by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
Allow me to give a summary of my conversations with well-meaning Westerners since at least 9/11.
Everyone: “Ramin, I’m so worried about Iran! I expect US troops to land in Tehran every time I turn on the news!”
Me: “The Basij.”
Everyone: “Ramin, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq – Iran is obviously next!”
Me: “Yawn…the Basij.”
Everyone: “Dubya Bush…no, wait – Barry Obama…no, wait – Trump – they are sure to invade and destroy Iran!”
Me: “So bored…I’d make a pun, but nothing in English rhymes with ‘Basij’!”
Everyone: “Ramin, why am I more worried about Iran than you?! You aren’t taking this seriously!”
Me: “May I please tell you about a group called the Basij?”
And then I allay everyone’s very kind fears for Iran, just like I’m going to do for you….
I’m sure that the few Western capitalist-imperialist analysts who have actually examined the Basij simply shudder when they find out what the Basij’s full name translates to: “Organisation for the Mobilisation of the Oppressed”.
“What the heck…?There’s 10-25 million people are in this group?!”
“Oppressed” has obvious leftist connotations, and I’m sure Western readers will agree that there is absolutely no organisation with such a title and directive in their countries.
Nor one so very popular – the goal has always been to enroll half the country (men and women) in the Basij, in what is reminiscent of the American Revolutionary War ideal of citizen / soldier. Iran has 80 million people, so they have far to go, but I can report that their recruitment efforts are not flagging.
The Basij is a controversial group even inside Iran – there is a sort of love-hate relationship. However, as in all such relationships, the key word there is “love”: if you have just half of that, you have basically already been won over save for a few disputes. Hate-hate relationships – Iran with Zionism, for example – have no chance at reconciliation or compromise.
What’s certain is that during the Iran-Iraq War the Basij were loved for their defense of the country and their sacrifices, and they would be loved again if Iran was invaded tomorrow. Iran won’t be invaded though, because the invading country would lose terribly and overwhelmingly, and this 3-part sub-series on the structure, motivations and tangible realities of the Basij will prove why.
Writing about the Basij for the West is not done without risk on my part: surely there are people in the government who will applaud that I am trying to give an objective account of the Basij – it certainly seems to be the first such account in English. But there may be other Iranians who are not as thrilled that I have chosen such a subject.
This sub-series on the Basij is only to state facts & examine structures, and then to hold up well-known opinions and see how they hold up under such facts. I am not here to defend the Basij – only to explain it.
I think that’s important at this time: there is a lot of ignorance about Iran and many people are playing with fire. When US President Donald Trump has been persuaded to pull out of the JCPOA; when Israel is forced to ramp up their perpetual fear-mongering about Iran to cover up the deaths of over 160 peaceful protesters; when Iran is making equal-partner business overtures to Europe to end their 40 years of cold war and murderous sanctions on Iran…an enormous, mass membership organisation like the Basij simply must play a part in everyone’s equations regarding Iran.
The Basij is a major force in Iran, but they are no mere “militia”: I will shock many by saying that their military power is dwarfed by their cultural, political and even their economic significance. This group has no parallel in Western society – the previous part in this series compared it with the Chinese Communist Party, another deeply misunderstood institution in another country subject to ignorant propaganda efforts.
Bottom line: If I can help end this misunderstanding, people will perhaps realize the difficulties any warring tribe would encounter upon invading Iran.
As far as I am concerned: The beauty of the Basij is in the eye of the beholder. I will maintain my jaundiced, objective, journalist’s view and keep my personal views to myself in order to reveal the true nature of the Basij in this sub-series, which should be an eye-opener for many.
What the heck is the Basij?
Nobody really knows outside Iran….
At the most fundamental level, the Basij is a mass organization which is dedicated to preserving the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, to defend the Iranian People and to work for the success of Iran.
To say that they are “pro-government” is truly redundant or nonsensical: there is no modern country which has a group dedicated to destroying the government which enrolls 12-30% of the nation thanks to government support…and is still a nation. The only political certainly with the Basij is that they are “pro-Iranian political structure”, as I will soon show how their record is mixed regarding which political camp wins the executive or legislative branches.
Two million Basij fought in the Iran-Iraq War, but they are not a military organisation – this explains why when the war ended they were not disbanded, but expanded. They exist to guard the Revolution, serve the State, and serve the People, so they did not run out of work to do just because there was no more war. We now see that the Basij exists primarily as a domestic cultural institution, not a military one.
This fact means that the most important propaganda to wipe away is that the Basij is a “militia” or “paramilitary”. Only a very small percentage of the Basij are armed and involved in military / security operations, and by that I mean – they literally only serve at guard posts or as bodyguards for major public events.
Furthermore, “militia” and “paramilitary” are propaganda terms because the Basij is a pro-state organisation – militias and paramilitary groups are often not under state control, and often opposed to the state. Thus the Basij should be considered like the National Guard in the US or any other reserve force – totally under control of a democratic government. Yes, the Basij can be mobilised quickly in times of war, but in peacetime the Basij reverts to an active cultural and domestic role, unlike the National Guard.
The Basij are also not comparable to Nazi Brownshirts or Italian Blackshirts. The reason for this simple: Iran has a modern, democratic, anti-racist, anti-imperialist & anti-capitalist ideology which is fundamentally different from the fascist, war-mongering, racist, faux-socialist ideology of those two European groups. No such comparison is legitimate in the slightest, and it is fear-mongering anti-Iranian propaganda not based on facts.
