Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Children as cannon fodder, or "Who are the basiji?"

Last year, about six months after Ahmedinejhad's election, inspired by a piece by Matthias Kuntzel, I linked to several places to learn about the Basiji, Iran's army of dedicated children and young people trained to die as "martyrs" if necessary. The descriptions of their recruitment, preparation and disciplined behavior are -- and I don't use this word carelessly -- unbelievable. I also tried to learn as much as possible about Matthias Kuntzel.

A few weeks ago in the aftermath of the Haditha story, I linked to a Kuntzel piece published in New Republic in April which describes the use of these same children in combat.

With the children as cannon fodder meme again getting play, Kuntzel's most recent examination of the subject is as timely as anything I have found. Try to forget for a moment the culturally conditioned notion of "innocent children" and allow yourself to travel into a twilight world of moral and cultural depravity -- not in order to understand it (because I do not believe the word "understand" has meaning in this case) but just to know that it exists.

If you have not already done so, you might prepare yourself first by drinking deeply of Gerard Vanderleun's Weaponization of Children. That should put your mind at about the right place to fully digest what you read next. There is a difference, however. Gerard's piece is written, believe it or not, through a lens of civility, a polarizing lens that sees the bloody shirt angle for what it is, an appeal to feeling, to humanity, to guilt, to conscience... In short, an appeal to humanity, to principle.

What Kuntzel is describing transcends that. The Basiji warriors are not interested in the bloody shirt angle as it might affect other people. There are bloody shirts enough, already, but the essence of their meaning lies in the existential pain and death of the -- I am stuck for a word... victim... warrior... martyr... zealot... follower... cult member...

Forget it. Just read for yourself and perhaps you can make sense of what you are reading. This piece is fairly long. Don't expect to "get the gist" of it by scanning. If you don't have time to pay attention, skip it and come back later. It is too important to dismiss because you did not ingest what it says because you failed to pay attention. I am interested in comments. This is a timely subject deserving widespread discussion and serious thought about how best to come to terms with it. LINK here to Ahmadinejad's World.

...whether they survived or not was a matter of indifference. Not even the usefulness of their sacrifice mattered. Military victories are secondary, Khomeini explained in September 1980. The Basij must “understand that he is a ‘soldier of God’ for whom it is not so much the outcome of the conflict as the mere participation in it that provides fulfillment and gratification.” Could Khomeini’s antipathy for life have had as much effect in the war against Iraq without the Karbala myth? Probably not. With the word “Karbala” on their lips, the Basiji went elatedly into to battle. And much of
Iranian society went with them. Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, praised Iranian mothers who accepted congratulations instead of condolences for the loss of their sons. Rafsanjani, the current number two man in Iran, recounted the story of the children of soldiers killed in Karbala: “the children pulled on their funeral shrouds, took the swords of their fathers, and they were ready to sacrifice their lives.” And then he ridiculed the commanders of the regular Iranian Army, because the latter wanted to prohibit the families from sending their children to the front. But the children, according to Rafsanjani, did not agree. Rafsanjani asked the public whether, in light of this “adult” attitude, one could really still consider such children as minors.

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In the context of the Iranian nuclear program, the Basiji cult of self-destruction amounts to a lit fuse. Even just a brief look at the Iranian Constitution makes clear that there can be no question of Iran limiting its program to peaceful ends. Article 151 lays down on the authority of the Quran: “Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and horses ready for battle, striking fear into God’s enemy and your enemy.”

Nowadays, Basiji are sent not into the desert, but rather into the laboratory. Basiji students are encouraged to enroll in technical-scientific disciplines. According to a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Guard, the aim is to use the “technical factor” in order to augment “national security”. But what is the implication of atomic weapons in the hands of those who interpret death in the battle field as a spiritual triumph?

I came across this report, not related to Iran's Basiji but clearly an outgrowth from the same mindset, suggeting that Hezbollah sacrifices children deliberately. (Tip Bert de Bruin)

The Lebanese website LIBANOSCOPIE , associated with Christian elements in the country and which openly supports the anti-Syrian movement called the "March 14 Forces," reported that Hizbullah has masterminded a plan that would result in the killing of innocents in the Qana village, in a bid to foil Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's "Seven Points Plan", which calls for deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbullah.

"We have it from a credible source that Hizbullah, alarmed by Siniora's plan, has concocted an incident that would help thwart the negotiations.

Knowing full well that Israel will not hesitate to bombard civilian targets, Hizbullah gunmen placed a rocket launcher on the roof in Qana and brought disabled children inside, in a bid to provoke a response by the Israeli Air Force. In this way, they were planning to take advantage of the death of innocents and curtail the negotiation initiative," the site stated.

The site's editors also claimed that not only did Hizbullah stage the event, but that it also chose Qana for a specific reason: "They used Qana because the village had already turned into a symbol for massacring innocent civilians, and so they set up 'Qana 2'." Notably, the incident has indeed been dubbed "The second Qana massacre" by the Arab media.

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