Jebhe Melli Iran, INF, and Religion
A major controversy has emerged since November over the views of Jebhe Melli Iran (JM), religion, and the regime’s repression and threats against members of the JM and the Iran National Front-Organizations Abroad (INF).
1. Historical Context
JM was established in 1949 by Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and other pro-democracy activists. Dr. Mossadegh had stated that there are two primary principles for joining the JM: (1) “esteghlal” and (2) “azadi.” The first one refers to a belief in independence for Iran, and the second a commitment for liberty. Our demand for esteghlal was against the puppet (nokar) nature of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s regime. From the get go, the Shah went to the British and Americans and told them that if they supported him becoming absolute monarch, he would protect their interests in Iran. The Shah helped undermine Iran’s sovereignty and helped the de facto colonial subjugation of Iran to the U.K. and the U.S. The Shah also created a terribly fascistic dictatorial regime. The demand for azadi was the short term for democracy, freedom, and human rights.
For scholarly works relying upon the documents declassified from the British and American archives showing how the Shah was a total puppet of the U.K. and the U.S.
JM and INF are organizationally independent from each other. Members of JM in Iran decide what the policies of JM should be. Members of the INF who reside outside Iran decide what the policies of the INF should be. JM is not responsible for the policies of the INF; and the INF is not responsible for the policies of the JM. JM does not speak for us; and we do not speak for JM. There are, of course, personal relationships among members of JM and INF. We do, however, express our opinions and help each other.
Over the years, both JM and INF have further elaborated our principles and conditions for membership in our charters, platforms, and bylaws. Both JM and INF have stated explicitly that we believe in the separation of religion and the state. JM and INF respect all religions and the rights of all Iranians to believe in any and all their religious and metaphysical beliefs. In other words, for us, religion is a private matter. To become a member of JM or INF, one has to accept our principles. In our actual history, we have proven our commitments to our principles. We have had and continue to have members who are Shia, Sunni, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, agnostic, or atheist. JM has had members who were clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Abolfazl Zanjani, Ayatollah Reza Zanjani, and Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani as well as atheists such as Khalil Maleki (leader of Niroyeh Sevvom or Third Force, a Marxian group that advocated independence for Iran, as well as democracy and civil liberties), and Dr. Masoud Hejazi (leader of the Socialist Party of Iran, a democratic socialist party).
Hojatolislam Falsafi was a right-wing anti-Bahai cleric and within the clerical network of Ayatollah Behbahani and Grand Ayatollah Brujerdi. One day, Falsafi came to see Dr. Mossadegh when he was prime minister. Falsafi told Mossadegh that Bahais were becoming too influential and that the prime minister should pursue policies that would contain and restrict their activities. Dr. Mossadegh laughed at him and told him that from where he is sitting (i.e., as the Prime Minister of the country), ALL Iranians are the same. In his memoire, Falsafi describes his shock at Mossadegh’s statement. Falsafi (along with Ayatollah Behbahani as well as the Fadaian Islam) was a strong supporter of the August 1953 coup against Mossadegh. The CIA states in its official history that the CIA had organized these right-wing Islamic forces against Mossadegh during the 1953 coup. After the coup, the Shah rewarded these forces with allowing Falsafi radio programs where he gave numerous sermons and talks against the Bahais. The Shah also allowed them to destroy some Bahai holy places. Falsafi in 1963 switched sides and supported Khomeini, and again in 1979 sided with Khomeini.
When a vacancy had occurred for the chief of the Treasury in the Azerbaijan province, the Treasury during Mossadegh’s premiership chose a Jewish Iranian to take that position. The bazaaris in Tabriz were not happy and they sent the pro-Mosssadegh cleric in Tabriz to come to Tehran and talk to Mossadegh and ask that he fires the person (see the long statement in 13 below). Dr. Mossadegh listens carefully to the cleric, and then responds that the person chosen is honest, patriotic, and competent man. His religion is his private personal matter and not relevant to his job. Mossadegh keeps the Jewish Iranian official as the highest ranking official at the Treasury in Tabriz.
It is interesting to note that due to our adherence to secularism (separation of religion and the state), we have been attacked by both the Shah’s regime and the fundamentalist regime. For example, one of the charges against Dr. Mossadegh in the trial after the coup in 1953-54, was apostasy (“ertedad”). Again, in 1981, after JM officially opposed the fundamentalist regime’s “Ghanon Ghesas” (Bill of Retribution), which would make shariah the legal code of Iran, JM issued a detailed study strongly condemning it as reactionary, against human rights, inhumane, and patriarchal. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling JM “mortad” (apostate) and called Mossadegh an apostate.
