In Iran, my generation, the first after Islamism came to power, is called the Burnt Generation (Persian: Nasl-e Sukhteh). Our generation earned this name for having to endure the brutality of the Islamist and theocratic regime from the time we were born, to adulthood. This brutality included the regime's merciless efforts, such as mass executions, to establish its power, impose its barbaric and restrictive rules, and brainwash children and indoctrinate the younger generation with its extremist ideology through various methods including elementary schools, universities, state-controlled media outlets, imams and local mosques, and promoting chants such as "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".
Women and men were segregated. Teenagers were prevented from performing daily activities considered harmless by most of the world. Any kind of enjoyable social activities were barred, including listening to music, dancing, drinking, dating, women participating in a chess championship unless you were wearing a hijab or attending a football match or other sporting event if men were playing in it. If it made you smile, if it gave you hope, it was probably against the law, such as what could be worn, whom you were allowed to talk to, what you could listen to, and whether or not you pray or fast during Ramadan. Even the most personal and private issues became the business of the regime's forces.
The main purpose of these restrictions and the intense control of the people, especially youths, was for the regime to expand its Islamist agenda domestically and abroad. These laws were enforced with cruel and violent punishments such as public flogging along with the threat of even more dire consequences, including stoning, public hanging and amputations. My generation was raised in an atmosphere of terror. While the rest of the world became more modern and developed, we were left to grapple with following Islamist laws and restrictions that were impossible to obey.
My generation in Iran should be seen as a lesson for the West. Almost every state (and non-state actors) underestimated the power that these Islamists could wield. Warning signs were overlooked. No one believed that such a massive change could occur and be enforced. Many underestimated the crimes that these Islamists were willing to commit to maintain their power once they came into control. To this day, they continue to prove that there are no limits to the cruelty and lack of humanity that they will engage in, such as conducting mass executions, executing children and pregnant women, stoning, amputations, public hanging, flogging, torture, and rape just to maintain this power.
Jahangir Razmi's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the execution of Kurdish men and others by the Iranian Islamic regime in 1979.
Many underestimated the smooth-talking strategy that these Islamists were using for decades to seize power. The radical group of Ayatollah Khomeini deceived many Iranians and the international community into believing that they were peaceful and divine people. Once they had power, the truth was revealed; by then it was too late to prevent the abuse that unfolded.
My father's generation in Iran lived in an environment in which the Islamist party of the country's clergy cunningly depicted themselves as intending no harm, supportive of the people, and not interested in power. So, before the revolution, many Iranians did not think that Khomeini's party would be committing the atrocities that they are committing now or that they would have such an unrelenting hunger for power.
Instead, the country thought it was on a smooth path towards democracy, with no expectation of returning to a barbaric era. Even then-US President Jimmy Carter viewed Khomeini as a good religious holy man. According to recently declassified documents, the Carter administration even paved the way for Khomeini to return to Iran. Many internationally known scholars such as Michel Foucault thought highly of the Islamic revolution. Foucault's enthusiasm can be seen in his articles in European newspapers, written right before and after the revolution.
They portrayed themselves as leaders of the people, as spiritual and peaceful. However, once the Islamists rose to the top, all hell broke loose. As soon as they had a stranglehold on the country, they shifted gears to become one of the most ruthless regimes in history. Once in power, their true face was revealed; at that point, there was no way to turn back.
Thousands upon thousands of people were executed simply for voicing their opinion. Many also died for crimes they likely did not commit. The Islamic law (sharia) of the ruling Shiite party was imposed on everyone. Women were forced to wear a hijab and were stripped of their rights. They could no longer leave the country without the permission of their husbands. A women could not work in any occupation if her husband did not agree to it. Women's testimony in court, under sharia, is worth half a man's testimony. Women are banned from pursuing certain educational fields or occupations, such as being judges. Women are prohibited from entering sports stadiums or watching men's sports. Women are entitled to receive half as much inheritance as their brothers or other male relatives.
Many were shocked that this political party, which spoke about the religion of peace, would do such things. Iranians, however, did not just submit to these new laws; they rose up in protest. This uprising was met with torture, rape, and death. With the regime eager to wipe out anyone who dared to resist, the people had no choice but to surrender. Everyone's daily activities were now under the scrutiny of the Islamists.
In a four month period, some 30,000 political prisoners were hanged simply for suspected loyalties to anti-theocratic resistance groups, mainly the PMOI -- incidents largely ignored by media outlets.
These are only few examples of the Islamists' atrocities that took hold of a once thriving and modernizing country. Information about their crimes against humanity would fill several books. As bad as you may think all this is, you must understand that the reality is far, far worse. The Islamist Republic of Iran, according to Human Rights Watch, became the world leader in executing children. The legal age for girls to marry was reduced to 9. Women needed the approval of their parents to marry, and girls could not object to their guardian's decision in marrying them off.
It may be hard to believe that such a murderous force could come into power so easily and fast. What is important to understand is that the Islamists and their followers work covertly in a society for decades to deceive the people and reach the top. Iran's was a meticulously planned takeover that no one saw coming. The Islamists' willingness to be patient to complete their control of the society cannot be underestimated.
Despite openly reading about all this, many will still think it is impossible for something like this to happen in their country. What they fail to understand is that Iran is an example of exactly how successful this meticulous grab for power can be.
Seeing these shrewd and calculating strategies, Islamists in other countries including the West are pursuing the same techniques on the path to seizing power. It is a quiet, subtle process, until the moment you wake up with no rights, a culture of fear, and no promise that you will live in freedom or even to see the next day.
Now, those Islamists, whom almost everyone made light of, have not only been in power for almost four decades; they have expanded their expansionist ideology to other nations and taken first prize as being the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and among its leading executioners.
This is a history lesson that Western and non-Islamist countries cannot afford to ignore. It is not just about history; it is about what can happen at any moment, in any country. It is about what is happening right now, beneath our noses -- in East Asia, Canada, South America and Europe. The only defense is to recognize it and confront it at its roots, before it has the opportunity to woo your politicians. Once they worry more about their popularity with voters than about the future of the country you are electing them to run, you are done. Once there is control of the ballot box, there will be more and more control over every aspect of your life, destroying any future you had planned and leaving the country you once had loved in ruins.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu