The culture of martyrdom and death has been infused into Iranian society in various ways by the all-powerful clerical regime, since the early days of the revolution that overthrew Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran.
In the early days of the newly founded Republic, with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, having decided to purge both the ranks of the Shah’s old military, and many of the various groups that had sided with him to bring the Shah down - but at this point had turned on him, having realized they had just replaced one autocratic ruler with another, and were arranging street demonstrations to oppose his rule, the Supreme Leader found the need to restore order in the land, through the formation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps - an elite military unit which he created in May 1979, and from its inception had kept directly under his control.
But although extremely loyal to their Supreme Leader, the Guards have always had a tendency over the years not to always follow orders in matters of internal strife, especially where orders were given to crack down hard on dissenters in street protests, or those demonstrating in public places such as universities, and that was where a violent entity in the form of the Basij militia became so useful to the Iranian leadership.
Originally created in 1979, Khomeini had officially named his new militia, the Basij Mostazafan - or “mobilisation of the oppressed”, and through rigorous training by the IRGC, they had been heavily indoctrinated with their Supreme Leaders fanatical Shia ideology, and by the end of it, were willing to sacrifice their lives for both leadership and state. From that time on, they have acted as the regime’s attack dogs, and are nothing more than a suicidal band of zealots, who have never had any qualms about going against their own fellow countrymen during any form of public protest.
Besides driving into anti-regime protests on motorbikes, beating the participants violently with clubs and chains, they would if necessary open fire on peaceful demonstrations with live ammunition, which was something the Guards balked at, as its commanders preferred to stay a popular force amongst the people.
To highlight this, there was an incident in August 1994, when the Guards refused an order to open fire on protestors in Qazvin, a large town northwest of Tehran, where demonstrators were out on the streets demonstrating against living conditions, during Iran’s worsening economic crisis. With the Guards refusing to leave their barracks, not wanting to besmirch their name through having to be involved in cutting down unarmed protestors with automatic weapons, the Basij was called in to confront the crowds.
The Basij act much like Hitler’s Storm Battalions - or Brown Shirts as they became known - who in the early days of the NAZI Party, were little more than bands of street ruffians, who had been indoctrinated to adhere to the most fanatical ideologies of the NAZI Party, and were constantly out on German streets violently beating or rounding up Jews.
During their training, Hitler’s Brown Shirts had been brainwashed into holding fast to the fanatical beliefs of the NAZIS, and in much the same way, recruits to the Basij are whipped up into a revolutionary zeal by their commanders, who while indoctrinating them with the ideology of radical Shiite Islam, pumped into their minds how it is their religious duty to protect the Islamic state against insurrection at all costs.
Terrorizing political oponents
A ruthless section of the state security machine, the Basij terrorize political opponents, and if necessary murder dissidents who fall foul of the regime, in the same way that Hitler’s Brown Shirts terrorized and murdered the Jews during the early days of the NAZI Party. In doing so, their duty is to keep control of the streets, which is a necessary element in managing a police state. Whether Shia, Sunni or any other religious persuasion, if you fall foul of the regime, you fall foul of the vicious Basij.
Such is their fanatical devotion to Khamenei, the Basij show no mercy whatsoever towards those the regime class as dissidents, and in the case of the Qazvin protest, Basij units had killed around 40 people, with the injured numbering in access of 400.
The need for a fighting force like the Basij, which was only ever given very basic firearms training, and could be ready for action within weeks, first became apparent to Khomeini at the end of the revolution, when he needed a militia that would be totally loyal to him to back up the IRGC.
This was at a time when he had already purged the Iranian armed forces, feeling that many in its ranks were still loyal to Shah Pahlavi, and that they might conspire to overthrow him. As a result of this, the army became severely decimated, and due to ongoing purges, the military became severely weakened, which turned out to be a catastrophic mistake in those times of constant upheaval, which in a short while would lead up to the Iran/Iraq War.