For a brief history of JM and INF and other factions of the National Front see:
On the role of JM during the revolution, 1977-1981, see:
2. In November 2014, Dr. Mohammad Ali Mehrasa, wrote an article on Ashura and Imam Hussein. Dr. Mehrasa was born into a Sunni Kurd family. He is now atheist. He has been a member of JM and INF. He is currently a member of INF.
Dr. Mehrasa’s article combines historical evidence and logical arguments, while using insulting and derogatory terms and phrases. The style and tone is similar to what is called “New Atheists” (e.g., Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins). Another Iranian that may be classified as New Atheist is Bahram Moshiri.
One may agree or disagree with Dr. Mehrasa’s tone and language; however, he asks pertinent questions about religion. For the record, I strongly disagree with the tone and language in Dr. Mehrasa’ article and those by other New Atheists. I think it would be much more effective to make one’s arguments in civil and polite language. I also disagree with the New Atheists that all religious people are morons and reactionaries. Ayatollah Taleghani, for example, was a thoughtful, decent, and democratic man who fought bravely against both the Shah’s dictatorship and Khomeini’s fascistic tyranny.
3. INF has an official site. This site only publishes our official statements. It is:
The U.S. branch of INF also has its own site. This site, in addition to our official statements, also publishes views of many others who may or may not be members of INF. The site may not agree with many of such opinion pieces, but publishes them to allow debate on the subject matter. This site is:
The opinion section of this site, published Dr. Mehrasa’s article. The editor of the site, did not read the article and published it. Two days later, the article was removed after several persons called the editor and told him that the content might be considered insulting to Shia beliefs.
Dr. Homayun Mehmaneche, who is one of the leaders of the INF, is the spokesperson and a member of the editorial board of the pro-democracy website http://melliun.org/ .
This site publishes views of various Mossadeghi and other pro-democracy groups and activists.
4. Then a group inside Iran issued a threat to INF site for Dr. Mehrasa’s article. And threatened to hack the site (although by this time, the article had already been removed from the site).
5. Then Shariatmadari’s Kayhan publishes a bunch of lies and vicious attacks on JM and INF. The Kayhan, which is closely associated with Supreme Leader, the IRGC’s Intelligence, and the Ministry of Intelligence, makes threats against members of JM and INF.
6. At the same time, Ministry of Intelligence makes threats and puts pressure on Mr. Adib Boroumand, JM’s top leader inside Iran to condemn the article.
7. The internet site of the U.S. branch of INF, was hacked and destroyed. The editor of the site believes that the attack must have been organized by the hackers from IRGC Intelligence or the Ministry of Intelligence. The site was fixed. Then, several days later, again, the site was attacked. Currently the site is down and will be started again after moving it to a more secure server. Dr. Mehrasa’ article has been published on a number of sites. Some sites have kept the article, while some others deleted it later on after there were threats made by the fundamentalist regime ruling Iran. What is interesting is that no other site has been attacked or hacked. ONLY the site of the U.S. branch of INF has been attacked!!!!!!
8. Mr. Adib Boroumand issues a (personal) letter criticizing Dr. Mehrasa’s article. He also makes several statements on the role of Shia religion and its relationship with Iranian nationalism and JM. Mr. Boroumand, who is in his 90s, has been a member of the JM from 1949. He is a poet, and his specialty is Ferdowsi.
9. Several opportunists immediately attack Mr. Boroumand and JM.
These opportunists include Shokoh Mirzadegi and Esmail Nooriala.
It is necessary to note that we fully respect the rights of anyone to criticize us. Actually, we welcome criticism. For example, the website http://melliun.org/ has republished many criticism of us, including the criticism by Dr. Abdolsattar Doshoki on this very subject.
Also Mr. Mohammad Amini has criticized Mr. Boroumand. Although we disagree with many of Mr. Amini’s views and analyses, we respect him as a decent, honest, thoughtful, pro-democracy thinker and activist. I am happy that he retracted his earlier negative and insulting words for Mr. Boroumand.
