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Crazy, Cultish and Violent: When I Met an Iranian Terrorist Group

Working on Capitol Hill, it was difficult to avoid supporters of the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, an organization that has killed Americans and Iranians.

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I never did. I knew that MEK supporters took photos at these events and that when a staffer or a Member of Congress showed up, they would  post the photos online as a sign of their growing support.

When I refused to attend, MEK supporters often shouted at me, telling me I should be ashamed for calling myself Iranian. I always loved to see their reaction when I would tell them, “Dude…I am Indian.”

Slowly I saw their influence gaining. The MEK  hired powerful lobbyists,  paid journalists to give lectures in their favor, and  hosted lavish campaign events.

Most of all, they stoked the anti-Iran rhetoric in Congress and told staffers that the MEK is a secular alternative, a voice of human rights that would be friends with Israel if it came to power. They told us they had a special message to deliver on “behalf” of the Iranian people: we want the government overthrown. I do not know what was more chilling—their message of regime change or the fact that my colleagues in Congress  believed them.

After my botched outreach event for Amnesty International in 2008, I showed up the following Monday to my office in Washington DC and noticed a large cake with my name on it. I was confused. My birthday was months away.

My boss, a seasoned veteran of the White House and the Hill, told me that she was happy that Amnesty International did not cave in.

“No one likes crazy people,” she reassured me. “No one advances that way in this town.”

I liked that quote. I wrote it down and tacked it to my bulletin board. But as this week’s de-listing of the MEK shows, that is just not true. Sometimes bullies do advance in DC, especially if they are well heeled.

Zahir Janmohamed served as a senior foreign policy aide in US House of Representatives and as the Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. He most recently completed a fellowship at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and he is writing a book about Juhapura, the largest ghetto of Muslims in India. Follow him on Twitter @zahirj

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