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 regime itself.
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 articles.
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 the event?
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 truth.
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.
However, the 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 campaigns.
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