By Mohammad-Ali Tofighi, Rooz Online
Basij Depiction by Iran's Green Opposition Movement
The remarks of general Ezatollah Zarghami, the head of Iran's
state-run radio and television network on Sunday during a ceremony to introduce
the head of the Basij center at the broadcasting network are noteworthy.
Pointing to the activities of the Basij during the widespread peaceful protests
against the electoral fraud committed during the tenth presidential elections in
Iran in June 2009, Zarghami said, "The Basij was fully present during the
sedition period and used everything at its disposal. It was present even during
the street fighting and was forced to battle with sticks and batons." Sedition
is the term Iranian officials and leaders use to describe the widespread public
protests that erupted after the announcement of the results of the fraudulent
presidential elections in 2009. Images of those event that have been published
in fact do demonstrate uniformed Basij militia personnel facing ordinary people.
"After the 2009 events, one of the policies of the Basij has been to rebuild its
public image," he revealed.
Basij militia attacking University of Tehran - June 2009.
This should be viewed as the first time officials of the
Islamic republic have formally presented the nature and extent of the presence
of the Basij militia in the violent suppression of demonstrators after the
presidential election, thus confirming its active intervention in the turmoil.
In the past, officials had made vague remarks about the effective role of the
Basij in "confronting" the protests which had also been acknowledged and praised
by Iran's supreme leader and most military commanders, but the words that were
used to describe the role of the force were very general such as impromptu role,
attentive heroism, etc. The pro-government media has been presenting the Basij
as innocent volunteers who put their life on line to defend the Islamic
revolution and who were attacked by mobs, some of whom were even martyred. There
has never been any talk or writing of specifically how the Basij intervened in
the events, a situation that was justified on security grounds.
Ayatollah Khamenei accuses opposition
Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of Tehran's
thousands of Basij militia members that election protesters of 2009
put their desire for power above the interests of the country.
While Mr. Zarghami's remarks certainly do not arise out of his
desire to expose the Basij, it appears that his words are really a faux pas in
communications. But whatever the reason, his remarks reveal the true aggressive
actions of the militia force in suppressing the massive protests, using both
lethal and non-lethal weapons against defenseless people, something that until
today had been denied by officials.
Of course the other key question that comes up after the descriptions offered by
Zarghami are why does the Basij need to rebuild its public image in the first
place? If, as the government claims, the Basij was in fact a popular force that
came to the streets to confront a diverted force, it would have certainly been
welcomed and loved by the public, not require any rebuilding efforts.
What has been happening to the voluntary Basij force which during the 8-year
Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s attracted masses of people who voluntarily joined it
to defend the homeland against invasion, and whose members remained respected
and even revered after the war, while today the group needs a facelift to
improve its public image?
Basij attacking protesters in Tehran on December 27, 2009
One must admit that the two Basij's have no resemblance to
each other. Starting from the end of Mohammad Khatami's presidency around 2000,
the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which had set its eyes on
increasing its role in Iranian politics, restructured and expanded the Basij
force into every aspect of Iranian social life ranging from the bazaar to the
universities, schools, villages, etc and turned this organization which was the
primary recruiter of combatants for the war into a military party. Today Basij
bases are present in all neighborhoods, offices, universities, government and
private institutions of the country, in contrast to once being present only in
the mosques where they signed up volunteers for the war. Today, in addition to
being places where clerical Islam is taught, Basij bases are also feverishly
active in publicizing the ruling ideology and presenting a dictatorial narrative
of the religious leader, thus fully turning into a political party. And because
of its centralized and para-military hierarchy, its profit motif, possessing a
truly nation-wide network, and a rapid mobilization capability - particularly in
the absence of other powerful parties in the country, it is now used
operationally for different purposes that range from supporting elections,
suppressing popular protests, or other government programs and goals.
Basij militia beating a protester in Tehran - June 2009
Until the recent post-2009-election events, the transformation
of this organization from a popular and pro-people group to a government entity
was not apparent to the public because the change was gradual in pace, its
operations were never transparent and it had no clear and specific mission after
the war. This changed with the 2009 elections, after which it was given the role
of suppressing peaceful marchers who were demanding to know what had happened to
their votes. The change in its mission and nature was so swift and unexpected
that for a long time it was rumored that it was foreign forces who engaged in
the violent suppressive actions on the streets of Tehran and other cities
against Iranians because no fellow Iranian would do that to his compatriots,
particularly in a regime that declares to be moral and ethical in its views and
Therefore, contrary to Mr. Zarghami's claims that the reasons for the tarnished
image of the Basij lay in the publication of a few photographs that depicted its
members as perpetrators of the most hideous acts, the true reasons for the fall
from grace were the very fascistic actions Basij members engaged in their
efforts to suppress the peaceful demonstrations and their compatriots, and thus
perpetuate the existing religious despotism. But the true situation regarding
the Basij does not escape the head of the largest propaganda organization in the
Islamic republic which is why he speaks of rebuilding its lost image. But can
what has been lost be recovered?
 See Iran's ISNA student news agency
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