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How Many Basijis Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

A group of Basij members

Nothing is the same in Iran since last year's disputed presidential vote and the crackdown that followed.

Even jokes have changed. Many of the jokes that are popular among Iranians are about Iran's ethnic minorities. In recent months, however, jokes about members of the Basij militia have been gaining popularity.

Some Iranians have suggested replacing the jokes about Iran's ethnic minorities with jokes about members of the Basij, while others have called the new Iranian year that began on March 21 "the year of Basij jokes."

The Basij force played a key role in the postelection crackdown that left behind an unknown number of dead and injured. According to witnesses, Basij members used excessive force against peaceful protesters who demonstrated against the reelection of Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- who, they said, was reelected as the result of massive fraud.

Basij militia attacking University of Tehran - June 2009

Poking fun at the Basij members and telling jokes about them seems to be the reaction of some fun-loving Iranians to the actions of the pro-government forces.

Here are a few of the Basij jokes that are making the rounds:

A Basij member is asked: "Who is God? He responds: "The representative of Iran's Supreme Leader in heaven."

A Basij member is taking part in a Koran reading contest. When he gets to the sura (a chapter of the Koran) of "bani Israel" (the children of Israel), he quits. (The joke refers to the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not recognize Israel.)

A poster by opposition depicting the evolution of Basij

A Basij member is asked what will happen when the hidden Imam reappears (a messianic figure in Shi'ite doctrine.) He responds: "All will do well, people will care about each other, the killings will end, it will be like the time of the Shah." (Many Iranians are nostalgic about the era of the Shah and the era before the 1979 revolution.)

How do you torture a Basij member? You tie him down and tell him they're distributing Sandis (a juice brand) over there. (Food and drinks, including Sandis juices, were reportedly distributed at some pro-government demonstrations, prompting some oppositionists to say participants only came for the refreshments.)

Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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