Anyway, the Nazi Brownshirts were disbanded long before WWII, and the Italian Blackshirts melted upon invasion & only proved good for imperialist wars in Africa. Because all three of these groups are mass organisations there are some similarities…but this is like saying that “the Conservative Timbuktu Party and the Antarctic Anarchist Party are the same” because they are both political parties. As I showed in the previous part, the Chinese Communist Party is the best comparison: both nations have had modern revolutions which deposed their undemocratic fascists, after all.
Again, the Basij cannot be compared to the anti-Semitic, xenophobic groups of Europe: Europe has a many centuries-old problem with racism, the Holocaust being merely the latest manifestation. Indeed, modern European Islamophobia – the idea that Islamic culture is inferior, negative & dangerous – is just the latest domestically-acceptable manifestation of this historical trend and reality. Iran however is the OPPOSITE of this because their 1979 revolution was openly anti-racist and anti-sectarian. Combined with the fact that Iran has not invaded a country in 300 years, I simply will not countenance the idea that the ideology in which the Basij are inculcated (described in the next part of this series) is similar to the racist, anti-Jewish, imperialist ideology of the 20th century European fascists. Case closed.
When we deny this fear-mongering, it paves the way for realising that the Basij is something totally new, which I term an “apolitical Islamic socialist union NGO“.
An ‘apolitical Islamic socialist union NGO’ seems like a terrible definition
Well, the Basij is a unique (revolutionary) entity – you come up with something that rolls off the tongue!
If the Basij succeeds and its model is copied – like in, say, Venezuela – they will say, “It’s a Venezuelan Basij”, and not “It’s an apolitical religious socialist union NGO” – I certainly agree there.
This is a novel definition, and while it’s not very catchy it does have the virtue of being accurate:
It is “apolitical” for the simple fact that Basij members have mostly voted for the mainstream Principlist (conservative) Party…and then mostly supported the mainstream Reformist Party…and then mostly supported Principlists again, and back and forth, etc. This is both for president and parliament. Therefore, Basij members do not support just one political party in Iran. One might assume Baisji are all conservative supporters, but their voting record clearly disproves that assumption. Because this is a mass organization whose only criteria is to support the principles and structures created by 1979, members are obviously drawn from all parts of society and all parts of the political spectrum. Above all, and very often openly and loudly, the Basij are devoted to the post of the Supreme Leader and say they follow his orders; this post was created to embody the moral, religious and political ideals of Iran and the 1979 Revolution – the Supreme Leader is not a mere, transitory “president”, and a good description of his primary political role is that of unifier of the different political camps. This is why I call the Basij “apolitical”.
I think the word “Islamic” could easily be removed from this definition – there are Christians, Zoroastrians and others in the Basij, and not only Muslims. So if one means “Islamic” in the sense that one has to be Muslim to be in the Basij – this word is false. But if one means “Islamic” in the sense that the principles of Islam guide the Basij, then this word is correct. Much like the “Iranian Islamic Socialism” which guides the country, the Basij is expressly “Iranian” first and “Islamic” second.
It is “socialist” due to its obvious goal of empowering the “oppressed” class, for the redistributive policies of Basij economic ventures, and for it’s clear role in uplifting the lower classes via direct political and social aid. I will explain this in detail throughout this sub-series, and the correctness of using this term will certainly not be doubted afterwards.
They are a “union” because they are mass organisation drawn from every class and sector of society, and one which is undeniably working towards political, economic and social ends in union with each other. Some call them a “party”, but they do not function like one in the modern sense: most Western political party members are indoctrinated and will vote in almost perfectly predictable ways – as a “political machine” the Basij repeatedly does not vote as stereotypes predict. A “union”, however comprises voters of different political persuasions who are united by a common job, interest, experience and needs, with economics playing a key motivation. So a “union” and not a “party” is accurate.
They are an “NGO”, which is the official government designation and a popular one as well, because they are overwhelmingly unpaid civilian volunteers. This is a crucial distinction, and why “NGO” cannot be left out – these people are giving their time and energy in large part because they love what they do, like any unpaid supporter of any NGO. Earthquake relief, planting trees, policing the internet, and all that civil service stuff that activists typically do – that’s truly the main role of the Basij.
So it’s not pretty, but “apolitical Islamic socialist union NGO” is accurate. But it has morphed into something more.
The Basij: Too big (and too revolutionary) to grasp, and way too big to invade
Why has nobody studied the Basij when it is such a huge peacetime organization of such voting, political, economic and cultural importance?
My answer is this: It is too intimidating and revolutionary to be grasped, for non-Iranians:
- a 17-million person organisation, and growing
- mostly joined by the lower class
- a 40-year old organisation, meaning it is durable, tested and rooted
- embedded in the civil service and political class (President Ahmadinejad was a Basiji)
- supported by the government laws to create economic and social advantages for members
- supported by so-called “privatisation” (explained in Part 3 here) and central planning which have created massive economic networks and jobs for Basiji
- only criteria is to be 100% pro-Iranian Islamic Revolution
- is primarily a grassroots cultural group drawn from all levels of society
- is a group which is half youth and 1/3rd female
- all receive basic military training
- physically present in every neighbourhood via Basij “resistance bases”, which are deeply involved in community life
- 60,000-80,000 resistance bases nationwide with roughly 100 members in each base
- 3-4 million “active” members who spend at least 6 hours per week at their base
- members join willingly, proving its enormous appeal
This is obviously a huge, huge, HUGE grassroots phenomenon in Iran, no?
Those figures I have given are the midpoint between government and non-governmental estimates. Beyond the members, how many people are not in the Basij but are supporters of it? I am referring to the spouses, family members and friends of Basij – they are not Basiji, but it’s reasonable to assume a feeling ranging from tolerance to outright encouragement in a large percentage of cases. 25 million Basiji supporters appears to be a low estimate.
