Report on the FECRIS Conference
The FECRIS Conference provides a forum for the worlds leading experts in cultic abuse to meet and talk and to share ideas, knowledge and experiences. The Conference is a safe place for researchers, practitioners, campaigners and support groups to mingle with former cult members and families of people who remain trapped in cultic relationships. The value of this unique forum was acknowledged by the board during the AGM.
After several years as Chairman of FECRIS, Tom Sackville retired and was replaced by Danile Muller-Tulli. Good wishes to Danile for success in this important role.
The theme of this years Conference which was hosted in Marseille by GEMPPI, was Deliberately Planned and Encouraged Confusion Between Cults and Religion. Serge Blisko, President of MIVILUDES, presented the opening speech which outlined this subject. He said that the widespread use of exploitative cultic abuse undermines democratic institutions and social functions. Those who employ these methods deflect criticism by claiming that their critics want to deprive them of freedom of belief or that they are not accorded proper status as religions. Blisko also talked about the growing problem of religious terrorism and its links to cultic behaviour.
Anne Khodabandeh, representative of The Family Survival Trust, was in a unique position to brief M. Blisko and the audience about this issue. She explained that it is possible to construct a model for describing and analysing the use of cultic abuse by terrorist entities without mentioning religion. Anne then went on to describe the deceptive recruitment and brainwashing methods used by terrorist groups and said that from her fifteen years as an activist in this field she was able to suggest solutions to tackle this phenomenon. This briefing was greeted enthusiastically by M. Blisko and the audience.
There were several informative and interesting talks and also first-hand testimonies. Some stood out as particularly interesting. Pierre Le Coz Director of the Department of Social Science at the Faculty of Medicine, University Aix-Marseilles, gave a fascinating presentation in which he described step by step how individuals can be brought under the influence of a manipulator using specific psychological techniques.
In contrast, Alexey Voat a researcher from Moscow, gave a very pertinent presentation on the Aum Shinriyo cults use of the internet for deceptive recruitment. Voat had undertaken to act as a recruit to delve deep inside the cults workings. His revelations were instructive for understanding any other cultic recruitment over the internet.
Olivier Faelens, President of SAS Seckten from Belgium, inspired the audience with his advice on how to avoid false arguments presented by groups such as The Church of Scientology, with its continual demands for debate on the subject of whether or not it is a true religion. The real issue, said Faelens, is the internal harmful practices. It is these we must insist on addressing when debating cultic abuse.
Anne Edelstam, journalist, talked about Fundamentalism. She described the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and how in spite of the peoples revolution, its creation of alternative social structures dedicated to the reintroduction of fundamentalist strictures on society still have the potential to undermine the countrys democratic processes.
Finally, leading cult expert Janja Lalich explored the struggle for justice in the American legal system. She described several case studies and talked about her own experience as an expert witness and how the cults deliberately exploit ignorance and misconceptions regarding cultic abuse. This talk linked the various issues raised in previous speeches with the subject of the Conference: Deliberately Planned and Encouraged Confusion Between Cults and Religion.
During the Conference the audience participated with lively and informative questions and discussions at various points in the day. A light lunch was served al Fresco in a convivial atmosphere. The host association GEMPPI is to be congratulated on the success of the Conference. The simultaneous translators are appreciated for their hard work in bringing the full content of the speeches and interjections to all the audience. The new Chair of FECRIS, Danile Muller-Tulli closed the Conference and thanked the outgoing Chairman Tom Sackville in his absence for all his hard work.
[Note: FECRIS – European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects – created in 1994, serves as an umbrella organisation for associations which defend cult victims in more than 30 countries, including 5 non-European organisations. FECRIS is active at an international level with representation at the UN (ECOSOC).]
Fundamentalism to Religious Violence
Special Meeting of the Family Survival Trust. The University Women’s Club, Audley Square, Mayfair, London.
Speaker: Professor Stephen Kent, University of Alberta, Canada
Introduced by Tom Sackville (Chair), Audrey Chaytor (Trustee and Organiser) and Anne Khodabandeh (Trustee)
The Family Survival Trust Special Meeting was introduced by its Chairman Tom Sackville. The charity is fortunate to benefit from Tom’s invaluable political skills – having served as a Home Office minister. His charming and effective leadership has ensured that the charity has maintained a leading and significant voice on the issue of cultic abuse for many years.
The Special Meeting was organised by Audrey Chaytor, who has supported and helped families and individuals affected by cultic abuse for three decades. Her uncompromising quest to help them understand and deal with the mechanics of what is known by experts and lay people alike as brainwashing, inspired her to arrange this talk by the Guest Speaker, Professor Stephen Kent. As a highly respected academic from the University of Alberta, Canada, Stephen’s thorough research and talks have, over many years, provided valuable information and insights in the field of cultic abuse. This talk, titled ‘Fundamentalism to Religious Violence’ was very well attended and this current and controversial subject attracted many newcomers.
Anne Khodabandeh, a Trustee of the FST charity, first introduced herself as a former member of a foreign terrorist group with fifteen years expertise of activism in the field of cultic abuse and terrorism. She then spoke about the approach of the Family Survival Trust to the issue of religious violence.
“I am here today as a Trustee of the Family Survival Trust charity. As such, I need not remind anyone that the role of all cult awareness and support groups is not to tackle terrorism. That is the role of government. Terrorism is a very serious issue.
However, the reason Steve Kent’s talk today is so valuable, is to help us understand and engage with the use of cultic methodology in the recruitment and training of terrorists.
As a charity, the FST will develop the necessary knowledge as well as the courage to take this forward into the valuable and much needed role of supporting affected families.”
Addressing the audience, Anne continued, “Beyond this, as informed and concerned citizens, we all can play a part in lobbying government to educate young people about the dangers of deceptive recruitment, and to develop an effective exit strategy for terrorists who leave the field to return home. While they rightly may face legal prosecution for criminal acts, we need the help of their families and communities to reintegrate them back into a normal life.”
Steven Kent’s talk focused on the manifestation of religious violence among various religious groups. He examined the influence of fundamentalist interpretations of sacred texts from the Jewish old testament to the Muslim Qoran to explain the different types of violence adopted by various groups.
He gave an example of Buddhist monks protesting Chinese occupation in the 1950s who chose to self-immolate as the maximalist position of their religious beliefs. This was compared to the current manifestation of Islamicist violence perpetrated by ISIS which chooses to behead victims by selectively referring to passages in the Qoran – almost as a fashion.
A lively discussion followed. In particular the issue of Muslim dress code was raised in terms of the adoption of the Niqab by western middle class educated Muslim women. Anne Khodabandeh explained the structure of terrorist organisation by using the ‘onion’ analogy. At the core of the onion are the suicide bombers and beheaders, these are surrounded by financiers, logistics and arms suppliers, but beyond that are layers and layers of people not identified as terrorists but who support and hide the innermost activities. Some do this by creating diversionary issues like provocative dress. But, the oppression of women is common to all religions and cultures and should be properly addressed as a cultural issue rather than detract from the central question. The urgent central issue that needs to be addressed is: how the civilians at the heart of this ‘onion’ are subjected to the psychological manipulation that turns them into killers. It is these mechanisms which lie at the heart of terrorism rather than the interpretation of religious texts.
Professor Kent confirmed the use of brainwashing as a controlling and organising tool in violent religious groups.
The FST extends its warmest thanks to our Guest Speaker, Professor Stephen Kent, and to all the people who participated in the Special Meeting.