As a teenage volunteer in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Army, Massoud Dehmamaki witnessed unimaginable horrors in Iran's war against Iraq. Bombarded with "choking gas," friends died in his arms. Others were killed by shrapnel.
But 11 years after the cease-fire, he has chosen to remain on the front line. His office in Tehran is a bunker, complete with gas masks, steel helmets, ammunition boxes, and sandbags.
"I keep it like this because we are the generation of the war, and we don't want to forget its values in the daily routine," he says. "Those values are the values of the Islamic revolution - independence and self-determination. The West has not recognized them and that's why we are at war with the West."
Twenty years after the Islamic revolution, when Iran installed conservative cleric rule, the country is undergoing a tug of war. On one side are moderates, including President Mohamad Khatami, who call for reforms; on the other are hard-liners advocating strict Islamic rule.
Mr. Dehmamaki is on this hard-line side of the tug of war. He is considered to be a prominent figure in the shadowy Ansar-e Hizbullah, the Followers of the Party of God, the self-appointed enforcers of Islamic revolutionary values. The vigilantes, dressed in black and circling on noisy motorbikes, have spread terror at pro-reform rallies.
Many Iranians believe Dehmamaki is the group's overall leader, although he denies involvement in the movement. Ansar-e Hizbullah has come under unprecedented pressure after its members were accused, along with the police, of storming a student dormitory at Tehran University in July. The incident ignited the worst unrest since the early days of the Islamic revolution, killing at least three students.
The violence also has intensified Iran's prolonged power struggle in the run-up to key parliamentary elections next February. And yesterday, the conservative daily Jomhuri Eslami reported that four people who took part in the pro-reform demonstrations have been sentenced to death.
A frail, bearded man in his early 30s, Dehmamaki says he is not only at war against the West, but also against the enemy within. He decries the women who flash a bit of ankle, youths nodding to heavy-metal music on a Walkman, or reformist students whom he claims are being aided and abetted by "American and Zionist agents" to undermine the foundations of the Islamic Republic.
"When you see some people here dressed in American-style clothes, you are seeing the bullets of the West," Dehmamaki said in a rare interview with a Western reporter. "But Islam is winning the battle because it is growing every day."
On the other hand, reformers allied to President Khatami want a crackdown on Ansar-e Hizbullah, which is funded by his powerful opponents. Recently newspapers quoted Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi as saying the authorities were determined to do away with hard-line vigilantes waging a violent campaign to undermine the president's reforms.
After a government report into the dormitory raid held the group responsible for the "bitter incident," even their hard-line sponsors are distancing themselves.
Dehmamaki was seen at the dormitory raid and later brought in for questioning, but he maintains he was there only as a reporter. He is the editor of Jebhe, or the Front, the unofficial mouthpiece for Ansar-e Hizbullah.
Across the top of every page in the publication, there is a passport-size photograph of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic revolution. His face also glowers from a picture on the wall of Dehmamaki's office.
There are also graphic pictures of teenage "martyrs" who died fighting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces. "Western states sold chemicals to Iraq to attack us. Then they deliberately sold us faulty gas masks. This shows just how decadent the West is," he says. "I watched friends in these masks dying at Halabja [Iraq]."
Iran, he says, can hold its head high. "Iran now stands out in the whole world because we stopped the US implementing its policies here. Our revolution also spread self-confidence among small nations. We stood against both the West and communism."
He has no time for Khatami's call for a dialogue of civilizations. "All this would do is confirm to the West that they have to destroy our Islamic revolution because it opposes their totalitarianism," he says.
Gesturing at the pained faces on his office walls, he says Iran had paid a "heavy price" for its steadfastness. "Fortunately, I survived to continue fighting."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society