By Hamid Yazdan Panah
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, an organization that has made its mark in Iranian and in fact world history since its creation. Many Iranians, including myself, have had the honor of learning from the PMOI, and indeed the PMOI has made incredible contributions to the history of Iran. In commemoration of this anniversary and in order to recognize some of the significant achievements of this organization here are five significant achievements of this organization.
1. Inspiration for the Youth
One of the first things we should remember about this organization is that it started from humble roots, as it was founded by three University students at Tehran University: Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeed Mohsen and Ali-Asghar Badizadegan. Despite significant hardships, including the execution of almost all of its central committee, the PMOI (MEK) emerged stronger than ever when the Shah was overthrown in 1979. In fact, the PMOI was referred to as one of the 3 “pillars” of the revolution by the reactionary clergy due to its broad influence among the youth and because of its impact on the revolution. Following the revolution, the PMOI continued to be headed by young people, in contrast to the clergy, and its egalitarian politics coupled with a progressive interpretation of Islam made it instantly appealing to Iranian youth.
2. Practice Over Preaching
The PMOI immediately distinguished itself from Khomeini and other reactionary clerics in their political ideology and in their progressive actions. Instead of sitting atop a perch and preaching to the masses, the PMOI took to the streets and practiced their vision of Islam and equality. This included grassroots empowerment of communities and disenfranchised groups, including women and workers and other sectors of society that had been excluded politically. This investment galvanized Iran’s political consciousness and spread through the population regardless of a person’s background. PMOI supporters came from all parts of society, and their spirit of honesty, pureness and sacrifice earned them respect from all parts of Iranian society, even from those who were not religious. The PMOI was not interested in preaching down to individuals and occupying positions of power while passing judgement, they were interested in engaging Iranian society from the ground up, in a revolutionary manner.
3. Leading the Way for Women
The PMOI also took the forefront on issues related to gender equality, particularly in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Their push to place women in the forefront of leadership positions was not only ahead of its time, but is particularly important in a region dominated by fundamentalism and misogyny. The empowerment of women, and the desire to put them in a leadership role, even in a military setting, is enough to make the PMOI go down in history as a revolutionary organization. The fact that these ideals stand in direct contrast with misogynistic thugs like ISIS and the mullahs in Iran make it even more important.
4. Independent and Resolute
The PMOI has a long history of standing firm, even against all odds, even when it stands alone. Whether it is in the dungeons of the Shah, or encircled by American troops in Camp Ashraf, there have been many instances over the last 50 years in which the PMOI was beset by enemies and appeared on the verge of collapse. In fact one need only look at many other third world organizations over the past 50 years to see just how quickly and easily they were destroyed, decapitated, or fragmented. In 2003 the PMOI’s base in Ashraf was bombed by American troops, while their outside cadres were arrested in a coordinated effort by numerous governments. Indeed it looked like the organization would not survive intact. Yet not only did they survive, but they thrived, and less than 10 years later they would win multiple court rulings making them the first and only organization in world history to be removed from the terrorist list through legal means. Detractors of the PMOI have long sought to tie them to this government or that foreign power. The fact is that governments and regimes have come and gone, yet the PMOI have remained, and their ability to survive and stay resolute shows that the organization is beholden to no one except its own principles and will.
5. The Power of an Organized Opposition
Many may take the PMOI or its achievements for granted. Yet one need look only at a country like Syria to realize the crucial role played by a well organized and experienced opposition. Whether it was working to expose Khomeini’s crimes in the 1980s, exposing fake moderates in the 1990s, or revealing the regime’s nuclear program in 2002, the PMOI has consistently played a crucial role in confronting the mullahs in Iran. The significant political work the PMOI has undertaken to confront the regime has played an important role for the entire Middle East. The exposing of the nuclear program has not only weakened the regime, but it has put the world on high alert as to the dangers of this program. One need only imagine where Iran and in fact the world would be if there was no one to stand up to Khomeini and this regime. Looking back we can truly see the important role that the PMOI has played in Iran’s and in fact the world’s history.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.