ANALYSIS: Iran’s history and continuance of unspeakable violence

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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From its very inception, the Iranian regime has relied on extreme violence against its own people to retain a grip on power, and from mass murder in its prison system, to torture, to public hangings, this cycle of violence has continued for almost four decades.

With all ages being targeted, from children as young as twelve to elderly men in their nineties, it has been estimated that over 120,00 have already been executed in Iran for various crimes against the state.

Leading up to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return, from exile on 1 February 1979, with rioting on the streets having lasted several months, the Shah’s ill-trained military had begun to open fire on unarmed civilians, killing hundreds in the process. So, with the Shah now gone, and his troops lacking the ability to quell the mass of revolutionary movements ranged against them, they decided it was time to declare neutrality.

As the revolution escalated, it was like a step back in time to the birth of a mediaeval dynasty. No opposing entity was spared the wrath of Khomeini’s rampaging hordes, as they stormed through the streets of Iran, seeking out any form of dissent, and all the while dispensing their own form of extrajudicial justice.

It was at this point, a type of “parallel government” came into being in the form of the Revolutionary Council, which had been set up by Khomeini from a motley collection of clerics, activists and politicians, all of whom were trusted supporters of Khomeini throughout his years in exile.

It was under the guidance of the Revolutionary Council, neighbourhood “revolutionary committees” were fast put into place across the whole of Iran, made up of activists who had been responsible in the lead up to the revolution of coordinating strikes, demonstrations and other subversive activity with which to bring down the Shah. From this point, acting as rudimentary security forces, the revolutionary komitehs were loosed onto the streets to implement their own form of revolutionary justice.

Almost immediately, members of these komitehs began to seize thousands of light arms from military arsenals, and armed with rifles, clubs and knives, they began to hunt down the enemies of the revolution.

During this period, the violence unleashed against the Iranian population was sickening, people were being executed for any form of crime that could be pinned on them, which included vague charges such as “ruining the economy”, “crimes against the revolution”, and “sowing corruption on earth”.

While others caught up in the violence, included women buried up to the neck and stoned to death for so-called sexual crimes, intellectuals at universities shot for upholding student demonstrations, while many other unfortunate citizens were dragged out onto the streets of Tehran, and shot in full view of the public for allegedly dealing in drugs, a ruse still used today by the regime as an excuse to execute dissidents.

But due to the form of the ensemble of various revolutionary groups that had been brought together by Khomeini to bring down the Shah, many of those with a secular outlook soon realised the path they were taking was leading to a new dictatorship.

But this time around, it was going to be a religious autocracy led exclusively by Shiite mullahs, excluding all those of other faiths or persuasions, and it was this that led to a serious challenge to Khomeini’s consolidation of power.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leading the Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Imam Khomeini grand mosque in Tehran on June 26, 2017. (AFP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leading the Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Imam Khomeini grand mosque in Tehran on June 26, 2017. (AFP)

As the slaughter on the streets picked up momentum, with hundreds having already fallen at the hands of their executioners, the varied collection of political groups that had propelled Khomeini to power, were now turning against him. So, with this being the case, Khomeini’s old comrades, who had been fighting under a secular banner for an end to tyranny, would now be termed as enemies of the revolution.

In a bid to quell the growing opposition from his one-time allies, who had taken to the streets in the form of mass demonstrations, Khomeini hit back in the only way he knew; with extreme violence.

But realising the need for a force that would be loyal only to him, on 5 May 1979, he founded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), bringing several paramilitary forces under one umbrella, to protect his newly formed revolutionary government from internal threats, as well as protect it from being overthrown by the country’s conventional military forces.

Faltering revolution

As Khomeini’s revolution faltered, the most formidable enemy ranged against him was the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), a secular group that was incensed at the likelihood of a religious dictatorship being installed.

Then as these dissidents took to the streets demonstrating against Khomeini, thugs of the revolutionary komitehs were given the opportunity to exact revenge on this so-called “infidel mujahedin” that had betrayed them, and after a series of bombings of political buildings, and assassinations of public officials, all blamed on the MEK, the mullah leadership set out to have the group eradicated.

After a series of mass arrests, tens of thousands of MEK dissidents were eventually executed, and with its leader Masoud Rajavi having flown to Paris for exile, he announced the formation of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an alternative secular government for his country, and also launched a campaign to overthrow Khomeini.

With Ali Khamenei the present Supreme Leader, Iran is heading down the same road of turmoil faced by the Shah, as mass demonstrations are once more beginning to appear on the streets, and with an economic downturn already beginning to bite, the ordinary Iranian is feeling the brunt of it.

Unemployment is now high, the number of homeless people has risen rapidly, as drug addiction takes hold right across Iran, and with the number of dissenters being hung also rising dramatically under the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, it is now beginning to mirror the events that brought down the Shah.

The Iranian people have suffered almost forty years of oppression under the present regime, much more severe than that of the Shah’s, and right now, it looks as though history is about to repeat itself?

Khomeini whipped the Iranian people up into a frenzy of revolution by accusing the Shah of stripping the country of its wealth. Now, the regime and the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are doing much worse.

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