It certainly appears to contradict the idea that the support for the 1979 Revolution is flagging. Why are all these people volunteering for it, then? They do get benefits, and I will relate those later, but some 17 million people didn’t join for solely opportunistic reasons.
This is the key point of this article: Any force which seeks to drastically disrupt Iran within Iran will have to contend with the organized, trained, patriotic Basij…and because I know this, and because the most nefarious plotters in the Pentagon, Paris, London & Tel Aviv surely know this…I am totally unconcerned about foreign invasion.
Iran had that – it was in 1980. The aggressive and Western-backed Iraq lost in the War of Sacred Defense (as the war is called in Iran). It can’t happen again – Iran has prepared for that, and their plan is called “the Basij”.
Bombs alone simply don’t work – ground forces must always hold key areas, after all. The US bombed and chemically-weaponed North Korea and Vietnam to the Stone Age, but it was no matter in the end because they couldn’t hold the land. War has not changed THAT fundamental reality and never will. What good is nuking a foreign country, when you can’t occupy the land and reap its fruits – a war machine makes no profit that way? All the West can do is commit massacres – like in Vietnam and Korea – but they cannot invade and hold: American colonialism over. France & England have accepted this and moved on to neo-colonialism, but the US cannot give up its 400-year old pathology. Yet in large part because of the Basij – they also know they cannot invade Iran, and thus have relied on brutal, inhuman economic warfare.
In a completely objective view of the Basij: anyone who gets through the Iranian army and the Revolutionary Guards then has to go through the Basij. Street to street, house to house, cave to cave, cactus to cactus – a Basiji will be there, just like the Vietcong. They’ll call him “Ali in the black pyjamas” – take him on and it will certainly be your funeral, imperialist war pigs.
This is not to vaunt Iran as special – the USSR, Vietnam and Korea and other durably-rooted socialist-inspired nations have repelled invaders.
Therefore: of course the Western media doesn’t want to talk about the Basij – it makes “War on Iran” a suicide mission which nobody would support despite massive Western jingoism.
That is the overview of the Basij and how they affect non-Iranians.
Digging deeper provides fascinating insights. However, not too many people have done this – objectively – outside of Iran.
Replacing ‘zero scholarship’ on Iran’s Basij with ‘bad scholarship’
Given the near-total lack of information, I want to remain objective about the Basij so that readers can decide for themselves. I don’t want to give my personal thoughts and experiences. I’d like to state that I am not in the Basij (though there is a Basij Journalists Guild).
That is why I am glad there is one (but only one) book on the Basij available in the West. This sub-series will analyse this book’s analysis, and it frees me from having present the Basij all on my own and be subject to accusations of bias.
The book is “Captive Society: The Basij Miltia and Social Control in Iran: ” by Saeid Golkar. Golkar has been raised, educated and even taught in Iran. This book is his PhD thesis for New York City’s Columbia University.
This is what Golkar’s book is very good for: He has provided the Western world with the first-ever massive data dump on the Basij. The next two parts of this series will rely heavily on his exhaustive research into the Basij, conversations with Basij members and reading of all types of literature – domestic and foreign – on the Basij.
However, his analysis of said data…
Well, of course it is coloured by his political views, as social data always must be. This is not mathematical or astronomical data – “political science” is not a science at all.
I think the title already makes it abundantly clear: this is the first book about the Basij, but it is also the first book against the Basij.
Just like my recent series this year on China (Old vs. new scholarship on the continent of China: an 8-part series), which exposed the reactionary, anti-socialist views of ”the West’s doyen on China” – John King Fairbank, Harvard’s first-ever China scholar – both Fairbank and Golkar are only good for providing data. Their research – but not their conclusions – can be used provide more accurate answers about China and Iran, respectively…when more modern & democratic political ideas are applied. They are both very much like medieval astronomers who carefully watched the stars and logged their data, but insisted on retrofitting their answers to the preconceived notion that the sun moves around the earth, or that the planets must travel in perfect circles instead of oblong ellipses.
I don’t want to condemn Golkar because there are people in Iran who do not support the Basij, few Iranians I know view them in such an unfairly one-sided manner. His reviews in Iran, however, have not been as lenient – Basiji websites call the book “insulting to Basiji” and “Iranophobic”. Considering that they already know much of the data he has provided, and that he refused to include even a single positive trait or anecdote of the Basiji, I can certainly understand why they don’t view the book as useful – they already know how the group works, of course.
I’m trying to remain objective: his book provides data, and that is necessary for the West. All I can do is examine the data from my own perspective, and then try to remove that bias as much as possible; but Golkar did not do this, I believe. He routinely omitted any positive views, opinions, analyses and facts regarding the Basij, and that is bad scholarship.
Naturally, I tried to find out a bit more about Golkar to discover his political-ideological tendencies. Golkar retweets Francis Fukuyama, who famously declared the “End of History” upon the fall of the USSR with the capitalist-liberal West European model to reign supreme forever, to the great consternation of leftists and the great delight of right-wingers. Golkar is mostly interviewed in the West by Gareth Smyth, a journalist mostly affiliated with The Financial Times and The Guardian (the only Western review of the book is by Smyth in the Guardian). These media are neoliberal-capitalist and 100% anti-socialist, so Golkar likely has affinity with these views; or perhaps Golkar is just happy to be interviewed by anybody on his favorite subject (and as a journalist I understand that). However, as a journalist, I know that I will be called to Judgment Day before I get a call from either of those two media, because I am not capitalist or imperialist. Golkar appears to be trying to make a name for himself with that part of the Iranian diaspora which is totally opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran – he is definitely not trying to get invited to speak Basiji events, LOL! Considering how big the Basij is in Iran, Golkar is not trying to get invited to many places in Iran, period, it seems….
