(This picture, smuggled out of Iran, was taken in 1992 in the town of Arak) * Given Iran’s incessant foreign policy saber-rattling—including its continued development of nuclear weapons, support for Islamist terrorist groups, and facilitation of the terrorism in Iraq—it’s easy to lose sight of the horrifying domestic situation within the Islamic Republic. The mullahs have not only destroyed the lives of countless foreigners through their worldwide export of Islamic terror and extremism; they’ve also plunged the Iranian people into a violent, hellish abyss of torture, repression, hopelessness, drug addiction and despair. Conservative estimates by Iranian opposition movements and various human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, put the number of women stoned to death in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in the neighborhood of fifty. One can only imagine the cases that have gone undetected -- as many Islamic "punishments" are carried out in small and remote villages. Women sentenced to death by stoning are buried in the ground up to their necks. Iranian law regulates the size of the stones used by the executioner crowd; stones cannot be big enough to kill the sentenced woman too quickly, as the purpose of this barbaric ritual is to inflict as much pain as possible before death. On the other hand, stones cannot be too small, as each blow must be dramatically painful. Such rules and regulations are quite ephemeral in the Islamic Republic. In a particularly gruesome execution carried out in 1993 in the city of Arak, a woman was to be stoned to death in front of her husband and two young children. After the stoning began, the woman was able to free herself from the hole in the ground, escaping death. According to Shariah laws, in such cases the woman must be let go, as her death sentence was revoked by divine intervention. Ten minutes after the failed stoning, however, the poor woman was chased down, apprehended and summarily executed anyway, by a firing squad. While stoning captures the imagination of Westerners as the most barbaric act committed under Shariah laws, other forms of sentencing perpetrated by the Islamic Republic are just as horrific. For example, Iran employs several types of body mutilation, from the amputation of hands, arms and legs to the macabre procedure of plucking out the eyeballs of the sentenced without the use of anesthetics. Several photos exist to document such occurrences, in dossiers kept by human rights organizations. The international community, in particular European countries, has been quite indifferent to such atrocities. It prefers to engage the Islamic Republic in lucrative business deals, relegating the human rights issue to a mere footnote, a ritualistic and rhetorical passage usually present in high-level discussions with Iranian officials, but never taken seriously or enforced. In recent years, as general disaffection towards Iran’s ruling theocratic regime has increased, the number of public executions has also increased significantly. The number of such executions—usually carried out in busy public squares during peak hours, with people sentenced to death hung from cranes—has increased from 75 in the year 2000, to 139 in 2001, to 300 in 2002. Official statistics are not available for 2003 and 2004, but it is estimated that the number of such executions is now several hundred per year. Even minors and those who are physically and mentally disabled are regularly executed. Sometimes a single mullah serves as judge, jury and executioner. Hadji Rezai is the mullah judge of the small city of Neka. When Atefeh Rajabi, a young and psychologically unstable girl, refused to be his "temporary" wife, Rezai framed her with the blessings of the high court in Tehran. Allegations of sexual misconduct were fabricated against her, so that she could be brought to “justice” according to the scorned Rezai, who personally hung the noose around Atefeh’s neck. Rezai’s last words to the dying young girl: “This will teach you to disobey!” Several cases such as this have been documented, where dodgy legal procedures and politically motivated mock trials have been used, with pre-written death sentences for dissidents who have been falsely accused of common crimes such as rape. The steady rise of stoning, public executions and flogging is certainly an indication of the seriousness of the situation in Iran. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. A profound malaise affects the Iranian society as a whole, a symptom of which is the rising number of drug addicts, which is growing out of control, especially among the younger population. When Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Iran in 1979, he sent a clear message to his fellow compatriots: In order to develop and expand the revolution, more children were needed, first of all to defend the motherland from foreign intervention, and secondly to propagate the Shi’ite creed in a predominantly Sunni region. Khomeini envisaged a hegemonic role for Iran in the Middle East, and a significant population increase was the first step in that direction. When the Shah was forced to leave his throne, Iran had approximately 37 million citizens. Between 3 and 4 million Iranians left the country after the revolution, and another million young Iranians died in the war against Iraq during the 1980s. The population of Iran today is approximately 70 million, which means that, at least on the surface, Iranians followed Khomeini’s directive to the letter, almost doubling their number in spite of Diaspora and war casualties. Deeper analysis, however, shows that, far from being an Islamist victory, the Iranian demographic explosion is rapidly contributing to the demise of the Islamic Revolution. Rather than being vehicles that carry the Shi’ite faith and Khomeini’s revolutionary message, Iranian youngsters dream of a Western lifestyle and look at the U.S. as a model for democracy, freedom and ability to achieve according to one’s potential. In a society where nepotism, family connections and degrading compromise with mullahs at any level are the norm, those