On August 20, 1978, in the Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, was set ablaze, burning alive 500 individuals. The victims were mainly from a working class neighborhood, where the Islamists had strong support. Nevertheless, in the views of radical Islamists, people had no business going to western movies.
Over 100 movie theaters were closed in that campaign–mainly by intimidation (familiar tactic) but in this case the doors were nailed shut, gasoline poured around, and the building set afire. The sounds of victims screaming as they were burned alive resounded through the neighborhood. Khamenei himself is believed to have played a role in organizing the attacks on movie theaters, so his brutality today should not surprise the Iranian people.
Since June 12th the regime commits horrific crimes such as election rigging and Neda’s murder denied them and blamed outsiders for its deeds. It’s not a new pattern but goes back to the period just before the Shah’s overthrow. Unfortunately it is a formula that has worked for the Bad Guys in the past so they assumed it would work today. Alas for Khamenei and his regime the Iranian people have become more sophisticated, more critical and more skeptical of the “good intentions” of this bunch.
SUCCESS #1: The extreme Islamists got a “two-bagger” out of the Abadan fire. First Islamists taught the people a lesson similar to what show trials and political executions, rapes and beatings are supposed to achieve today. Recall how a similar brutal tactic–throwing acid in women’s faces–was used to break down mass resistance to enforcement of new hajib laws. (How many Iranians today have forgotten both the Cinema Rex fire and the acid attack campaign, partly because most Iranians hadn’t been born and partly because of how history is manipulated by the regime? Certain topics are taboo. The opposition needs to remind people of these past misdeeds).
Secondly Islamists spread the rumor that the Shah and his secret police (Savak) were behind it. It was widelly accepted. Many Iranians who had previously been neutral rejected the Shah’s denials and believed the Islamists. Another rumour suggested that the shah intentionally blamed the incident on Islamist militants in an attempt to discredit and potentially dislodge them from their growing influence within the undefined hierarchy of the revolutionary forces (Does that propaganda tactic–a form of psychological projection–sound familiar?)
After the success of the revolutionary forces, Islamic tribunals were established as part of the Islamization of society. Members of the shah’s regime who were unable or chose not to leave the country were often subject to the judgment of the newly instated judicial process. In the midst of revolutionary terror and general uncertainty, many were tried and convicted for crimes they had little or nothing to do with. This was for the purpose of quelling the population’s thirst for revolutionary justice. The Cinema Rex fire was an event that continued to loom over the minds of many Iranians, and closure, no matter how vulgar the result, was vital not only for legitimizing the newborn government’s capacity to fulfill public demands, but also to crush any form of royal revivalism.
SUCCESS #2: When President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah into the USA for cancer treatments (the man was dying) the Islamists spread false rumors of a US attempt to restore the Shah to power, it worked. Believing those rumors (for which not a shred of evidence was ever found), a group of leftists students seized the American embassy.
Conservative clerics didn’t initiate the embassy seizure but they triggered it and, once underway, used it for their own purposes. It was useful in driving a wedge between the West, especially the USA, and Ian. It also gave Islamists a much-needed excuse to purge all revolutionary allies, executing many of them. How different Iran would be today had it never occurred. One of the most disasterous consequences was the Iran/Iraq war, made possible when Saddam Hussein attempted to take advantage of a now irretrievable split between Iran and the USA and the domestic turmoil in Iran.
The claim that the Shah arranged the fire never made sense, since he had easier and less dramatic means available to close the theaters if he wanted to do so. Also, why close movie theaters piecemeal over a period of time?
However, like the acid attacks that blinded and or permanently disfigured so many Iranian women–and like so many similar horrors today–if fit the Islamist philosophy and brutal tactics.
Islamists saw the movie theaters as an affront to God, encouraging vice and Western-style decadence. So in August 1978, four Shiite revolutionaries locked the doors of the Cinema Rex in the Iranian city of Abadan and set the theater on fire.
Islamists opposed cinema for ideological or doctrinal reasons. While Shia Muslims (unlike some strict Sunni Musilms) do not forbid pictures, many strict Shia believe any motion pictures “with music, dance or any other un-Islamic portrayal is haram to view.” Ever since motion pictures were first introduced into Iran at the turn of the 20th century, the clerical establishment saw the medium as not only a threat to moral righteousness, but also a direct attack on their position as authority figures (Does that sound familiar?).
The depiction of women without proper religious attire and other blasphemous content furthered anti-Western sentiment, solidifying an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that in part continues to maintain clerical dominance over Iranian society.
(Some of the above post relies on material I gathered on the internet while researching the Abadan fire)