I’m going to start at the end, with the very final paragraph of the book’s conclusion: the final paragraph should sum up and reveal what Golkar’s true feelings for the Basij are, what his motivation for writing the book was, and what are his personal ideological & political aims.
“With the expansion of the Basij’s involvement in Iran’s social, political, and economic life, the opportunity for the country’s peaceful transition to democracy will decrease dramatically. Because many Basij commanders and members have been co-opted by the IRI, it is not implausible to think that they will resist any serious attempts at government reform that would jeopardize their positions.”
Undoubtedly, this states that Iran is not a democracy, as Golkar says they need to “transition” to it. I find that to be inaccurate and rather indicative of a negative view of Iran. The final sentence implies that Basij commanders and members are opportunists or dupes, which is also rather negative.
Now perhaps I am reading too much into it, but there appears to be a complete sentence which has been hidden:
“With the expansion of the Basij‘s involvement in Iran’s social, political, and economic life, the opportunity for the country’s peaceful transition to democracy will decrease dramatically. Because many Basij commanders and members have been co-opted by the IRI, it is not implausible to think that they will resist any serious attempts at government reform that would jeopardize their positions.”
In condensed form: With the expansion of the Basij the opportunity for transition will decrease dramatically, because many Basij commanders and members will resist any serious attempts.
This talk of a “peaceful transition to democracy” is very reminiscent of the coded language used for an armed attack to destroy Iran’s political structure, as it was for the Western “humanitarian interventions” like in Yugoslavia or Libya in order to bring “democracy”. Certainly, Golkar seems to begrudge the Basij their ability to “resist” changes of his preference.
Golkar also indicates what I have already stated: the Basij is now a permanent, embedded feature of Iranian society which will certainly “resist” a great many things.
Is my “hidden sentence” paranoia?
Well, his final chapter is titled, “Basij Members – Islamic Warriors or Religious Thugs?” Uhhh…this would be expected in an American imperialist’s or Zionist’s view of the Basij, as both are stupid stereotypes and not scholarship.
More mildly, but still negatively, half of all chapter & part titles contain the words “control”, “repression” or “suppression” – these are all quite loaded terms, I think we’ll all agree.
I have actually read the entire book, and it is my opinion that such clear bias is why this book is “about” the Basij, but also “against” the Basij…and that is bad scholarship. The Basij have their detractors in Iran, but from start to finish Golkar’s book evinces an undisguised and unadulterated antipathy for them.
Very surprisingly, he certainly refuses to admit the possibility of even a drop of possible ideological sincerity on the part of members, which seems extreme. It is as if the Iranian Golkar doesn’t know any devoted Basiji, or that he has never seen a Basiji be helpful? In his insistence to present all Basiji as mere opportunists, he is certainly giving Western readers the false idea that this group will entirely melt away when confronted with domestic or foreign violence. Some will, sure, but some definitely will not because some do have ideological sincerity, to put it objectively.
Also, the book is devoid of even a single reference to the class struggle, Marxist economics & the People-centered ideals of socialist democracy. Iranian Revolutionary Shi’ism, truly the ideology of the revolution, contained ideas, principles, structures and slogans from all these sources. Golkar could have said “the Basij fails in all of these socialist-inspired areas”, but he does not even broach these concepts as being important, alternative lenses to view the Basij through. This makes me think that not only does Golkar not like Basij, but he does not want to promote the ideals of 1979 in any way, nor does he want to promote socialist ideals either.
Golkar has done plenty of research – in Iran, talking to Basij members, reading Basij literature, finding the obscure Western journal articles on the Basij – and his extensive bibliography is a testament to that. It is the vast bibliography of a top university-level work, which it is.
But a big bibliography should never be enough to satisfy, because a big bibliography cannot make – to give an example – an inherently reactionary & capitalist view not reactionary or democratic. Technocratism can never be allowed to govern, only to advise with data – everyone living in the Eurozone in 2018 should be well aware of the social chaos that results from putting people into power on the basis of their “technical qualifications” instead of their ideological-philosophical-ethical views.
(Sidebar: It seems to me that in recent years there is a trend in academia to make the bibliography and footnotes just as long as the actual work itself – padding out the size of the book with useless footnotes, at the expense of examining a phenomenon with a diverse range of ideological lenses & thoroughness, and also at the expense of presenting actual new ideas. Golkar, as a political science scholar, is supposed to be conversant in a divergent range of ideologies and he is supposed to relay these ideas to us laymen – hopefully presenting new ideas thanks to his intellectual cross-pollination. By failing to at least discuss socialism he has not provided that necessary range whatsoever, and marks his analysis as a clearly right-wing one. Indeed, his book is a well-researched right-wing tract, and I wonder if those at his PhD thesis reading in New York City reading even cared that his work was advocacy journalism and not true scholarship.)
And so I will not be browbeaten into accepting Gokar’s “authority” just because he has provided the trail of his ideological investigation into the Basij. Ideology counts. Fairness counts, too, and this book is so devoid of the Basij’s positives one is left wondering if 10-25 million Iranians are capable of knowing right from wrong, which is an absurdity.
But the book should be read because…well, it’s the only game in town. There is NO other book in English or French on the Basij.
I now return to Golkar’s very first paragraph in his preface. This paragraph is when the author primes the pump for what the reader is about to receive, setting the tone for the entire book.
“Although the organization has millions of members (known as Basiji) and pervades all aspects of Iranian society, there are only a few scholarly works on the subject and even fewer available in English. With the expansion of the Basij across society and its increasing power inside of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), it has become essential to study the Basij and its role in controlling Iranian society, which have led to the persistence of the IRI in post-revolutionary Iran.” (emphasis added)
I have made the same point and have the same goal: understanding 2018 Iran is impossible without awareness of the Basij.
