Michael Rubin's fury against the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) has turned into a tragicomedy. The comedy: Rubin is Johnny One Note, rebroadcasting the same show tunes against the MEK. The tragedy: The Washington Examiner and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are enabling this "scholar's" sheer lies and fabrications that are meant to dehumanize Iran's largest opposition as a "cult."
Regrettably both institutions allow Rubin to violate the fundamentals of fairness and professionalism - even if he disagrees with the MEK - and ignore the deleterious effects of his slipshod performance on their reputation. AEI should reintroduce Rubin to the basics of thoughtful scholarship while inhibiting his compulsion to engage in lackluster propaganda.
Rubin's juvenile accusation that the thousands of respected dignitaries who support the MEK, including former AEI scholars and the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, are in it simply for the money is unethical, particularly as he dodges questions about his own financial scandals. If people could be bought so easily, based on Mr. Rubin's own zest for "honoraria," he would have topped the MEK's imaginary payment list!
Mr. Rubin argues that his "neoconservative ex-Bush administration Iran hawk" credentials prove he cannot possibly be aligned with the mullahs. This is fallacious. Iranian exile Mehrdad Arefani branded himself as a militant atheist in Europe and wrote extensively against the ayatollahs for 20 years. But in 2018, European authorities unmasked Arefani as a secret agent for the mullahs working to bomb the summit by MEK’s parent organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). He had accepted "honoraria" amounting to over 220,000 Euros.
Rubin is a media darling in Iran for a reason. I have already listed the dizzying number of times he has been featured. In April 2022, he made the front page of Ali Khamenei's mouthpiece Kayhan. It remains a mystery how an "Iran hawk" can earn a top spot among the anti-Semitic mullahs' favorite "experts." This is while any scholar or politician who has spoken out against the regime has ended up on its blacklist.
Rubin cannot trivialize his visits to Iran as "not riveting" or categorize reference to them as an MEK "diversion." It is circumstantial evidence germane to his anti-MEK propaganda. So too is his history of propaganda against dissidents in other countries.
What is irrelevant here is his "calls that [MEK] open their books." That is a demand reserved solely for the Iranian people. Made by Rubin, it only serves to expose his neocolonialist pretentiousness. Is Rubin trying to aid and abet the regime by identifying MEK financial backers, some of whom have been arrested or executed in recent months and years?
Rubin is cagy about his Iran visits. He has said: "In 1996, I became one of the first Americans to study in the Islamic Republic of Iran, even as the country chafed under hardline rule." How does a "neoconservative Iran hawk" become one of the first Americans to be trusted with visas - not once but twice - by one of the most anti-American regimes in the world? He was even trusted enough to explore the archives of a notorious IRGC Foundation, a feat never achieved by even trusted Iranian journalists.
In 2013, Rubin told Radio Farda (translated): "My experience in Iran was very positive. I had the opportunity to meet with many Iranian academics in Tehran University." Apparently, he walked down the Yellow Brick Road every day, having been granted unlimited access to the most private thoughts of average folks, who derided The Wicked Witch of the West, the MEK, coincidentally the regime's fiercest opponents.
This is while Rubin contradicted his own account 23 years ago by complaining that the regime's "shadowy handlers" banned him from talking to ordinary citizens. "As for Hissami [one of his handlers] ... he repeatedly ... declared that under no circumstances would we be allowed to travel independently with ordinary Iranians."
The US State Department provided a more non-fictional account of Iran's academic environment, contradicting Rubin's Emerald City, in 1996: "Government informers are said to be common on university campuses. ... To achieve tenure, professors must cooperate with government authorities over a period of years."
It is not surprising that Rubin, aided by his handlers, saw things differently. In reality, universities have been a hotbed of support for the MEK since 1965. According to the State Department, Jafar Kazemi (47), a publisher of academic books at Amir Kabir University, was arrested during the 2009 protests and ultimately executed. Among thousands of other academics supporting the MEK have been the Chancellor of Tehran University, prominent figure Dr. Ahmad Tabatabai who died fighting the Iraqi invasion, Dr. Morteza Shafaei, a popular physician in Isfahan whose entire family was massacred by the regime, and current professors supporting MEK Resistance Units. In 2020, two of the country's most elite students were arrested and are still being tortured for ties to the MEK.
Has Mr. Rubin ever bothered to research these cases?
Rubin's conclusion that the MEK is despised in Iran contradicts AEI guidelines that its "scholars' conclusions are fueled by rigorous, data-driven research and broad-ranging evidence."
First, Mr. Rubin never conducted field research in Iran about the MEK. Second, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Rubin merely cites anecdotes that are entirely insufficient to determine the MEK's popularity in Iran. (In a sign of further bias, he says the public supports a misogynist Shah whose regime was accused of "whipping, breaking fingers one by one, and raping daughters in front of fathers"). So, Rubin's claims do not amount to reliable data-driven analysis.
Rubin is silent about his dealings with Ahmad Chalabi, who acted as an Iranian intelligence agent to pull the US into the Iraq War in 2003. The duo's interests overlapped with Tehran's. The mullahs usually demand anti-MEK propaganda and the duo have complied. Even today, Rubin admits meeting Iranian pilgrims in Iraq, many of whom are suppressive "Basij forces [who walk to Iraq] as a drill to keep them physically and mentally ready for battle."
When it comes to the MEK, Mr. Rubin's actions are completely inconsistent with the conduct of a dispassionate expert interested in the truth. His past as a professional propagandist, his visits to Iran, his alignment with the ayatollahs' narratives, and his common interests with Tehran in Iraq interlock to produce a troubling portrait. All this should be properly examined because it is pertinent to Mr. Rubin's parti pris regarding Iranian politics, and particularly the MEK.