Revolutionary Guards unveil propaganda bookmobiles

Reuters

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dressed in a Revolutionary Guards uniform walks with soldiers at an undisclosed location during the Iran-Iraq war, in this undated handout image.

Article Highlights

  • The IRGC is charged not only with territorial defense, but also with the protection of Iran’s revolutionary ideology.

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  • Concern regarding the distracting influence of external culture extends to the IRGC.

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The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is charged not only with territorial defense, but also with the protection of Iran’s revolutionary ideology. For the leadership of the Revolutionary Guards, the latter job is never ending. The Friday prayer leaders may spread the Supreme Leader’s vision in weekly sermons delivered in every city and town, but during the week Iranians are bombarded with cultural temptations, be they in manifestations of pre-revolutionary Iranian culture, Western television and radio beamed in from abroad, or from CDs and DVDs available on the Iranian black market. Indeed, this is at the root of the Iranian leadership’s obsession with “soft warfare” and what Iranian ideologues often call the “cultural NATO.”

Concern regarding the distracting influence of external culture extends to the IRGC. While many analysts and journalists place Iranian politicians along a continuum ranging from reformers to hardliners, there is no corollary understanding of the factional divisions within the IRGC. Some authors have tried to describe IRGC factions, but insight into personnel does not exist with the precision needed to categorize individual officers, let alone rank-and-file guardsmen, by faction. All but the most elite IRGC units, which are more ideologically vetted, probably contain a mix of guardsmen, some of whom may be committed to revolutionary principles, but others of whom might have only joined the IRGC for the economic, social, and vocational benefits that accompany membership.

It is in this context that the IRGC’s mobile propaganda bookmobiles—the announcement of which is excerpted here—is interesting. While it may sound harsh to label them “propaganda bookmobiles,” the term propaganda (tablighat) tends not to have the same negative connotation in Persian that it does in English; indeed, it is the term that is also used for television commercials. Nevertheless, the fact that the Revolutionary Guards must send mobile propaganda units to the peripheries of Iran, such as the three United Arab Emirate islands which Iran occupies in the Persian Gulf, might suggest that the IRGC leadership recognizes the hold of Ayatollah Khomeini’s philosophy on its rank-and-file may be tenuous or, at the very least, needs constant reinforcement.

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Michael
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  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.


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