There is also a group of opportunists within JM that took advantage of the opportunity to attack and undermine Mr. Boroumand. This group is led by Koroush Zaim and includes Ashkan Razavi and Behrooz Ghassemi. Bijan Mehr (who lives in the U.S.) is part of this group. Several years ago, Razavi published many articles using ugly language insulting Mr. Boroumand and (falsely) accusing him of collaborating with the Ministry of Intelligence. Using the same tactic, Behrooz Ghassemi wrote an ugly article insulting and (falsely) accusing Dr. Hussein Mousavian (who is the Head of the Executive Committee of JM and the number 2 leader in JM) as collaborating with the Ministry of Intelligence. Bijan Mehr has been using the same ugly and disgusting tactic of using weird insults against the leaders of INF in the past several years. For many years, Mr. Zaim has been trying to get rid of Mr. Boroumand so that he can become the leader of JM. We in the INF have defended the integrity of Mr. Boroumand and Dr. Mousavian. By using the ugly tactic of lying and throwing mud at the leaders of JM and INF, Mr. Zaim and his gang want to take over the leadership of the JM inside. Bijan Mehr had joined INF (circa 2002-03) and was trying to take over our group, but failed; he resigned before we would expel him (around 2003-04). At the same time, Bijan Mehr had joined a group with Mr. Reza Mohajerinejad. The groups was doing fantastic work organizing young people in the U.S. and exposing human rights violations of the fundamentalist regime. However, shortly after Bijan Mehr joined Mohajerinejad’s group, the group collapsed. A little after that, Bijan Mehr joined a group under the leadership of Dr. Hassan Masali. Again, soon after Bijan Mehr joined this group, this group collapsed as well. While (for about 1 year and half) Bijan Mehr was a member of INF, he was also working with another faction under the leadership of the late Dr. Ahmad Madani. That group does not appear to exist anymore.
Bijan Mehr runs the following site: http://jebhe.info/
The only group that Bijan Mehr has joined and which was not destroyed shortly thereafter is the INF.
10. We, in the INF, issue two statements. We clearly state that many of the statements that Mr. Boroumand made are simply false (both historically and our current policies and practices).
We also state our support for Mr. Boroumand.
11. Mr. Boroumand issues a second letter. He writes that he was wrong in his earlier letter and retracts his earlier statements.
12. One of our members, Dr. Mohsen Ghaemmagham, writes an article that explains JM and INF’s positions in regards to religion and the state.
In my opinion, this is the best article on the whole episode.
13. Another faction of the National Front in Europe (close friends of ours), also publishes a communique stating many factual errors in Mr. Boroumand’s letter.
The same faction also issued a longer statement correcting some of the historical errors in Mr. Boroumand’s assertions:
14. Other JM members also help clarify the situation.
15. In conclusion, JM and INF strongly believe in the separation of religion and the state. We have members who hold a variety of religious beliefs. We consider religion to be a private matter. JM and INF do not engage in inquisition of our members (or anyone else) about their religious views. JM has been Iran’s main pro-democracy, secular political organization (coalition of parties and individuals) since 1949. We have paid a heavy price for our promotion of democracy and secularism, and we will do so until we help establish a democratic secular republic in our beloved Iran.
Moreover, JM has also been promoting pluralism in our principles and practice: we oppose any and all discriminations against any Iranian due to his or her ethnicity. We have had and continue to have members who are Persian, Azari, Gilak, Kurd, etc.
In addition, JM has always promoted de jure equality for women. JM was the first political party that when in power proposed a bill that gave women the right to vote (which was one of the main reason that Ayatollah Kashani broke from us and began siding with the Shah and then the CIA coup in 1953).
Last but not the least, we have had and continue to have ideological pluralism. Overwhelming majority of our members have been liberal democrats and social democrats of Hezb Iran (Iran Party). Also we have had and continue to have laisse faire neo-liberals (e.g., Dr. Mehrdad Arfazadeh and his supporters), pan-Iranist nationalists (Dariush Forouhar’s Iran Nation Party), democratic socialists (e.g., Khalil Maleki’s Third Force, and the Socialist Party of Dr. Masoud Hejazi), and Hezb Mardom Iran (a moderninst Islamist party that wants to combine democracy, socialism, and Islam, and among whose members were Dr. Ali Shariati and Dr. Razi). JM and INF reflect the beautiful rainbow of diversity of our people. It has been a model where Iranians of diverse backgrounds cooperate to bring independence, democracy, freedom, modernity, and prosperity to Iran. It is this model that frightens the fundamentalist terrorist regime (and other dictatorial forces such as monarchists and Stalinists) who have targeted us for repression, insults, and attacks.
Mr. Boroumand made several mistakes in his letters. We are all human beings and all of us have and will make mistakes. He had the courage to correct many of his earlier errors. It is much easier for those of us who live in safety outside Iran than those who live under the genocidal terrorism regime in Iran to exercise our freedom of expression. Mr. Boroumand is a brave man who has continued his resistance inside Iran.
JM struggles to help establish democracy, civil liberties, pluralism, secularism, and human rights in Iran. JM has been and continues to be the best organization to bring a transition to democracy in Iran. We have and we will make mistakes. And we learn from our errors. We will not allow the fundamentalist terrorist regime and opportunists to destroy Iran’s best hope for democracy.
Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D.
Masoud Kazemzadeh has served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the U.S. branch of INF as well as member of its Central Committee. He is also Associate Professor of political science at Sam Houston State University.