Followers of the Party of God
Ansar-i hizbullah (also written Ansar-i Hezbollah or Ansar-e Hezbollah), "the helpers of the party of God," is a semi-official, paramilitary organization in Iran, which has worked to keep the conservative Islamic status quo alive and well within Iran. Within Iran they were occasionally known the "plain clothes." Ansar-i Hizbullah publish a weekly newspaper known as the Ya Lesarat al-Hussein, which translates as "Those Who Want to Avenge the Blood of Hussein." The group had cells placed in various locations of the country.
This clandestine organization took its formal name in 1992. However, its origins dated back to the street gangs of the urban poor, called "Hezbollah" (Party of God), organized by various forces in the Islamic Republic regime during the revolution of 1979. Members of these groups were referred to as hezbollahi. Most of the members of Ansar-i Hizbullah either belonged to the Basij militia or were veterans of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) who believed that they had to continue fighting for the integrity of Islam. One of the founding members was Massoud Dehnamaki.
The Ansar-i Hizbullah went after any individual or group whom they felt did not correctly follow Islam, attacked the ideas and memories of Ayatollah Khomeini or worked to damage the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. They were known to break up demonstrations against the government, assault people in western dress, raid shops that sold forbidden items. Women were targeted if they were seen riding a bicycle, wearing clothing that departed from the required black chador, and mal-veiling. Mal-veiling is when a woman wears a veil that does not completely cover her hair. Attacks on journalists, those in western dress, and dissenters, both political and religious were reported. Politicians were harassed or even killed because they supported reform efforts. The Ansar-i Hizbullah were also known to brake up western style parties and weddings. Several movie theaters were burnt or otherwise vandalized because they were some of the few places in Iran where men and women were not required to be separated. Usually the people in the group were armed with simple weapons such has razors, sticks, batons and heavy chains, but they were also known to have guns, ranging from side arms to Ak-47s.
Ansar-i Hizbullah became more prominent after it attacked student dormitories at Tehran University in July of 1999. This attack was in response to a peaceful student protest on 8 July 1999 concerning further restrictions on the press. In concert with police, members of Ansar-i Hizbullah chased and beat the students back to their dorms. At the end of the morning, two students were dead and twenty were hospitalized. When the newspapers reported these attacks, protests lasting five days spread to 13-18 other cities in Iran.
The Iranian government had chosen to tacitly support groups like Ansar-i Hizbullah because they aim to maintain the conservative status quo in Iran. They were thought to be financed and partially controlled by various conservative high level religious leaders within the government, such as Ayatollah Khameini, to whom they pledge their loyalty, and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi. These leaders used the group to help consolidate power by harassing or eliminating their opponents. Therefore, Ansar-i Hizbullah enjoyed a semi-official status. While they were not officially a part of the government, they complemented the Iranian government's existing intelligence and security apparatus. Additional evidence of its favorable status lay in the fact that during its 1999 attack on Tehran University, its members used 1000cc-engine motorcycles, which only security service members were allowed to possess. This being said, the group received criticism from the both conservative and liberal factions within the Iranian media for using excessive force when dealing with protesters, as was the case after the 1999's Tehran University violence. Ansar-i Hizbullah claimed that they were not responsible for the attacks.
It was believed that Ansar-i Hizbullah was behind a clash with reformist students at various Tehran universities in June 2003. At least one student was killed and as many as 50 were injured. In December 2003, five days of fighting led to at least one dead and 70 injured in five nights of clashes in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan. The worst of the violence took place at the Tehran Univesity, Shiraz's Amir Kabeer University and the Industrian University of Isfahan. Ansar-i Hizbollah claimed that they were not involved in the December 2003 attacks.
Thus, the Iranian government was behaving in a manner similar to Maoist China when it channeled youthful nationalists into Red Guard gangs that would assault the government's purported enemies. Like these Red Guards, Ansar-i Hizbullah wished to make the revolution permanent by assaulting those who advance an agenda of change.
The Iranian government, confronted with internal calls for reform, enacted a compromise by not performing a massive military crackdown on the dissidents, but rather letting militant groups like Ansar-i Hizbullah prevent the movement from spreading further. While paramilitary groups like Ansar-i Hizbullah were useful in extending the government's control over its citizens, they also posed a threat to the government. First, the Iranian government had to keep the groups on a tight leash or they could become powerful enough to challenge the government for political power. Second, if the government ever decided to institute any reforms, groups like Ansar-i Hizbullah might violently oppose any such actions and create instability and unrest. Thirdly the violent actions taken by Ansar-i Hizbullah and other government supported organizations that were intended to support the Government's tight restrictions on daily life had often served to anger and liberalize a large number of people, especially those under 30, who might have otherwise been more inclined to support the government's status quo.
Ansar-i Hizbullah succeeded in quieting many of its political opponents through its intimidating tactics. Nonetheless, its violent acts may be a portent that they, along with their conservative backers, are losing power in Iran. Ansar-i Hizbullah would not be committing these acts of violence if there were no signs of modernization to confront.
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