But Golkar shows his bias / ideology / philosophy/ political view when he says we should study the Basij to see “its role in controlling Iranian society” – that is a fundamentally unsympathetic, negative view, and we must realize that this antipathy towards the Basij is the ideological principle he is using to guide his readers. My goal is simply to unveil the Basij for Western readers – you can say if the Basij is beautiful or ugly; this should have been Golkar’s goal, and the goal of Columbia University, which supported this work.
I, too, have pointed and will point to the Basij as a force which has “led to the persistence of the IRI in post-revolutionary Iran” …but I think Golkar’s implication is clear – he is not pleased that the Basij has helped in the IRI’s “persistence”. This is his right as a person, but as a scholar…well, I guess it’s also his right to be completely biased – no law against it, after all.
As this article is a book review, I include this judgment about it: this is a book about Iran, but it is not very sympathetic to a huge number of Iranians. I fundamentally dislike books like that – how can my own humanity be increased with such a view? Is my humanity to be increased by learning to fear and hate the Basij? Golkar may not like the Basij, but he should have at least given their point of view for why so many support it – it is not as if we are talking about a handful of outsiders, after all. This was the bare minimum of fairness – it was discarded. That is my impression and that was his choice.
But Golkar does not own data. Therefore, in between his conclusion and his preface Golkar and I certainly battled it out in the fight for accuracy, which has always been my primary journalistic watchword (over “objectivity”).
I’d like to finish by returning to the headline of this part – the reason why the Basij makes foreign invasion and also “civil war” impossible. There are two simple, overwhelming reasons why the Basij prevent civil war:
First: A fight between the pro- and anti-Basij would truly be a bloodbath even greater than the US Civil War for the fact that the US back then was truly two different countries: there would be no “Reconstruction” possible in Iran because pro- and anti-Basij are in every village, town and city. Pro- and anti-Basij are totally intermeshed and inseparable. Perhaps if the Basij was a small group such a fight could be possible, but the government has been able to recruit so many Basiji that civil war against the Basij is impossible. The Basij are not going to wage civil war against the non-Basij because it is obviously unIslamic; because they are patriots; because there is no reason for them to do so, as they are already aided by and heavily involved with the government; and many other reasons.
Second: This lack of clear divisions and the obvious omnipresence of the Basij means the division is not physical, but ideological: The Basij are an idea which is impossible to eradicate, after 40 years. Thus the question will always be one of democratic balance, comprise and negotiation – an unblissful but peaceful coexistence, perhaps.
The next two parts in this series will describe the unique structure of the Basij, its legal, its cultural roles, its unique goals, and its exceptional influence on Iranian society.
Armed with all the facts, readers can then judge for themselves the merits, or not, of the Basij.
This is the 5th article in an 11-part series which explains the economics, history, religion and culture of Iran’s Revolutionary Shi’ism, which produced modern Iranian Islamic Socialism.
Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!
The WSWS, Iran’s economy, the Basij & Revolutionary Shi’ism: an 11-part series
How Iran Got Economically Socialist, and then Islamic Socialist
What privatisation in Iran? or Definitely not THAT privatisation
Parallels between Iran’s Basij and the Chinese Communist Party
Iran’s Basij: The reason why land or civil war inside Iran is impossible
A leftist analysis of Iran’s Basij – likely the first ever in the West
Iran’s Basij: Restructuring society and/or class warfare
‘Cultural’ & ‘Permanent Revolution’ in Revolutionary Shi’ism & Iranian Islamic Socialism
‘Martyrdom and Martyrdom’ & martyrdom, and the Basij
‘The Death of Yazdgerd’: The greatest political movie ever explains Iran’s revolution (available with English subtitles for free on Youtube here)
Iran détente after Trump’s JCPOA pull out? We can wait 2 more years, or 6, or…
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.
The West has a similar structure: it’s called masonry. Amazing how Mazaheri writes such long articles but has no clue what a freemason is. Actually, the first things I wondered: Is the basij a secret society; do they take secret oaths? Do they serve the father of lies? If not, how do they compare to and compete against the lie machine. Some of this is answered. Too much time is spent telling us a dirt-bag american spook from Columbia is biased. No shit, Sherlock.
Mazaheri, again, demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of American foreign policy. Look at a Pollock “painting.” Doesn’t matter if Pollock was real or not. Look at it as an intelligence project. He mounts a frame, and destroys the canvas. He lays it on the floor and leaves it in a mess, then has the audacity to hang the mess up. Destroy the land and have fun doing it. Keep it in the frame, but destroy everything inside the frame. The CIA agents publicizing “modern art” (which, understand, is simply money laundering) told European art critics Pollack is American. His art is American. That’s why he’s good. He creates chaos. He mounts. “We ride.” You get ridden. “You lose.”
Masaheri doesn’t understand America. By the sounds of it, he never will.
Amazing how Mazaheri writes such long articles but has no clue what a freemason is
You cannot construe from the fact that Mazaheri did not mention “X” that he is unaware of “X”. This is just basic logic.
Is the basij a secret society; do they take secret oaths? Do they serve the father of lies?
Really? Are you going to ask about the Basij aprons and secret handshakes next? Or whether the worship the Baphomet and Jahbulon in secret ceremonies at the full moon?
Comments like yours really make me feel like giving up on blogging….
Sigh, rolleyes, deep breath…
Thanks, Ramin, for yet another revealing look into Iran.
Saker, I speak for many others as well as myself when I ask you not to give up on blogging, at least, not until you are certain that no one is reading or listening anymore. That bleak time has not yet arrived!
