By Farhang Abtin
Translator: Dr. Azadeh Azad
When in March 2010, General Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces in the Middle East at the time, said in an interview with the CNN that the Islamic government of Iran was changing hands from the clergymen to the thugs, and called it “Thugocracy” (1), in fact the Islamic government’s and its supporters’ immoral and inhumane behaviours in and out of the country had become so obvious that this title was not difficult to understand. This was a government that was clearly in the hands of para-military thugs who audaciously committed dirty crimes both publically and rhetorically within their own group reminiscent of the rapes and tortures in Kahrizak for “farce and mockery” and “public humiliation”, which are in themselves proof for the proper attribution of the adjective “thug” on the forehead of such individuals who often and ironically carry the title “Commander”. (2) But this was not a new story as the American General was realizing and articulating after over half a century.
Since earlier times, most neighbourhood thugs, big louts and famous knife-stabbing houligans in Iranian cities always had intense religious beliefs and were among the pioneers in religious rituals, passion plays and seasonal mournings of Shiite religious ceremonies. The famous contemporary example of this current is Sha’bān Ja’fary known as “the Brainless Sha’boon” who, according to the evidence, had strong religious beliefs and further, according to his relatives, did not stop doing prayers and fasting until the last day of his life. (3) Apparently this religious belief acts as a site of refuge from ethics or, in other words, a mental space of conscience- washing and, of course, religious traditions help to strengthen such belief. Mehdi Iraqi, one of the founders of Coalition Board, who was himself one of the religious louts, said, in his memoirs, that Seyyed Mojtaba Mir-Lowhi, a senior member of the Fedāyeen of Islam, was the first person who, after his release from prison, believed that lout and hooligan forces with religious beliefs must be used in the struggle; it was these same people who gathered around Navvāb Safavi (4).
Mehdi Iraqi believed that “the period of knife-stabbing was over and now was the time of revolver shooting”. In his memoirs after August 19, 1953, referring to Abd Khodaei, another of these knife-stabbers, Sha’boon the Brainless says, “When Abd Khodaei (assailant of Dr. Fātemi) was among the Fedāyeen of Islam, I too was one of the Fedāyeen of Islam.” And he continues, “With Hossein Makki, we used to go to Kāshāni’s house in the afternoon and then we slowly became disciples and rigid fans of Kāshāni.”(5) In his memoirs, Sha’ban Ja’fari has presented himself as one of Ayatollah Kāshāni’s and Fedāyeen of Islam’s ardent devotees.
After the collapse of the national and democratic government of doctor Mohammad Mossadeq, the thugs continued to maintain and strengthen their ties with the clergymen. Perhaps the main reason for this relationship was the bilateral need these two groups had for each other. In a feudal society where the collective behaviours are tribal, the control of the collective behaviours takes place with superstitious (religious) beliefs as well as the plain force outside of the law (lout games). These two levers are also in the hands of these two groups (clergymen and louts.) Therefore, one should not be surprised if such a close relationship is observed between the two groups. The more a society advances towards civility, community participation and valuing the equal rights of the citizens, the more the clergymen’s power and that of thugs and louts diminish. It is because the collective behaviours in such societies are determined by a method based on collective wisdom and majority vote — not with the superstitions of religion-mongers or the stabbing of drunkards’ knives. In traditionalized Middle-Eastern socities, these two groups act like a brake against moderrnization, because their class interests have been in maintaining feudal relations and traditionalism. One does not need to emphasize that in the traditional-religious society of that period, the clergymen were on the top and the louts acted as their force of the numbers and Task Force below them. It is not surprising that as long as the government of the time did not take steps for transformations in serious conflict with the interests of these two groups, it enjoyed their support.
The former Iranian king, Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi, who believed in reformer dictatorship and imperative social reforms, proceeded to perform a series of economic and social reforms in 1962 in order to take the first steps towards the transformation of the feudal and landlord-vassal relationships. Ruhollah Khomeini was the first Mullah who officially protested to the Shah against giving women the right to vote, considering it contrary to the principles of Qur’an, (written in a March 1963 letter to him). Khomeini’s speeches caused the excitement of the religious mass, which the Islamic government, in its official literature, calls the “Uprising of June 4, 1963”. Following the religious leaders’ provocation, the demonstrators also opposed the 1st and 5th principles, which were land reform and implementation of the electoral law in favour of women, followed up with the approval of the Family Protection Act. (6) This uproar led to widespread clashes in Tehran and Qom between excited religious populace and police forces. (7)
The first and most important center of turbulence in Tehran was the fruit-mongers square where a group led by Tayyeb Hāj Rezāei, Tehran’s famous dagger-stabber, had started demonstrating. Tayyeb was one of “Sha’boon the Brainless”’ friends and someone who had been awarded a Resurrection medal from the Ministry of War, after August 19, 1953. Tayyeb, an evil knife-stabbing hooligan, was charged with murder resulting in five years in prison. On June 4, he was established as the effective agent of perturbations–burning clubs and banks, and looting shops. According to the existing documents, his criminal records consist of his arrests on charges of clashes with the police in 1937; hooliganism and clashes in 1940; five years imprisonment in 1943; and exile on charges of murder in 1944. Another record of his arrest is in 1952, during the period of Dr. Mossadeq’s Prime Ministerial reign in office, when Tayyeb and Sha’ban Ja’fari wrote to the Military Governor of Tehran: “We have been arrested and held for the crime of loving the Shah and expressing feelings towards the beloved Shah of Shahs”. (8)
According to the evidence given by witnesses, Tayyeb had a history of getting bribes by force and committing violence against citizens. At the same time, he was a religious person; during the mourning days of the month of Muhharam, he would wear black clothes, and not shave his beard. And of course, due to his interest in monarchy, he had tattooed the picture of the Shah with the royal crown on his chest and abdomen and arms. Because he liked to drink, Islamists likened him to “Hor ebn-e Riāhi” in historical simulations. In the interrogations after June 4, 1963, he asserted that “I do not have contact with scholars and clerics … I mourn just during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram and during the rest of the year I often spend my time in pubs.” Nonetheless, Tayyeb was executed. In a report, the SAVAK are quoted to have said, “For the public and especially the residents of the south of Tehran, among whom Tayyeb had a good reputation, executing him was quite unexpected and contrary to their hope for his pardon.”
Mohsen Rafiq-doust, who had been himself one of the youth of Fruit-mongers Square or a so-called Fruit-mongers “Squarian” (Meydooni) and marginalized, says in his memoirs, “Although he had issues in his own life, no matter which sect he belonged to, Tayyeb was one of the devotees of Imam Hussein and if in other days of the year he did knife-stabbing or bullying or any other bad deed, at least during the months of Muharram and Safar and Ramezān he avoided these things and became clean and neat. Especially during the month of Muharram, he sat up ‘platforms for passion play’, ‘gathering for the recitation of the Imams’ martyrdom’ and ‘mourning cliques.’ I think, basically, his salvation was because of his devotion to Imam Hussein.” (9). Of course, there was no salvation in this world and probably Rafiq-doust meant salvation in another world, as Tayyeb was finally executed.
One should not be surprised that a professional dagger-stabber became the official champion of the traditional Islamist movement of 1963. With the growth of urbanization, appearances and lack of civic culture would lead to a state where although the citizens apparently wear a tie or bow-tie, they maintain their attachment to the traditional and religious patterns and tribal behaviours. The traditional culture considers the arms of the neighbourhoods’ ruffian and big lout the place of implementation of justice. In any case, the Shah’s land reform policy, despite his intentions and/or what he and his advisers believed, was not successful and became the cause of massive migration of rural population with their traditional and religious culture to the cities. Although the land reform policy was the endpoint of landlord-vassal relations in the villages, it had not offered a solution to correct the mindset of that culture’s carriers. Lacking necessary training, the new small landowners preferred to sell their agricultural lands and rush to the good urban life. These rural people, who were the serious carriers of the traditional-religious culture, settled in marginal urban areas. In touch with what the State media propagandized about modern life, they strongly felt alienated and saw this modernization in conflict with their traditional-religious beliefs. In their media, the Islamists too acknowledge this trend. (10) To be continued.
1. Thugocracy : Rule of a country or State by a group of thugs.
2. Statements by Commander Ghāsemi among the Basijis about the events following the 2009 election.
3. Sha’ban Ja’fari had strong religious beliefs. His entourage says that he did not stop his prayers and fasting until the last years of his life. Sha’ban Ja’fari was born in the neighbourhood of Darkhoongāh in the Sangelach district in the heart of Tehran, a neighbourhood where Ayatollah Mohammad Tabatabaei (one of the Constitutional era leaders) resided. Ayatollah Shariat Sangelachi (a famous and forward-thinking professor of Jurisprudence) and Reza Shah Pahlavi (before the coup d’état of February 21, 1921) also lived in that district. Prior to the August 19, 1953 coup d’état, which led to the fall of Dr. Mossadeq’s government, Sha’ban Jafari was known as “Sha’boon the Brainless” or “Sha’boon Darkhoongāh”. But after the success of the coup d’état and the shah’s return to Iran, he chose the surname Tāj-bakhsh (Crown Donor) for himself. However, it is said that following some notifications, he limited himself to his former surname.
6. Sarshār, Homa. 1992. Memoirs of Sha’ban Ja’fari, Saf’boon Bimokh. Blue Edition.
7. This program, known as “White Revolution” and “The Shah and the nation’s Revolution”, consisted of the following six principles:
(I) Land Reform and the abolition of the landowner and vassal regime.
(II) Nationalization of the forests and pastures.
(III) Conversion of State-owned factories to joint stock companies and the selling of its stock to ensure land reform.
(IV) Profit sharing of the factory workers.
(V) Reform of Iran’s electoral law in order to give women voting rights and political equality with men.
(VI) Creating knowledge Corps.
The number of principles rose from six to twelve later on. Apart from the project and implementation methods of which of these principles were realistic or idealistic for Iran of that time, clearly the principles 1 and 5 were in immediate conflict with the interests of conservative class headed by the clergymen. Prior to the Land Reform, 50% of farmlands were in the lands of big landowners, 20% belonged to endowments and the clergymen, 10% of the lands were State-owned or belonged to the King, and the remaining 20% belonged to the farmers. Pressures from big landowners and from the clergymen who, due to the endowments lands, were considered to be big landowners, caused long delays in the implementation of this project.
8. Life and death of Tayyeb Hāj Rezāei
9. “Khomeini’s Revolution, Hosseini Epic” is the title of an article by Seyyed Mehdi Hosseini who calls Tayyeb “one of the martyrs of June 4 (15 Khordād), 1963. He writes:
“Tayyeb himself had a peculiar kind of faith. For instance, during the month of Ramezan, he didn’t shave, he went to Mosque and avoided many deed. During the Ashura holiday, he and his gang had a ‘Mourning Clique’ and spent a lot of money during Tāssoua and Ashoura. I remember during Tāssoua-Ashoura of that year, it was being said that Tayyeb’s gang cooked 11 tons of rice and offered it to the people. His spending was the talk of the town.”