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Covid Means Burning US Flag At Home, Says Basij Leader

Maryam Sinaee

Given the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional Student Day march marking the anniversary of the Tehran United States embassy seizure will not be held for the first time in four decades. But an official of the student section of the Basij militia has said students should instead set fire to the US flag at home and circulate video clips to commemorate the occasion.

Speaking on a television news program on Sunday [November 1], Mojtaba Bastan, Acting Head of the Student Basij Organization, announced a campaign called ‘Everyone Together [Says] Down with the USA.’ Bastan said that at nine o'clock on Tuesday students and their parents should “trample on and set fire” to the flags of the US, Israel and France on their rooftops or courtyards while shouting ‘Down with America.’

Bastan asked students to make one-minute video clips and post them to a specially-created website, while adding their names to a statement ‘US Must Exit [Middle East] Region.’ The website features the competitions ‘Why Down with the USA?’ and ‘Message to American Soldiers,’ for which students can enter drawings, essays, voice recordings and video clips.

The paramilitary Basij Mostazafan (Mobilization of the Oppressed) -- one of the five forces of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) -- has branches in secondary schools, universities, factories and government offices. Members receive some basic military training in addition to extensive and regular ideological courses.  

Joining the Basij, at any level, often provides special advantages and benefits. For students, the many perks include being given priority in university admission over non-members. Boys who join the Student Basij are also rewarded by cutting two months off the duration of their compulsory military service after the age of 18. 

Nearly all Iranian students currently study online due to Covid-19 which is now reaching its third peak and claiming over 400 lives a day. Some students, however, live in areas where the Internet is unavailable or lack smart phones or tablets to connect to the online education platform SHAD.

The seizure of the US embassy by young followers of Imam Khomeini, the leader of the revolution took place on November 4, 1979, or on Aban 13 in the Iranian calendar, which this year falls on Tuesday November 3. Aban 13 was in 1979 designated by the new regime as Student Day to commemorate the shooting dead of a protesting student at Tehran University a year earlier, two months before the overthrow of the Shah.

Since 1980, state-organized marches have been held across the country on November 3 or 4 to commemorate the embassy takeover. Every year hundreds of thousands of students, government employees, soldiers and clerics chant slogans against the US and Israel, and set fire to US flags and effigies of ‘Uncle Sam.’

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