I have to say that Ramin has opened up enough topics for discussion with his article that there is no need, for this moment, to get into “the freemasons”. Now, If someone has solid on-the-ground info about freemasonry in Iran, I am sure it would make a very interesting future article!
you sound conceited and smug – calling a person by their last name. You don’t do yourself justice to talk like this around this crowd Lester.
Better go back to youtube.
Probably the same line from Mr. Mazaheri’s fine piece struck me. I’ve got it in the copy n paste buffer as I arrive here.
““Oppressed” has obvious leftist connotations, and I’m sure Western readers will agree that there is absolutely no organisation with such a title and directive in their countries.”
My reaction was quite different though, in that my reaction was going to say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, was working on what sounds like a similar organization. The last year of his life was largely spent in organizing his “Poor People’s Campaign” or the “Poor People’s March on Washington”. He was in Memphis in the spring of 1968 because when the garbageman’s union in Memphis asked for his help, Dr. King saw obvious connections between their struggle for justice and the larger Poor People’s Campaign that he was organizing.
The thought of someone organizing the poor and oppressed in America into a large march on Washington and likely an associated campaign for President so terrified the American Deep State that Dr. King was killed that spring in Memphis. That assasin’s bullet aimed and directed by the American deep state is the reason why there is no similar organization in America.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” — Dr. King, Memphis Tn, April 3, 1968, the night before he was murdered. https://www.afscme.org/union/history/mlk/ive-been-to-the-mountaintop-by-dr-martin-luther-king-jr
The only thing I agree with you is this: “Too much time is spent telling us a dirt-bag american spook from Columbia is biased.”
I agree – everyone is improved by an editor. How much will you send me to pay for one?
“…the US Civil War for the fact that the US back then was truly two different countries: …” Well, it was more like a a collection of countries, more than two, as each state was a country. The North was forced by northern industrialists and financiers into an imperialist federal system largely abolishing states rights and the prior distinction, that the individual states were individual countries. One of the major outcomes of the war was that large corporations arising between ~1870 and ~1914 became more powerful than individual states. States had no more power to effectively regulate commerce, nor control economic development in their state. Prior to the war individual states had more sovereign monetary and fiscal policy power. Of course the financial power in NY and MA couldn’t stand that. The war was the ‘money war’, as the economist Galbraith called it. And so globalism was launched back then. NY: the empire state.
Great to read Ramin’s articles on the Basij. Looking forward to more.
oops, left out the qualifying ‘US globalism’, obviously, European globalism started centuries earlier.
I certainly agree that Golkar’s biased and not objective as is indicated in his Preface as you point out: “…it’s role within Iranian society…” is how an objective author writes. So, aside from data, there’s not much of substance to glean from Golkar’s copiously documented book–which is to say that it constitutes a waste of effort that I won’t worsen.
I sort of see the Basji as a pro-government 5th column or perhaps as an additional institution that provides both countervailing power for the people and for the government–it strives to keep both honest while promoting dialog instead of confrontation–provided my limited insight into Iran is correct. I presume the remaining parts of this sub-series will confirm or modify my perception.
And again, thanks for your efforts in providing this valuable examination of Iran!
Perhaps Basij are similar to the soviets of 1917?
Soviets of 1917? I would expect so. Consider what all of these comparisons have in common. Soviets in 1917, Chinese Communist party 1940’s, Iranian Basij in 1979. They represent the best of a particular culture’s passion to nourish a collective movement for liberation, all in the 20th century. And all against bourgeois capitalism. So all being collectivist liberation struggles against capitalism and all in the 20th century, they share the quality of the times we live in. They strive to embody the living heart of the anti capitalist zeitgeist. However we choose to define it.
The only way the US can defeat Iran is by nuclear means, a highly unlikely scenario. A conventional war is impossible, as the country has 80 million people and a powerful military backed by high tech. The military is also backed by the Guard and now I see by the Basij, of which I knew nothing until now.
The only option for the US is to try destabilizing the country, hoping for a color revolution, using the pro-Shah diaspora outside Iran and their few sympathizers inside Iran. It won’t work, because the exiles are the class who grew rich under the Shah, while the bulk of the country did not see any wealth distribution. The US will have to accept Iran as it is.
Well, maybe they are working on the biological possibilities also….as in that bioweapons site in Georgia….
This would not surprise me in the least. The US also has bio labs in Ukraine, close to Russia, and has been using NGO’s in Russia to collect DNA samples from Russians. Easy to guess why.
The US was created through genocide. Historians estimate that in the year 1500 there were 90 million native Americans on the current territory of the US. Of that number 75 million was exterminated, mostly with the use of smallpox, and the rest through starvation, exposure and war. I would not be surprised if the US repeated such methods with Iran and Russia. However, both are aware of this.
When I was in Iran around Kermanshah, the Iranian Kurds had a very low opinion of the Basij. What’s the story there?
What happens when the Basij (and regular army) have conflicting goals with the ‘Supreme Leader’ Ali Kahmenei and his personal troops (IRGC)?
The Basij sound helpful for resisting foreign sponsored, minority population, conflagrations such as the Soros color revolutions.
The current situation is quite different from the failed color event. Huge numbers of Iranian citizens (presumably including many Basij members) are protesting against the regime’s excesses and unnecessary foreign provocations. The regime’s policies have lead to hyperinflation, depression, and substantial hardship to ordinary Iranian citizens.
The author makes an unsupported leap when he assumes Basij would suppress such a majority uprising. It seems much more likely that the broad based Basij would support the proletariat citizens against the neo-bourgeoisie elites of the privileged Islamic hierarchy.
