Internationalizing the Basij

Reuters

Members of Iran's Basij militia march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2010.

Article Highlights

  • The Basij, a volunteer militia during Iran-Iraq war, has been institutionalized by regime as tool for indoctrination

    Tweet This

  • The Basij, a paramilitary group loyal to Khamenei and IRGC, is hoping to expand in beyond Iran's borders

    Tweet This

  • All Iran’s revolutionary outreach has ever achieved is bad blood between Tehran and regional capitals

    Tweet This

The Basij-e Mostaz’afin, literally “Mobilization of the Oppressed,” is a uniquely Iranian institution. The Basij began as a volunteer militia operating in defense of the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary principles. The iconic image of the Basij in its early years was of unarmed 14-year-olds with headbands singing Imam Hussein’s praises, running across minefields with plastic keys to heaven dangling from their necks.

With the Iran-Iraq War over, the paramilitary Basij transformed itself into the chief mechanism for Iranian authorities to indoctrinate a new generation of revolutionary youth who would not receive their education at the front. This led to the Basij’s institutionalization: today, Basij chapters exist at most secondary schools, universities, and factories. Professionals, whether they are teachers, craftsmen, or doctors, have their own Basij chapters. Special units exist for women and even nomads. The paramilitary group, merged formally into the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 2007, even operates summer camps and youth centers.

An article detailing the announcement— an excerpt of which is translated—states that the Basij hopes to expand beyond the borders of Iran. If implemented, this would add a new chapter to Iran’s desire to export its revolution. “Export of Revolution” is the Islamic Republic’s raison d’être. It is enshrined in the Islamic Republic’s constitution and, on 25 July 25 1981, Payam-e Enghelab defined “the principle of jihad” as, along with defending the revolution, one of the two main tasks of the Guards.

In the Islamic Republic’s early years, the IRGC sought to export revolution to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan, and Iraq and, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, to Azerbaijan. Beyond Lebanon, where Hezbollah took root, all Iran’s revolutionary outreach has achieved was bad blood between Tehran and regional capitals. Where Iran hopes to sponsor Basij units is unclear. Iranian officials have said they will found the Basij chapters in “allied countries.” Iran, however, has few allies in the Middle East or, for that matter, the Muslim world.

With its traditional ally Syria teetering, which makes establishment of “youth camps” there unlikely, Tehran might instead be refocusing it attention on Lebanon. Should President Bashar al-Assad fall in Syria, Iranian officials would have a harder time exerting influence in Lebanon. Creation of a Basij in Lebanon might be a mechanism for Iranian officials to check growing Hezbollah autonomy. Basij units might also bestow privilege upon dispossessed Iraqi Shi‘ites, who might overlook the Arab-Persian ethnic divide if the price is right.

As firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr both loses influence and seeks to cast his lot with Kurds and Iraqi Sunni Arab parties skeptical of Iran, Iraqi Basij chapters might help compensate for the decline of the Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi militia. While neither Bahrain nor Kuwait is an Iranian ally, Iranian officials might utilize a new Basij outreach strategy to help the Islamic Republic take its sympathy toward the Gulf emirates’ sectarian opposition to a new level. Kuwaiti security officials already warn of sectarian “children’s camps” replete with weapons training operating during school holidays in Western Kuwait. Regardless, a grand plan to expand the Basij—even if to nowhere approaching a 100 million member mark—suggests that the trajectory of Iran is to redouble upon ideological indoctrination rather than moderate in order to live in peace with its neighbors.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.