Shortly after the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, gave a speech to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and emphasized that the country needed a 20 million-strong army to be able to defend itself against its enemies, particularly the United States.
Iranian sources consider that date the official establishment of the Basij (the name means mobilization). However, the related law was only passed in June 1980.
It states that the purpose of the Basij is “to train and organize all volunteers for encountering any threat and invasion against the accomplishments of the Islamic revolution from inside and outside.”
The law also places the Basij organization under the control of the supreme leader; however, in practice, it has always been supervised by the IRGC.
When Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in September 1980, the ayatollahs faced a challenge in defending the country. They had weakened the country’s military by executing or imprisoning many high-ranking military officers, allegedly for being loyal to the previous regime or being involved in suppressing the revolutionaries.
Under such circumstances, the Basij started to recruit millions of volunteers for the war. Without the contribution of the so-called Basijis, Iran most probably would have lost the war to Saddam’s army.
When the war was over, the IRGC started to use the Basij for staging propaganda events in support of the regime. For instance, when the supreme leader calls for a rally in support of the system or against Western countries, the Basijis are the first on the scene and encourage or even force others to attend.
During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), who attempted some political reforms, Basijis became thugs attacking reformist politicians, journalists, students, or anyone critical of the conservative establishment.
The height of their notoriety was the protests against the re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president in 2009, when they were armed by the IRGC to suppress protesters.
In addition to beating up supporters of the so-called Green Movement and handing them over to security forces, they were also responsible for killing dozens. Their most famous victim was a 26-year-old woman who was shot by a Basiji in June 2009 in downtown Tehran. The video of her tragic death shook the country and the world. Later, a suspect was arrested who carried a Basij identity card.
The Basij also does significant recruitment in schools. The recruits are separated into categories, “Omidan” (Hopes, in elementary schools); “Pouyandegan” (Seekers, in middle schools) and “Pishgaman” (Standard Bearers, in high schools).
Inside The Mind Of Iran’s Basij By Golanz Esfandiari
A Basiji posted the account of his day during the February 2011 protests on his blog, Trench of the Strategic Battle, and we have translated some excerpts:
All my fellow [Basij] had come. Some were on motorbikes. The little and simple equipment of the Basij is more efficient than armies. We put everything in the van and went while chanting: “Ali, Ali” [eds: Shi’a first imam and son in law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammad]. The [Basij members] were all in very good spirits. Someone said, let’s say Salawat [a prayer] for the health of the Hidden Imam. One member said Salawat for the health of Imam Khamenei and the annihilation of the sedition [eds: Green Movement]. Another said Salawat for the guidance of the seditionists.
We reached the [base]. Everything was secret. We were the only one who knew about it, [along with] the locals, cars that were passing by, and finally foreign spies!!! We were supposed to have lunch and wait until they told us where to go. After waiting — which has become routine for the Basij — the commander talked to us and gave us some old advice. When he was about to leave, everyone shouted, “What happened to lunch?!” and at the same moment the deployment order came. After some preparation they started distributing some snacks. I didn’t receive any Sandis and cake, we didn’t even get straws that we could poke into opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi’s eyes. [eds: Snacks and drinks, including Sandis juices, were reportedly distributed at some progovernment demonstrations, prompting the opposition to say participants and Basij members only go to these events for the refreshments.]
The American seditionists in the heart of Iran receive better support than the Basijis. The rioters have a full stomach from U.S. dollars while the nation of Hizbullah is struggling for a piece of bread.
They distributed the little equipment we had. There weren’t enough [helmets], some didn’t get a baton, but there were many additional shields. I put on my hat and took the baton in my right hand. I said to myself [shame on whoever] is hit by my baton.
I was very hungry. The others didn’t seem to be hungry, because of their decency and honor — otherwise no one had had any food. They were satiated from the world, their heart was somewhere else. They were ready to fly. We did our ablution and the order came for us to get in the Toyota. We used the shields for protection all around us and we used a few to cover our heads. Someone started praying for the health of [Khamenei] and then he chanted: “We will give our lives, if the leader orders.” We all repeated. All the people in the neighborhood looked at us and smiled.
We got off somewhere near Haft-e Tir. The [bribed] seditionists became scared. They didn’t dare come face to face with us. They were trying to hide among the people and whenever they could bark out their love of Netanyahu. Our troops crossed the street with firmness and serenity and took their positions. There were also some intangible Basij patrols [eds: he appears to refer to plainclothes agents]. I’m talking about those trendy Basijis. Actually they identified one of the elements of the enemy and arrested him. People expressed [satisfaction]. Some said nasty things and went by.
Here and there some people would gather and chant and then they would escape into the streets. You donkeys, how can you escape from the rule of God? Why do you want to go to hell?
Our mission ended. The cold of February 14 wouldn’t give me a break. I was tired but happy from having accomplished my mission. I felt a cold wind on my face which didn’t let me sleep. I wished the wind would blow on the face of [former President and head of the Assembly of Experts Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani] so he would wake up. Our nation is on a train and it leaves on time. It left behind, at the previous station, Karrubi, [opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi,] and [former President Mohammad Khatami,] and maybe the [next] station will be the turn of others.
It had been eight hours since our important mission to preserve the achievements of the revolution [begun]. Eight hours of sacred defense.
Source » ncr-iran