it be freedom, or tragedy?

Renee C. Behinfar is a licensed clinical psychologist and Iranian-American human rights activist.

RECENT VIDEOS