Secret Police at the Edge of the Crowd

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“Thirty years ago, during the demonstrations that led to the Shah’s downfall, one of the dominant images was scenes of uniformed soldiers firing live ammunition at protesters. This week, Iran’s clerics seem determined, at least, not to repeat that historic mistake. They remember that the daily news coverage of the Shah’s soldiers shooting and killing unarmed protesters precipitated the collapse of the regime.

“Instead, bearded plainclothes militiamen have been attacking and harassing the demonstrators in Tehran this past week. These are Basijis, members of a civilian paramilitary organization founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.”

Jon Lee Anderson, “Understanding the Basij.”


Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries and the novel Happy Baby. He is the founder of The Rumpus. His feature film debut, About Cherry, was distributed by IFC. More from this author →