Yes well that is the question is it not? For myself I have no specific knowledge but I keep reading complaints about some “bourgeois Islamic merchant class hierarchy” that exploits and distorts the Iranian revolutionary spirit for the usual “animal farm” incentives. And this distorts the economy and alienates the proletariat. It sounds like a standard Marxist critic which leaves one in great doubt as to whether we are looking at Iranian socialism or not. However I cannot judge this for myself and hope that Ramin can address this criticism. Was it not the case that Mohammed was a member of the merchant class?
the hyperinflation is a foreign exchange affair, thank the foreign financial markets for that, not the Iranians. That concept comes straight from the economists. That is, that hyperinflation is a foreign exchange phenomenon. Essentially always controlled by foreign financial markets. Also, it is foreign interference that is behind economic depression, as Iran is sufficiently large and resource rich to be able to support a robust economy.
Talking about unsupported leaps, watch this one:
” Huge numbers of Iranian citizens (presumably including many Basij members) are protesting against the regime’s excesses and unnecessary foreign provocations…. such a _majority_ uprising.” (emph. mine)
Or how about this one:
“_The regime’s policies” have lead to hyperinflation, depression, etc. (emph. mine)
I suppose sanctions and so forth and games being played by US and UN have nothing to do with it, then.
IE of Iran,
Thousands protested at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. This has been so widely proven that even the Iranian government controlled FARS news service has been forced to cover it. Given that the protests lasted several days the total number of protesters was almost certainly in the tens of thousands.
Here are a couple of representative links:
There are none so blind as those that willingly close their eyes on the Truth and look away.
I didn’t deny the protests. “Hundreds” and “thousands” do not equal a “majority”. True in Iran, Russia, or South Central.
The causal link between “the regime’s policies” and the hyperinflation, and the absence of any other causal links, remains to be proven.
Excellent. I think we are making progress on your first point. Let me ask a further question. Do you believe -A- or -B-?
-A- The tens of thousands of protesters at the Grand Bazaar represents 100% of all those in Iran who oppose the current regime’s policies.
-B- The direct count of protesters at the Grand Bazaar only represents a subset of those who oppose regime policies. Due to constraints of geography and availability, the number of protesters at a specific location within a specific time-frame is much lower than the total number of those with a given mind set.
If your answer is -B-, What is your estimate of total Iranian population in opposition to the Ayatollah’s regime policies?
The typical rule of thumb for Marketing is that for every X number of persons that can be directly observed with a position:
+10 * X persons have views of similar intensity
+100 * X persons have somewhat similar views at a lower intensity.
Before you object… Yes, I realize that commercial product Marketing and what amounts to political campaign Marketing are quite different. The point of the exercise is to obtain rough scale.
If you would like to offer an alternative method for estimation… Please feel free to do so.
Here is another point to consider when evaluate scale of the protests and total opposition to the regime.
The Grand Bazaar is officially reported as 114 hectares (1.14 Square Kilometers) in size and is not a compact, perfect square minimizing perimeter. It his hard to reconcile a few thousand protesters versus being of sufficient magnitude to isolate a venue of this size resulting in a shutdown. Basic crowd control is the same everywhere. With these numbers to space available, standard practice would have been gradually herding the protesters to a primary entrance [Sabze-Meydan] that would remain closed while business-as-usual took place via other portals.
This type of analysis is highly limited by the lack of overhead imagery for crowd size estimation. However, the failure of the local constabulary to manage the incident in a manner that kept the Bazaar open strongly indicates that and/or:
-1- The protester count was substantially larger than has been reported to date.
-2- The local constabulary were part of the protest and refused to contain it.
To come full circle. The term “constabulary” is much wider in scope than “police”. Perhaps we should view “Basij” as as a group that encompasses “constabulary”? If so, then the Basij at least tacitly endorsed the anti-Ayatollah protests.
Well, let’s see . . . if we take your marketing rule of thumb at face value, 10,000 * 100 = 1 million. Iran’s population is around 80 million. So, to make half the population vaguely in favour of the protests would require 40 “tens of thousands”. Even 100,000 protestors would only represent 10 million supporters. I don’t think, then, that we can draw a direct line between “tens of thousands” of protestors and majority support for anything.
Further complicating matters is that this was a fairly vague protest–it made clear that a lot of people were upset with how things are going, and doubtless for fairly significant reasons. But just what they wanted is a lot more uncertain: Some probably wanted a fundamental change in government, but many seem to have wanted mainly to see a crackdown on corrupt enrichment of clergy, and there was likely a spectrum of other gripes and desired programs. This was not a coherent mass movement backing, say, globalized capitalism.
I hope that there will be no a new Purim celebration for the Jews in Iran (Persia)
Enlightening and Revelatory on IRI, a laugh-cry trip on the state of academic “standards” in the ‘States… Thank you (also, thanks for reading what is doubtless a long and badly written book — performing a needed service to English-speaking mankind.).
Very good the way you spot the sentence within the sentence, this technique needs to catch on. Also, you mention the curiosity of academic books with more footnotes than actual text. These fall into at least two categories: a) the excited writer who likes to go on tangents, which he puts into footnotes; b) the academic glancing over his shoulder at tenure reviewers and/or think-tank advisors, bloating his work with references/octopus ink. Sounds like Golkar is the latter. (We’ve already had a taste of his prose…)
Really, many western academic texts are ideological screeds masquerading as “pure research” — “Anthropology” is rife with hidden agendas and politics for sure — and your work really shows how more western textbooks need to be critiqued. Very well done and pioneering as usual.
Its all double – triple crap.
