print
memri
January 31, 2006 No.
262

Basij - The Revolutionary People's Militia of Iran

By: Dr. W. Wahdat-Hagh*

Introduction

Iran's annual Basij Week, initiated 27 years ago by Islamic Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was celebrated November 26- December 1, 2006. The Basij (Persian for "mobilized"), which is made up of volunteers from all walks of life, including schoolchildren, students, teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals, is a paramilitary organization which today numbers nine million; it is headed by Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) general Mohammad Hejazi. [1] The Basij is organized throughout Iran on a regional basis, with its top command consisting of paid high-ranking officers from the Revolutionary Guards. Along with the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij is the ideological-military core of the Islamic regime, glorifying values such as martyrdom and self-sacrifice for the sake of the lofty goals of Islam and the homeland. As such, it is the embodiment of the ethos and values of the Islamic Revolution.

The Basij's formative period was during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), when self-sacrifice, the quintessential value of the Islamic Revolution, came to be the guiding principle of Iranian society, both on the Iraqi front and in daily life. Basij volunteers, mainly children and youth, were sent to the Iraqi front with a "key to Paradise" hanging around their necks. These volunteers were sent to clear minefields or to serve as cannon fodder in mass attacks against Iraqi lines. Thousands of them found their deaths in suicide commando units. The Iranian regime glorifies the "martyrdom of the youngest Basij member Hossein Fahmideh," a 12 year old who, according to the regime, blew himself up under an Iraqi tank. Thus, Fahmideh became a national hero and a role model for Iranian youth - whom the regime encourages to defend the homeland and the values of the Islamic Revolution.

Today, one of the organization's main functions is to act as "moral police," enforcing - sometimes violently - Islamic cultural codes of behavior, such as the requirement that women veil themselves in public and the prohibition on male-female fraternization. Basij members played a central role in breaking up the 1999 student riots, and are active in quelling anti-regime riots and demonstrations, mainly in the provinces.

Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iranian cabinet members often declare that they are Basij members and speak warmly of its culture. Ahmadinejad himself served in the Basij, as well as in the Qods (Jerusalem) Units of the Revolutionary Guards, during the Iran-Iraq war.

The following are excerpts from statements by senior Iranian public figures concerning "Basij culture":

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

At a November 28, 2005 meeting with a group of Basij members, Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei said: "The stronger the Basij become, the more secure our country will be in the future... Our president and the Majlis members are proud of their Basij history. The reason for the success of the Basij is its members' faith and trust in God, and their strong hope and intelligence, which are the components of their culture." [2]

The weekly Partow-e Sokhan, the mouthpiece of Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi, who is the spiritual mentor of the Iranian president and of the Revolutionary Guards, quoted an October 21, 2000 statement Khameini made during a visit to the Imam Ali's Companions Basij camp for indoctrination and military training:

"The Basij are those members of our great, 65-million strong nation who are willing to sacrifice their lives and give up their property whenever necessary. If there is a need for them to come [and be counted], they will do so. If there is a need for [national] reconstruction, they will come. When defense is concerned, they will come. If there is a need for them to enlist in scientific endeavors in order to protect the aims of the state, they will do so. They are ready to give whatever it takes for [these] lofty goals. Those who exhibit these traits are the ones known as the Basij."

During a July 28, 2000 visit to the Ardabil province, Khamanei told Basij cadres: "When it is a matter of values, when it is a matter of the fundamental issues of the Revolution, when it is a matter of the rule of God's religion, when the enemy wants to exploit opportunities to [act] against this great and glorious Revolution - the Basij will be there. This is where the Basij philosophy is manifest... The Basij way is to defend the achievements of the Revolution and its true essence."

In his annual Basij week message of 1995, Khamanei said: "The Basij is the essence of the regime's functioning. Everybody should be a member of the Basij. Both the government and other senior officials should be Basij members."

