I used to be a fundamentalist

By Vahed Saif, Camp Liberty

23 years ago in Iran I was a die-hard supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini, who depicted himself as the representative of God on Earth and said, “If you die for me you will go to Heaven.” Born in a poor, religious family I had no reason not to believe him. Low culture and poor economic status was one of the main elements that helped his recruiting, and at times it provided basic means that these individuals never had access to. The fundamentalists even described our poverty and hunger as a guarantee of our emancipation in life after death!

I was only 19 and the 1991 Persian Gulf War had just ended when I was enlisted in the Revolutionary Guards and we entered Iraq in a small group to promote Khomeini’s version of Islam. The mission that I was briefed on was to first deliver blows to Khomeini’s dissidents, meaning members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, and thus pursue our ultimate strategy being the occupation of Iraq.

I was a merely a 19-year old young man completely inexperienced in life. Wearing Iraqi Kurdish clothing we entered this country through its northern borders. However, we were defeated by PMOI forces, and I was arrested along with five other members of the squad.

First we thought the PMOI would imprison and torture us, and finally kill us. However, to our surprise they did the exact opposite: they provided us with good food, clothes and a place to sleep. In the first few days I thought this was all a decoy and the torture would begin soon. However, there was no news of any torture. I asked about my future from one of the individuals that provided us with food and other necessities. “What will you do with us?” I asked.

He simply answered, “You and your friends will soon be returned to Iran to go on with your life, but I suggest that you stop supporting Khomeini. He is a dictator, fundamentalist, murderer and one of the most vicious individuals in the history of mankind.”

I asked him, “Why do you call Khomeini a murderer?”

He said, “Do you know that under a fatwa issued by Khomeini to this day more than 90,000 people have been executed in Iran’s prisons? Women who have been raped before being hanged and death-row prisoners whose blood were extracted from their bodies before their sentence was carried out? Aren’t such measures enough to call a person a criminal and murderer?!”

The cement wall of my mind was cracking bit by bit, and little by little I was starting to doubt my own beliefs. In contrast to what Khomeini believed and preached, I had heard from PMOI members that Islam is a religion of love, affection, and tolerance towards others’ beliefs. They were right. I remembered that I had personally heard from Khomeini’s speeches when he said, “We want a caliph to cut off hands, gouge out eyes and lash people…” Khomeini viewed this as the only method of eradicating corruption in the society…

I was surprised at why wasn’t I able to distinguish right from wrong? I truly thought I was blind up to that moment. In our own cities and neighborhoods I had witnessed time and again people being lashed, hanged in public, or having their hands amputated. However, how couldn’t I understand the individual that issues these orders with a smile truly cannot have any understanding of the word “humanity”?

And then the day came when my five friends and I were told “You are now free. Pack your bags to return to Iran with the Red Cross representative.”

I was talking with my closest friend, Ali Akbar, with whom I had been for a long time. We were talking about our past mistakes and new beliefs, and hearing these words was very strange because all in all, I was a person who had opened fire on PMOI members, and now, they were releasing me! I truly thought I was on top of the highest mountain or skyscraper in the world, my brain was literally exploding, and the waves of paradoxes were driving me crazy. My heart was beating faster than ever before, and I knew I was facing a new decision for my future. I must distance myself from the past and start a completely new life. I looked at my friend Ali Akbar and said I will not return to Iran under Khomeini’s rule and I want to stay. The ICRC representative was shocked and again they took me to a room for another interview and the final determination, asking whether I was certain I wanted to do this? I gave them a firm yes as my final answer.

And now I am a proud member of the PMOI, dedicating all my efforts to expose Khomeini’s mentality. He is not the representative of God on Earth, but in fact he very much represents the very Satan on our planet. He was the mixture of barbarism and viciousness that under the name of Islam deceived youths and sent them to their doom in order to merely pursue his own personal objectives.

Currently, it has been nearly two decades that I have been fighting for this cause. Our organization is exposing the Iranian regime’s crimes across the globe, and by holding dozens and hundreds of rallies and demonstrations throughout the world, we are proving that the mullahs don’t represent the Iranian people and know nothing of Islam.

Many years ago the PMOI warned the world the biggest threat lies in Islamic fundamentalism. We had said we must fight against Islamic fundamentalism in all its nature and we had said there is no difference between Sunnis and Shiites in this regard, and they actually rely on one another. Back then no one took us seriously, and the policy of rapprochement and negotiations with the Iranian regime was the priority of all world powers.

It is very unfortunate that the blood of other innocent human beings, such as James Foley, David Heines and Steve Sotloff must be spilled for the world to finally reach this conclusion that we need to stand against fundamentalism. Although I believe just standing against fundamentalism is only the minimum. Religious fundamentalism cannot be annihilated through military strikes. They might be weakened or contained for some time, but they will never be eradicated. Religious fundamentalism is a virus, and a scientific method is needed to confront a virus, such as using an antidote. Yes, the antidote of the virus we now know as religious fundamentalism in the region is an anti-fundamentalist way of thought based on a true and democratic interpretation of Islam. This is exactly what our organization has been busy with for years. But unfortunately, that appeasement policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime that I talked about earlier, and giving in to Tehran’s demands, continues to this very day. Rest assured that this is the main element behind the rise of ISIS-ISIL-Daesh or whatever you want to call it, along with other extremist groups in the region. We can correct a mistake, but we must not allow history repeat itself.

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