Thugs at the service of the Jurist Leadership regime

https://rasanah-iiis.org/english/?p=1843

ByMohammed Alsulami

It is well known that the current Iranian regime’s name has pursued a policy of intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, especially the neighboring Arab countries, supporting terrorism and inciting sectarian conflicts, as well as backing sectarian militias and armed groups in the region. Nevertheless, many people may not know that the Jurist Leadership [Rule of the (Islamic) Jurist] regime has also relied on the same policies and similar oppressive tools, albeit implemented in a slightly different manner, in dealing with domestic political, ethnic and social protests inside Iran. Perhaps the most prominent tool of the clerical regime to achieve its objectives and put out and crack down on any protest is its dependence on what is known inside Iran as “Hooligans and Gangs” or what we might call “thugs.”
Historically, the roots of these thugs back to the founding of the Safavid period (1501-1750), when the source of this phenomenon of “hooliganism” began to appear, with numerous examples of this deployed by Ismail Safavid, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, who used thugs known as “Tabariyans” to enforce sectarian war at the time against Sunnis. The Tabariyans roamed the city streets, cursing the first three caliphs (Abu Bakr and Othman and Omar), and killing anyone who refused to curse them, becoming a dreadful and efficient tool for oppression and murder of the people, and the first step of the forcible transformation of Iran from a Sunni nation to a Shiite one. This phenomenon again re-emerged clearly in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution. A book recently published in Iran, aptly entitled ‘The Biography of al-Fatwa,’ narrates the stories of the country’s famous bullies and thugs, but presents them as symbols of chivalry, gallantry, and good manners. Iranian activists and prominent political figures, including Mehdi Karroubi, one of the iconic leaders of the ‘Green Movement’, have often warned Iranians that the regime will resort to relying on the destructive forces of thugs, stressing that the current system relies on the use of plainclothes hooligans and gangs of thugs to attack the homes of scholars and critics, of foreign embassies, and of religious, political, cultural, scientific and technical centers, under the slogan of ‘protecting the revolution’ and its principles! Any observer of the phenomenon of hooliganism in Iran is aware that the regime has redoubled its thuggery in recent years to a terrifying level, especially in the regions which are predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities. It is clear that Iranian officials resort to the deployment of these murderous thugs when they need to terrorise the people without getting their hands dirty or being seen to be directly involved; there are many examples of this, including the regime’s deployment of groups of thugs at universities in order to suppress student protests and quash any dissent or criticism of the regime. These brutal thugs have “kept order” by terrorizing Iran’s students into silence for a long time on the regime’s behalf; amongst other things, they were behind the bloody attacks on students in Tehran’s Tabriz University in 1999.
If we return to look at the photos and videos filmed during the regime’s savage crushing of protests against the results of the 2009 presidential election, we can see that the brutality was often coordinated and perpetrated by individuals in civilian clothing. These are the regime’s Basij (Mobilization forces) and their affiliated thugs. Everyone has seen the footage of cars deliberately ramming into groups of unarmed protesters on the streets of Tehran and running over their bodies, with the Basiji also throwing protesters alive from high bridges and using cudgels, iron bars, and electric batons to beat the demonstrators. These operations were not isolated or unique; this was simply the first time they were widely seen worldwide via social media. They had continued since, with some media publishing reports and photos of one of these incidents last May when street vendors were savagely attacked by regime plainclothes thugs, who beat them with clubs. It was, unsurprisingly, later confirmed that the attackers had been assigned by the municipality to do the dirty work that the officials didn’t want to seem directly involved in.
From all the above, we can say that there are several reasons behind Iranian officials’ policy of using vicious plainclothes thugs; the most important of these is the long-standing ties between these ‘Iranian shabiha’ boot boys and regime officials, especially those responsible for maintaining security, not to mention their close association with the country’s military and security institutions such as the ‘Basij’ and the Revolutionary Guards and others, who find them a reliable source of help.
Another reason for the regime’s reliance on these thugs is that some Iranian officials consider brutal violence the best solution to deal with any dissent, especially with anyone seeking to act or speak out against the regime red line of Jurist Leadership, with repression being an essential if unspoken ingredient in its implementation: while the Iranian government has sometimes taken responsibility for uprisings against it and the vicious steps taken to crush any expressions of dissent, some in the regime prefer to use methods that offer them a way to evade responsibility, with the plainclothes thugs providing the regime ‘plausible deniability’.
Any possible change in the current aggressive behavior of the Iranian regime would immediately be apparent both domestically and regionally, with the region’s countries now suffering from the murderous thuggery unleashed by the leaders in Tehran in the same way as the Iranian people; it’s not yet known if the peoples of the Arab nations now on the receiving end of the Jurist Leadership regime’s bloodthirsty violence will agree with the Iranian saying, “Injustice inflicted by kin is more hurtful than injustice inflicted by strangers.’
The most crucial question to ask, however, is, how and when will the behavior of the Tehran regime ever change?

Mohammed Alsulami
Mohammed Alsulami
Head of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies