In This Review

Captive Society: The Basij Militia and Social Control in Iran
Captive Society: The Basij Militia and Social Control in Iran
By Saeid Golkar
Columbia University Press, 2015, 256 pp

As many as a third of Iranian adults may be affiliated with the Basij, a hard-line paramilitary group whose name translates as “mobilization.” The group formed during the Iran-Iraq War, and its purpose is to protect the Islamic Republic and its supreme leader. Resources began to flow in its direction especially after the reformist Mohammad Khatami won the presidency in 1997. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who succeeded Khatami, was drawn from the Basij, and its members brutally defended his 2009 reelection, attacking the so-called Green Movement demonstrators who protested the election’s outcome. In Golkar’s skillful rendering, the Basij appears so vast that all Iranians can find some facet of themselves reflected in it. That said, its members hail primarily from the lower-middle classes and from rural areas. Its ranks include five million women and girls, nearly a million students, most of Iran’s regular police officers, and around 60 percent of all the civil servants in Iran. Belonging to the Basij often means enjoying access to jobs, cheap loans and housing, entrance to a university, and professional promotions. But the group is more feared than respected, and Golkar views it as a major impediment to any liberalization or democratization in the Islamic Republic.