The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, April 17, 2006


On the Sunday TV news shows, I listened to a parade of senators—both Democrat and Republican— suggest that it was time for the USA to enter into direct talks with Iran. After all, the Islamofascists in that country are making very unpleasant noises that are hard for even the most ardent isolationists to ignore.

The Democrats have seemed to abandon their continuous calls for multilateralism and their reliance on the Europeans more subtle techniques of negotiation, and now demand that we become directly involved with the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad [the Holocaust denying President of Iran]. The Republicans, looking like deer caught in headlights, are unwilling to suggest that talks will yield nothing, will strengthen, not erode, Iran’s position, and will buy Iran's rouge regime valuable time. In essence, our political leadership is perfectly willing to kick the can down the road hoping that something will happen to make it all go away.

A number of senators and commentators alluded to the growing unrest among Iran’s young people and to the possibility of an internal overthrow of the Islamofascists. For a time, I believed that this might be possible, but I’m now convinced it's a pipe dream. To help you understand why the “young people” in Iran cannot be relied upon to change the toxic dynamic that is Iranian Islamist politics, its worth considering a bit of fairly recent history. In an article in The New Republic, Matthias Küntzel recounts a terrifying bit of history from the early 1980s:

During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran's forces were no match for Saddam Hussein's professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as twelve years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child's neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.

At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. "In the past," wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, "we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone." Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. "Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves."

These children who rolled to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass movement created by Khomeini in 1979 and militarized after the war started in order to supplement his beleaguered army.The Basij Mostazafan--or "mobilization of the oppressed"--was essentially a volunteer militia, most of whose members were not yet 18. They went enthusiastically, and by the thousands, to their own destruction. "The young men cleared the mines with their own bodies," one veteran of the Iran-Iraq War recalled in 2002 to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. "It was sometimes like a race. Even without the commander's orders, everyone wanted to be first."

The sacrifice of the Basiji was ghastly. And yet, today, it is a source not of national shame, but of growing pride. Since the end of hostilities against Iraq in 1988, the Basiji have grown both in numbers and influence. They have been deployed, above all, as a vice squad to enforce religious law in Iran, and their elite "special units" have been used as shock troops against anti-government forces. In both 1999 and 2003, for instance, the Basiji were used to suppress student unrest. And, last year, they formed the potent core of the political base that propelled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--a man who reportedly served as a Basij instructor during the Iran-Iraq War--to the presidency.

For every college educated, liberal-minded Iranian who might disagree with the Mullahs, there are likely five young Iranians who are Basij. In addition, consider this (from Küntzel):

Ahmadinejad revels in his alliance with the Basiji. He regularly appears in public wearing a black-and-white Basij scarf, and, in his speeches, he routinely praises "Basij culture" and "Basij power," with which he says "Iran today makes its presence felt on the international and diplomatic stage." Ahmadinejad's ascendance on the shoulders of the Basiji means that the Iranian Revolution, launched almost three decades ago, has entered a new and disturbing phase. A younger generation of Iranians, whose worldviews were forged in the atrocities of the Iran-Iraq War, have come to power, wielding a more fervently ideological approach to politics than their predecessors. The children of the Revolution are now its leaders.

I’ve always believed that when you negotiate you need to know as much about your negotiating partner as possible. You look for common ground, for mutual interests, for a “win-win.” But if your negotiating partner is irrational, you walk away, and look for another approach to resolving the problem that confronts you.

Our senators are suggesting that we begin negotiations with Basij, the same people who encouraged hundreds of thousands of children to kill themselves in the name of Allah. Maybe our senators should wear a small plastic key made in Taiwan as a good luck charm as they send our negotiators off to do their work.