At an August 24, 2005 Basij ceremony, he said: "The Basij is unlimited. It includes both the young and the old. The Basij does not make a distinction between the sexes, and includes both men and women. The Basij does not make distinctions based on profession. All of Iran's ethnicities are represented... All the professional unions are represented, at all levels of education, from the best and the brightest among the students and scientific elite, to young and enthusiastic activists from other fields. The Basij is the symbol of national existence, national resistance, and the people's consciousness, as well as activity, spirituality, and devotion to the cause." [3]

Assembly of Experts Chairman Ayatollah Ali Meshkini

Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, chairman of the Assembly of Experts which elects the supreme religious leader, described the "founding of the Basij units as a blessing from God and proof of His love for the Islamic Republic of Iran," and called upon the entire nation to join the Basij. [4]

Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati

Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said during his Friday sermon on December 2, 2005 that Iran could become a "powerful state in the coming years... thanks to Islam, to the revolution, and to the Basij culture." He also described the 'achievements' of the Iranian nuclear program as "an achievement of the young people who serve the Basij and possess the Basij spirit and culture." [5]

Jannati stressed that "Ayatollah Khomeini [also] referred to himself as a Basij member. The Basij have the power to defend themselves against pressure. This spirit of resistance also caused the International Atomic Energy Agency to retreat. The resistance of the Basij prevented [the IAEA] from passing a resolution against our peaceful nuclear activities." [6]

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that "Ayatollah Khomeini set the cornerstone of Basij culture for the entire world, [so that]... the spirit of righteousness would be awakened in the Iranian people... Basij [stands for] righteousness and the struggle against injustice. Basij means love of humanity as a whole and willingness to die for one's homeland. It is these pure thoughts that give strength to the resistance of the Basij. Now more than ever, Basij culture and Basij thought must prevail in all dimensions of life, both at home and abroad...

"Today we are witnessing the culture of the Basij permeating all levels of government. In the international arena, our enemies are angry when they see how Basij culture has permeated all levels of our state administration. They are angry that the Muslim leaders of Iran are proud to serve the people. They are angry that the [Basij] take responsibility and defend the interests of the Iranian people. That is why they insult us. For the past 27 years they have cunningly attempted to harm the Iranian people and the Islamic government of Iran from within and from without - but to no avail. Our people have been able to defend themselves with the help of our Basij culture.

"We have only one thing to say to our enemies: Has the time not come for them to bow to the dignity, will, and beliefs of the Iranian people? We will explain to them again that the Iranian people are a friendly and cultured people who think. The Iranian people want the best for all of mankind... We want brotherly and just relations with all peoples of the world. This nation does not intend to conquer any other country. However, if those who are hostile to our nation want to trample on its interests, we will stand up against the rest of the world with all our might...

"I have only one other thing to say [to our enemies]: You are angry with us? - Fine, be angry. Our people posses the most lofty of human attributes... Whenever we had problems in the course of our history, our loving and God-fearing national soul united us. Our nation has defended itself against enemies and invaders and has always managed to overcome all its problems." [7]

Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar

Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar also declared his "support for the armed struggle of the Basij," and said: "The success of the defense industry has increased thanks to the mental strength and strong spirit of the Basij." [8]

*Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is a political scientist and staff member of MEMRI.


[1] The Persian-language daily Kayhan reported that nine million Iranians, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad, marked Basij Week by forming a human chain over a distance of 8,700 km. In Tehran alone, 1,250,000 people participated. Kayhan (Iran), November 29, 2005. Ayatollah Khomeini envisioned the Basij as army of 20-million volunteers.

[2] Kayhan (Iran), November 29, 2005.

[3] Partow-e Sokhan (Iran), November 30, 2005.

[4] Sharq (Iran), November 27, 2005.

[5] Jomhuriy-e Eslami (Iran), December 3, 2005.

[6] Jomhuriy-e Eslami (Iran), December 3, 2005.

[7] Sharq (Iran), November 27, 2005.

[8] Kayhan (Iran), November 27, 2005.