Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Governing through Vice

Before that, the Basij, including female units, had been used primarily as a kind of vice squad, looking for drug addicts, prostitutes and mostly women but also men wearing immodest dress.

Neil MacFarquhar, reporting in yesterday's NYTimes notes that the Basij, the often motorcycle driving "volunteer" militia that have been the shock troops of the Iranian government's violent suppression of Tehran's protests, have their origin in the vast policing of "vice" that goes on in Iranian society. Tactically, this means the government's elite Revolutionary Guard (where most of its recent leaders have come from) is given tremendous capacity to act at the micro-level of society through this extensive network of informants and government agents.

That combination means that the military has rather intimate knowledge of the populations of cities and neighborhoods across Iran. “They organize in every office, every university, every mosque,” said Fatimah Haghighatjoo, a former reformist member of the Iranian Parliament who is now a visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

It also suggests that the actual legitimacy of Iran's regime, like ours, relies heavily on the identification (and construction) of a vast sea of evil and deviance within civil society whose elimination becomes a raison d'etre for an expansionist state. In both cases, drugs fill a major role in populating that army of deviants against which state repression can be marketed to the people as a form of freedom.

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