What the world needs is love sweet love. If we all loved, we would not need titles, organizations or any of the things that we have created to oppress or protect us. I suspect I will die and return to dust before that happens. We are all humans. To test that, simply cut yourself. You bleed red blood? Humans seem to have a reoccurring lust for death, war and destruction. In MHO a large portion of humans are as dumb as mushrooms and you know what they are fed. Why have humans continued to kill, rape and rob each other for centuries? You would think that people would get fed up with that and just say no more. I dream of a world that is at peace. Where my children and grandchildren can run and play and be happy. I dream of a world that everyone has enough food and a home. I don’t really give a crap about politicians, armies or bankers. I don’t really care what color you are or what country you came from. Until we love each other the world will never heal. Are we worth saving? Its our choice. We all have free will. I suspect not.
Dennis DeLaurier in Central Texas
Something that I wrote:
We need to look at our self’s and the world and cry
Now is the time to look out on the world and cry. Cry to our God for the total mess we have made. Cry for our churches who have failed us by their silence and corruption. Cry for the millions of God’s precious people killed through centuries of war and the continuous wars that use our sons and daughters as cannon fodder. We need to cry for our children and our countrys. To cry about all the corruption and abuse. Cry about the selling and abortion of our children. Cry about sex trafficking and abuse of our children and daughters. Cry for our souls because we have done nothing. We have kept quiet. Our silence cries out to God. Our silence is a great sin against humanity. We have closed our eyes and ears. While God is love, He is also just. Everything that you or I have ever done or not done, said or not said will have to be answered for as it’s all recorded in our story. A starving child, a poor mother or an abused old person is crying out for Justice. Did we fight for that justice? Is it just a story on TV? Is that old person or mother not our sisters or brothers, mothers or fathers?
“Strangely enough, most people don’t see that they can kill and abuse people by their silence.”
cool to read about the Basij – I didn’t know about this group – but I like the idea – I can imagine something like this happening in Russia – Westerners don’t really like to get off their couches to do stuff like this – but maybe we could learn it – I can imagine that this would be good for blacks…
Palestinians are all Basij – there is so much solidarity among them…at least the ones that are pushing back against Zionism.
Great series, Ramin. Thank you so much. Before you wrote about the Basij, I didn’t even know it existed. I am profoundly disgusted that the Western media have carefully not informed me on such an important part of a country that is bigger than France or England, bigger than West Germany used to be. And I am very grateful that someone is finally doing a proper job.
I am still digging out from my computer crash (ugh!) so any comment I make is probably late.
I do have a question. In your previous article, you compared the Basij to the Chinese Communist Party. In China, the CCP has a very strong leadership role; its organization extends right down to village mayors and (in the larger towns and cities) even to the local neighborhood level. Does the Basij have a similar role in Iran?
Another question, if I may. That the Basij has some military discipline means the character of its leadership is extremely important. Is the Basiji leadership selected as carefully as the CCP choses its decision makers?
Again, thank you for writing this series.
Thanks for your kind praise.
The next part shows just how deep the Basij organisation extends, and should answer your question.
I talk about the difference between CCP and Basij selection processes in the 4th part of this series in some detail. I would say that, for sure, at the higher level the “opportunist” Basij have been weeded out, just as for the CCP.
Thanks for the reply. Your words relieve the worries I had about the Basij (or at least some of them). I look forward even more to the rest of the series.
Curiously, the author endorses the ‘Holocaust’ mythology!
@if one means “Islamic” in the sense that the principles of Islam guide the Basij, then this word is correct.
Are then the Christians, Zoroastrians and others (Jews?) who join Basij obliged to enforce the principles of Islam (enforcing the hijab, arresting women for violating the dress code, and arresting youths for attending mixed gender parties or being in public with unrelated members of the opposite sex)?
Is the Basij the recruitment ground of Gasht-e Ershad?
Anon; As far as I can see your question is culturally logical, and I would love to know the answer. But I see the main point being that this is the way Iran, like China, used a finite language to give expression to a shared heart and soul commitment to the preservation of the well being of the masses. It is easy to see an honest Muslim or Marxist motivated in this way. And both languages serve. However I expect you are right in your question also in that neither of these languages (Islam or Marxism) are free from the bondage of finite manifestation. Hence the shared human political expression of the greater inspiration can only be found as Imperfect. However here we see a work in progress. Do we not?
Do Christian women wear the hijab? Yes, your very best women do, your nuns and the best of all of womankind, Mary peace be upon her is always wearing a hijab. European racism has taken a new color, hiding behind the war through terror, Islamophobia.
Wearing head covering is Iranian law, so it’s for all women regardless of religion.
Yes the Basij is the recruitment ground for Gasht-e Ershad – most cops nowadays are from the Basij as well. In China all cops are CCP members, and I would doubt that Cuba’s police are not all also members of the CDR.
“So bored…I’d make a pun, but nothing in English rhymes with ‘Basij’!”
Are you sure?! “Not afraid of your siege, we have our Basij.”
I failed to go the imperfect rhyme route. Nicely done!
If Mr. Golkar is/was studying for a PhD from Columbia University, then most likely he has his eyes set on a career in the US Government. Any book or paper he wrote is a means towards that end.
For a bit of research, I looked up who is a graduate of “School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University” and came up with this list.
Madeleine Albright, Sec of State under Clinton, infamous for claiming the deaths of half a million children ‘are worth it”
David Kay, UN weapons inspector and regular proponent of a war with somebody.
George Tenet, former CIA director
Glenn Kessler, WaPo reporter and author
Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the US
James Rubin, spokesperson for the Clinton state dept
Claire Shipman, ABC News correspondent
Zbigniew Brzezinski is a former faculty member at the school.
That’s the club Mr. Golkar was trying to impress with his doctoral thesis.