Apparently one of the best weapons Khomeni had in the Iran-Iraq war that raged during the 1980s was children. He organized units of children that were nothing more than religiously inspired cannon fodder:
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 12 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.
These children who marched to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass movement created by Khomeini in 1979. This volunteer militia went enthusiastically, and by the thousands, to their own destruction. According to one veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, “It was sometimes like a race. Even without the commander’s orders, everyone wanted to be first.”
Even the Iraqis, no saints themselves, found this slaughter sickening and had difficulty fighting it:
The chief combat tactic employed by the Basiji was the human wave attack, whereby barely armed children and teenagers would move continuously toward the enemy in perfectly straight rows. It did not matter whether they fell to enemy fire or detonated the mines with their bodies. Once a path to the Iraqi forces had been opened up, Iranian commanders would send in their more valuable and skilled Revolutionary Guard troops.
“They come toward our positions in huge hordes with their fists swinging,” one Iraqi officer complained in the summer of 1982. “You can shoot down the first wave and then the second. But at some point the corpses are piling up in front of you, and all you want to do is scream and throw away your weapon. Those are human beings, after all!”
The question, of course, is what motivates this kind of human sacrifice, what destroys the basic impulse to live that animates all living creatures:
At the beginning of the war, Iran’s ruling mullahs did not send human beings into the minefields, but rather animals: donkeys, horses and dogs. But the tactic proved useless: “After a few donkeys had been blown up, the rest ran off in terror,” Mostafa Arki reports in his book Eight Years of War in the Middle East.
The donkeys reacted normally — fear of death is natural. The Basiji, on the other hand, marched fearlessly to their deaths.
It turns out that Khomeni harnessed the mysticism already inherent in the Shia side of Islam, and used it to destroy his citizens' interest in life:
In the late seventh century, Islam was split between those loyal to the Caliph Yazid — the predecessors of Sunni Islam — and the founders of Shia Islam, who thought that the Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, should govern the Muslims. In 680, Hussein led an uprising against the “illegitimate” caliph, but he was betrayed. On the plain of Karbala, Yazid’s forces attacked Hussein and his entourage and killed them. Hussein’s corpse bore the marks of 33 lance punctures and 34 blows of the sword.
His head was cut off and his body was trampled by horses. Ever since, the martyrdom of Hussein has formed the core of Shia theology, and the Ashura Festival that commemorates his death is Shiism’s holiest day. On that day, men beat themselves with their fists or flagellate themselves with iron chains to approximate Hussein’s sufferings.
During the Iran-Iraq War, Khomeini took this inward-directed fervour and channelled it toward the external enemy. He transformed the passive lamentation into active protest. He made the Battle of Karbala the prototype of any fight against tyranny. On the one hand, the scoundrel Yazid, now in the form of Saddam Hussein; on the other, the Prophet’s grandson, Hussein, for whose suffering the time of Shia revenge had finally come.
The power of this story was reinforced by a theological twist that Khomeini gave it. According to Khomeini, life is worthless and death is the beginning of genuine existence. This latter world is accessible to martyrs: Their death is no death, but merely the transition from this world to the world beyond, where they will live on eternally and in splendour.
You can read all this and much more in a New Republic article that appears, with permission, at the Catholic Education Resource Center. Aside from being a terrifying window into a culture's insane soul, it's also an important article to read because it helps explain why Ahmadinejad is probably the most frightening figure in the world today. Not only does he have an intense desire to kill everyone else, he himself is perfectly willing to see the Holocaust sweep his own country if it will hasten the return of the Twelfth Imam. Indeed, as the article explains at greater length, Iran has already done a cost benefits analysis, and has concluded that, to hasten this event, the risk that millions of Muslims will die if Iran sends a nuclear weapon at Israel is a small, indeed reasonable, price to pay.
Hat tip: Suitable for Mixed Company.