Supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, Iran, February 1979
Handout / REUTERS

It was late in the afternoon on a cold winter day. Light snow had covered Tehran the night before, and I was spending the day in the production office of a small film unit of the Basij paramilitary militia. I was researching cultural producers in the Islamic Republic’s military and paramilitary organizations, and the young men who worked in this film unit had agreed to talk to me on the condition of anonymity.

Ali, a 20-year-old Basij film editor, came into the office where I sat with his colleague Mustafa, 24. Ali was working on a sequence for state television about U.S. media and its opposition to the Islamic Republic. Carrying his laptop, he excitedly showed us his latest find, a segment on CNN prior to the signing of the Iran deal about why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Basij are so powerful in Iran. The segment

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  • NARGES BAJOGHLI is Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and the author of Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic, forthcoming from Stanford University Press.
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