Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Guard that has the whip hand in Iran

The Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi has given us an in-depth portrait of a fanatically devoted 24 year-old "mid-ranking" Basij, Mehdi Moradani, who during the massive street demonstrations in Iran mobilized a 12-man Basij motorcycle posse that spent the days beating and arresting demonstrators.
"I was defending my country and our revolution and Islam. Everything was at risk," Mardini explains. And, "I will give my life in a heartbeat if the regime asks me."
As a representative Basij, Moradani illustrates the formidable barriers to regime change or reform in Iran. The primary enforcers are not disaffected Soviet-style conscripts, but rather true believers indoctrinated from early childhood.

Moradani was inducted at age 9 by his Revolutionary Guard father into the Basij youth club, "a mix between the Boy Scouts and Bible School," where children were primed "to defend Islam, even at the expense of death, or martyrdom." At age 14, he was mobilized to beat up student demonstrators in the 1999 uprisings. The walls of his shop are adorned with framed posters of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah leader Narsrallah - "My heroes." His cell ring is a famous religious song about a Shiite saint. There are somewhere between 1 and 4 million Basij, similarly trained.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of Fassihi's portrait is its revelation that Moradani is not fanatic enough to make the Revolutionary Guard, the elite 125,000-man military corps whose top commander defines its primary mission as " guarding the revolution and its achievements against internal threats." Ahmadinejad, a Guard veteran, has packed the government bureaucracy, governorships, media and other organs of power with fellow veterans; the Guard also controls large swaths of Iran's economy, as well as the Basij and other paramilitary groups.

For Moradani, Guard membership remains an aspiration:
He has taken the Guard's rigorous entrance exam twice, passing the ideology and the written portions both times. But he failed the final hurdle: an intense interview that lasts six to eight hours. Applicants must discuss why they are loyal to the regime and the Supreme Leader. He intends to try again.
And yet, on the other side of the coin, not every Iranian raised under a conservative ethos like Mr. Moradani has responded as he has. Having cross-sectioned the Basij with this portrait, Fassihi ends by cross-sectioning the divided society:

For Mr. Moradani, the biggest shock during the election turmoil came in his personal life. He had recently gotten engaged to a young woman from a devout, conservative family. A week into the protests, he says, his fiancée called him with an ultimatum. If he didn't leave the Basij and stop supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad, he recalls her saying, she wouldn't marry him.

He told her that was impossible. "I suffered a real emotional blow," he says. "She said to me, 'Go beat other people's children then,' and 'I don't want to have anything to do with you,' and hung up on me."

She returned the ring he gave her, and hasn't returned his phone calls. "The opposition has even fooled my fiancée," he says.

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