As sure as the sun rises, the mullahs
controlling Iran focus daily their ire on the Iranian dissidents and naysayers
around the world who constantly demand freedom and democracy and prove
meddlesome by offering a compelling narrative at odds with their nihilistic
worldview of stringent Islamic extremism that openly embraces violence and
proxies to carry out assassinations and terrorist attacks.
In the past, the Iranian regime simply
resorted to mass murder, mass executions and mass imprisonment to control its
dissenters, especially targeting members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or
MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) who have proven exceptionally resilient in the face of
such efforts at surviving.
More recently, the regime has turned to
the soft power of lobbyists, PR firms and social media to conduct a subtler
–but no less vital role – method of character assassination aimed principally
at the MEK.
It involves the same echo chamber that
was carefully constructed to help pass the Iran nuclear deal by enlisting
supportive academics, well-crafted editorials placed by PR firms and front
groups posing as human rights or social justice organizations.
It included members drawn from various
arms of the Iranian regime’s government, intelligence and academic sectors who
ensconced themselves in American and European institutions including serving as
government staffers and subject matter analysts who were only too willing to
appear on cable news shows.
One recent example was a 6,000-word
missive penned by Arron
Merat in The Guardian in which he almost
verbatim regurgitated the same talking points issued by the Iranian Foreign
Ministry in attacking the MEK for years.
Merat cleverly seeks to couch the
propaganda piece by pulling heart-felt testimonials of abuse from alleged MEK
members who escaped a cult-like group worse than the People’s Temple.
Unfortunately, the truth suffers in
translation when Merat virtually ignores similar comparisons to the Iranian
Accusing the MEK of forcing its members
to stay while ignoring the brutal dictates of the mullahs in Tehran in
enforcing draconian morals codes that subjugate women and place their status
economically and socially at the bottom of Iranian society is akin to blaming
the civil rights movement of the 1960s for causing police to use water hoses
and batons on them while ignoring the brutality of police.
It is also unfathomable how Merat
ignored the latest effort by the Iranian regime to plan a bombing attack
against the MEK and other human rights groups meeting outside of Paris
following the arrest of four suspects – including an unnamed Iranian diplomat –
in Belgium, Germany, and France.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad
Zarif, rejected claims of Iran’s involvement and described the accusations as a
“sinister false flag ploy,” but the reality is that Iran – while claiming to be
only interested in peace – is not-so-secretly planning attacks on foreign soil.
The absence of any of that competing
narrative information belies the troubling truth of the Iranian media blitz
which is how gullible some Western media such as The Guardian are in allowing
their platforms to be used in such a blatant act of Islamic propaganda.
The use of alleged former MEK members in the article
is also disturbing such as the claim by the Mohammads who say their daughter,
Somayeh, is being held against her will in Albania, but the MEK has provided extensive
information about Mostafa Mohammadi acting as an agent of Iran’s notorious
Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), including recent media interview
Somayeh exposing him as an agent and no longer considering him as her father.
The other issue Merat rehashes straight from the
Iranian playbook was the designation of the MEK as a terrorist organization
only to have the designation dropped by the U.S. State Department after
extensive vetting and fact finding revealed little to no factual basis for the
designation in the first-place, but rather demonstrating the uncomfortable
reach of the Iranian lobbying effort deep inside the U.S. government.
The quote Merate
uses by Daniel Benjamin, the former head of the counter-terrorism at the U.S. State Department, is illustrative of the web of sympathetic
ex-officials and academics who are used to bolster the authenticity of these
The most blatant
example is an editorial by Paul Pillar in The National Interest, in which he
extensively quotes Merat’s article in repeating the same false allegations
again the MEK while ignoring any comparisons to the Iranian regime’s conduct.
Pillar for example
decries the MEK’s Paris gathering as a publicity stunt, but never makes mention
of the attempting bombing by the Iranian government. Is it not a notable and
newsworthy fact that the Iranian government is willing to direct government
officials to smuggle in explosives into an European country, transport it
across national boundaries and attempt to kills scores of men, women and
children; the same young people he accuses of being bussed in to fill seats at
To put that in
perspective, someone writes an editorial using dubious sourcing to make false
claims that gets published, which is then requoted extensively by another
editorial as a means of validating those same false claims.
Both are later
shared, tweeted, liked and boosted on social media, including numbers of false-front
profiles notable for the lack of any posts other than those criticizing U.S.
policy, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iranian dissidents and praising Iran’s actions.
These efforts to manipulate U.S. attitudes has resulted in extensive studies by
cybersecurity firms such as FireEye which have pointed out hundreds of these
false profiles needing to be eliminated.
All of this is a
prime example of the “echo chamber” in action and repeated consistently. It’s a
wonder why news organizations haven’t wised up to this nefarious practice and
called these so-called journalists out for the lack of candor, balance and
Another example is
a recent television broadcast essentially making the same claims that Albanian
authorities were regretting the decision to allow MEK refugees resettle there
after being constantly attacked at their camp in Iraq.
Albanian government has consistently been on the record in supporting the
humanitarian cause of resettlement. The fabrications to the contrary smack of
the same ploys to fan xenophobia resulting from the massive exodus of refugees
fleeing the Syrian civil war and sectarian conflict in Iraq.
It’s a naked
attempt to sow dissension where none exists and part of the longer-term
strategy by the Iranian government to try and deny its most ardent opponents
from having any kind of stable base from which to mount its opposition
Merat’s article also takes to task efforts by the MEK
to push its own messaging in the face of the onslaught of coordinated PR and
social media attacks by the Iranian regime through social media, but ignores
the regime’s own extensive troll farms that have plagued social media companies
such as Facebook and Twitter and led them to shut down hundreds of false
accounts linked to the Iranian regime.
The ironies abound aplenty in Merat and Pillar’s articles, but they raise nothing new and merely recycle the same talking points issued almost daily from Tehran that find their way through social media and on news organizations not wary or careful enough to do their own