Women and Children
As the fighting raged on, all of Iranian society was urged to take part in the war effort. Posters played a vital role in mobilizing and consoling the Iranian people, including women and children. Iranian boys as young as twelve were recruited to join the Basij, volunteer paramilitary forces that fought alongside the national army. The Basij are most remembered for their human-wave assaults, in which young boys walked across the mine-ridden battlefields to clear them for military maneuvering. Within this deadly act of independence, defiance, and salvific frenzy was the very real desire of young Iranians to protect their homeland and families by any means necessary— including the sacrifice of both limbs and lives.
Artists commemorated the bravery of children in the war while also lamenting their tragic and untimely deaths. For instance, one poster, These Are Our Heroes, depicts a young boy preparing to join the battle; the grenades attached to his waist signal his eventual self- destruction in a human-wave assault, as his crying sister clutches the Qur’an. Graffiti writing on the wall behind the two figures exalts other boys as “leaders” who have already sacrificed themselves for the cause. The poster symbolizes a loss of innocence for the young generation, as well as for the nascent Islamic Republic itself.
Women also were targets of wartime propaganda. The Islamic Republic encouraged women to follow Islamic models of femininity and humility. One archetype of Shi‘a female virtue is Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Venerated as a symbol of righteousness, patience, piety, and as the mother of the foremost Shi‘a martyr, Imam Husayn, Fatimah is exalted as a mother to all martyrs. For these reasons, cemeteries created for Iranian soldiers killed during the Iran-Iraq War are named in her honor.
Another woman exalted by the Islamic Republic is Zaynab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad and sister of Imam Husayn. She is remembered as courageous and resilient due to her legendary defiance of Yazid I after the massacre of her family at the Battle of Karbala. As an active and even combative female, her example inspired Iranian women during the Revolution. During the war, too, the Islamic Republic’s artistic programs broadcast the image of Zaynab as a woman in support of Shi’a male soldiers.
Warfront artist Nasser Palangi produced sketches of Iranian women during the early Iraqi invasion of the Iranian city of Khorramshahr. Titling one of his drawings The Heirs of Zaynab, Palangi makes clear the connection between the seventh-century heroine and the women of Khorramshahr, who fought in defense of the Iranian city. The Battle of Karbala was once again turned into a living paradigm through which female combatants likewise could emulate the heroes of Shi’ite sacred history.