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Dystopian Imagination —

Three authors: William Golding,  Aldous HuxleyGeorge Orwell.

Four books:  Animal Farm, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In the American high school education of the 1960s, the above were part of the canon taught to all.  Any who missed mention of Golding, Huxley, and Orwell or failed to read Animal Farm (or the Cliff Notes) would have had to have missed school altogether.  Awareness and fear of absolute obedience before a tyrannical authority; of erasure beneath the wheels of an engineered, mechanical, repeating society; of cynical political manipulation and exploitation; and of savagery itself were built into the imaginations of the young.  As our own society could not be the dystopian nightmares observed in reading, we would have to wade back through history or wait for the Islamic Small Wars as they present online to let us know that somewhere our fictions were emblematic of somebody’s political and social reality in situ.

Dystopian Reality — 

Golkar, Saeid.  Captive Society: The Basij Militia and Social Control in Iran.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2015

Training a new generation of youth and inoculating them against the Western cultural invasion constitute another mission of the female Basiji, who should make their “children aware of the problems of threats through explaining outcomes and upshots of the soft war.”  To achieve this goal, the WSBA established the Babies’ Basij to indoctrinate children before they reach school age.  To establish the Babies’ Basij, the WSBO implemented the plan of Quranic kindergarten (mahdha-e mehrab).  Under this plan, a WSBO kindergarten was established at each mosque with a WSBO base.  Children between the ages of three to five years attend these kindergartens.  In addition, the organization designs a curriculum to be used in the home for instructing children who are younger than three years of age.  Female Basiji are encouraged to bring their children to Basij activities, in order to socialize with other children and train them for future posts in the Islamic regime (p. 117)

Columbia University Press provided BackChannels with a review copy a month or two ago, and while reading took place post-haste, reviewing has had to wait for the “what to say” about a book whose author, Saeid Golkar, has covered the subject thoroughly and done so in plain textbook prose that makes the telling of the tale — specifically, coverage of the layout and history of the most pervasive organizational element exploited by the Iranian regime to create, reinforce, and sustain a society obedient to its will  —  on each page all the more chilling.

Although Golkar balances his exploration of the Basij organizations (“Basij is a Persian word meaning “mobilization.”  The complete name of the group, Sazeman-e Basij-e Mostazafan, means “Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed”) with this-or-that modules (.e.g, “The Basij: Nongovernmental Organization, Administered Mass Organization, or Militia?”), there are portions focused on the regime’s impositions throughout the land, and as much comes out in subchapter titling: “Penetration in Society: The Organizational Structure of the Basij”; “Mass Membership and Recruitment Training”; “The Mass Indoctrination of Basij Members”; “The Basij and Propaganda”; “The Basij and Moral Control”; “The Basij and Surveillance”; “The Basij and Political Repression”; “The Basij and the Controlling of Families . . . Schools . . . Universities . . . the Economy.”  By the time one reaches “Islamic Warriors or Religious Thugs?” the drift in concern has been made abundantly clear.

Golkar, however, generously covers the contrary view: the Basij are part of the regime’s patronage system, and those who wish to earn some money and make way on their careers may join for the familiar and practical causes known well to western chambers of commerce and numberless academic and civic organizations.

Just don’t forget who’s boss!

Here’s the last paragraph before the appendix:

“With the expansion of the Basij’s involvement in Iran’s social, political, and economic life, the opportunity for the country’s peaceful transition to democracy will decrease dramatically.  Because many Basij commanders and members have been co-opted by the IRI, it is not implausible to think that they will resist any serious attempts at government reform that would jeopardize their positions” (p. 196).

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