More bad news breaking in Iran today.
The protests against the dubious landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are continuing unabated.
But the forces under the control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni are turning up the heat as well.
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Security forces wielding clubs and firing weapons beat back demonstrators who flocked to a Tehran square Wednesday to continue protests, with one witness saying security forces beat people like “animals.”
At least two trusted sources described wild and violent conditions at a part of Tehran where protesters had planned to demonstrate.
“They were waiting for us,” the source said. “They all have guns and riot uniforms. It was like a mouse trap.”
“I see many people with broken arms, legs, heads — blood everywhere — pepper gas like war,” the source said.
Around “500 thugs” with clubs came out of a mosque and attacked people in the square, another source said.
“They beat up a woman so bad she was all bloody,” the source said in a description that underscores the growing and central role of women in the uprising.
These developments certainly create some serious problems for moral relativists.
Good and evil seem far removed from a mere philosophical distinction when we watch a beautiful woman like Neda Soltan bleed to death on the streets of Tehran.
These traumatic events raise an important question – What motivates someone to gun down a woman in cold blood for no other reason than she happened to be standing with a group of protesters?
The Basij has a long and hideous history, outlined in the 2001 report of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. It was founded in November 1979 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as “a popular, emergency, mobilisation army, consisting mostly of those too young (under 18) or too old (usually age 45 and older) for regular conscription.” The Basij became especially important during the Iran-Iraq war:
In a series of rulings issued in the autumn of 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that parental permission was unnecessary for those going to the front, that volunteering for military duty was a religious obligation, and that serving in the armed forces took priority over all other forms of work or study. Various sources reported that children were indoctrinated into participating in combat. They were given “keys to paradise” and promised that they would go directly to heaven if they died as martyrs against the Iraqi enemy.
Whether or not those “keys” actually opened the door to paradise, many of their bearers did get the chance for “martyrdom”:
Iranian officers captured by the Iraqis claimed that nine out of ten Iranian child soldiers were killed.
According to one journalist, most recruits had between one and three months of military training before being sent to the front, but some had no training at all. Boys as young as nine were reportedly used in human wave attacks and to serve as mine sweepers in the war with Iraq.
The Basij have no problem either committing or being a part of an atrocity because they believe it is there “key to the kingdom”.
Obey the instruction of your mullahs and a place in paradise awaits.
Now one has to be incredibly sincere to sign up for human mine sweeper duty, or to be in the front row of a human wave assault, or to shoot down innocent people in cold blood.
But as events in Iran starkly reveal, one can be sincere – but sincerely wrong.
In fact, sincerity is only a virtue if it is invested in the right place.
Consider the contrast between a modern suicide bomber and a first century saint, like Simon Peter.
Both have one thing in common – they willing died for their beliefs.
But the contrast is also striking.
The loyal member of the Basij is staking his life, even his eternal destiny on the words of a Muslim cleric.
He has no first hand knowledge that the plastic key he carries in his pocket will actually guarantee his entrance into heavenly realms.
Simon Peter was motivated by something quite different.
Facing the same seasoned group of political power bosses that orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus, he and the apostle John were warned in no uncertain terms never to mention the name of Christ again.
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
Did you catch the distinction?
The apostles were willing to die brutal grisly deaths not because they had a promise from a cleric, but because they had first hand experience with the risen Jesus.
They were quite willing to die not for a philosophy, or a political agenda, or a personal feeling – but for a historical fact.
Their faith didn’t lead them to senseless acts of violence, but a steady, even serene demonstration of the power and love of the risen Jesus in their lives.
And when the choice came down to denying that their Lord really rose from the dead or facing a tortuous departure from this life, they accepted the consequences of their stand.
The authenticity of their eyewitness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead was quite literally signed in blood.
As the Basij and the apostles demonstrate, sincerity alone is not enough.
It really does matter what we believe.
It really does matter who we decide to trust.
One way leads to death and destruction.
The other leads to life and love.
Which way have you chosen?
Update: The Basij are at it again – this time shamefully harassing the greiving family of Neda Soltan.
Exit question: If the lame charge that a BBC documentary maker hired thugs to kill Neda in order to discredit the Iranian government is true – why won’t the Iranian government let the family mourn?
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