Over the past decade, the Iranian regime has rapidly expanded its citizens army model — the Basij Resistance Force, a volunteer paramilitary force — inside and outside Iran.
“If a dictator could ask a genie for one wish, it would be for one organization to neutralize all threats and not be expensive,” said Saeid Golkar, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee. “The Basij is this organization.”
In return, they receive government perquisites, such as medical or housing discounts, job opportunities and acceptance into universities.
Golkar calls Iran’s Basij force a “militarized administrative mass organization [that] anybody can join, from students to doctors.” It is rooted in “every corner of Iranian society.”
Members volunteer to indoctrinate locals with the regime’s norms and values, said Golkar. Basiji act as morality police, roaming the streets to enforce a strict dress code for women.
As a paramilitary force, Basiji are frequently called upon to do the government’s internal dirty work. They attacked protesters in the popular uprisings of 2009 and again in early 2018.