values embodied in the American dream have a profound meaning, and are never confused with pure and simple consumerism, as some European detractors have suggested. Put in simple terms, the Islamist establishment carries no consensus among the Iranian youth, which now numerically represents the absolute majority of the population. The Islamist regime has responded by cracking down on students on several occasions in order to defuse the most imminent threats of rebellion. It has also devised a more sinister and long-term plan for the containment of Iranian youth: a systematic and massive induction to drug addiction, which has now reached colossal proportions. Several United Nations and DEA reports have documented this crisis, indicating that drug addiction is the thorniest problem in Iran. To give an idea of the magnitude of this matter, Afghanistan produced around 6,000 tons of opium in 2003—approximately half of which has been acquired by Iran. After the Afghani government announced it would crack down on opium production, the Iranian government decided, after an open debate reported by several official press agencies such as IRNA, to start producing opium on Iranian soil to satisfy the internal (and induced) demand. How did the situation get this out of hand? The use of drugs has traditionally been tolerated within Iranian society, particularly the consumption of hashish and opium by middle-aged and older men, the same way Western societies have been more permissive of alcohol. Today, however, drug use is no longer an “old people's bad habit.” The average addiction age is falling rapidly; a few years ago, the addiction age fell to the age group of 25-29. Today the age group of 10-19 is the most afflicted by drug addiction in Iran. Sociologically, a strict correlation has been established between lack of jobs and drug consumption in all societies. As far as Iran is concerned, the situation is exacerbated by not only rampant unemployment, but also by a general apathy and lack of confidence in the future. Iranian youth doesn’t see the light at the end of the emotional tunnel in which the country has subsisted since the theocracy was established almost 26 years ago. The official unemployment rate is 14 percent, but Western analysts estimate the real number to be at approximately 30 percent. Although youth unemployment easily exceeds 50 percent, this statistic disregards the reality of the other 50 percent, who are usually under-employed. The quality of Iranian education is high, comparable to Western countries. Thus, the despair of highly skilled young graduates forced to accept menial jobs in small shops is reflected more in the drug addiction rates rather than the employment statistics. Buying heroin and opium is easier than buying bread or milk, for which Iranians have to endure long lines. Official government rhetoric blames the nefarious influence of Western culture and the Internet for the increase in drug consumption. In reality, the government does nothing to fight the problem. On the contrary, in the best case it turns a blind eye to the illicit drug traffic that brings even more money to the pockets of the powerful mullahs in charge. And in the worst case it favors the increase of drug addiction, even revoking the subsidies given to people for detoxification. Thirty pills of Naltroxone, a substance commonly used in Iran during the first days of the rehabilitation program, cost a little more than 20,000 tomans (25 U.S. dollars). Previously, that cost was covered by governmental subsidies; but ever since Parliament canceled the program, detoxification has become too expensive for Iran’s unemployed young people. Promoting opium as a way to control potentially hostile masses has been done successfully in the past. A classic example is the British policy—adopted during the 19th century—of buying the ashes of opium from Chinese and Indian subjects in order to drive them into addiction and curb their rebellious instincts. Great Britain even went to war against China twice (the so called Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856) to force the Qing Emperor to legalize the import of opium. Unfortunately, a dangerous side effect of massive drug consumption is now developing in Iran: the rise in HIV/AIDS transmitted through the sharing of needles for intravenous drug use. Such practice is in widespread use among inmates, who have extremely limited access to clean and unused needles. So the vicious spiral begins with early drug addiction, which is likely to drive the young addict to commit small crimes to finance the habit; sooner or later that person is caught and sent to jail, where the likelihood of contracting HIV is extremely high. Official statistics, which tend to underestimate the problem for political convenience, state that 65 percent of all recorded HIV/AIDS cases in Iran are due to the sharing of needles. Unconfirmed reports put the percentage of HIV positive long-term inmates between 30 and 40 percent of the overall inmate population. While the extremely dangerous situation, as far as drug addiction is concerned, is well known by UN officials, their recipe to regain control of the problem is doomed to failure, simply because there is no such thing as a “government” in Iran. The best parallel one can use to describe the Iranian power structure is the Mafia. The “Genovese,” “Gambino,” “Bonano,” “Colombo” and “Lucchese” type families have their equivalent in the ayatollahs Rafsanjani, Jannati, and Khamenei, Messbaheh-Yazdi, Vaa’ezeh-Tabasi and man, many more, each one with a private militia at their disposal. Just like the Mafia families divvied territory and areas of influence, the Ayatollahs divvy interests and “monopolize” particular businesses. For example, Rafsanjani started his personal fortune by supervising all oil deals, while Tabassi “looks after” the major charity organization, the Shrine of Imam Reza, which is a huge source of liquid cash. Rafsanjani later diversified his business, and was the mullah who most profited when ex-President Clinton allowed the import of pistachios and carpets from Iran. The network of connections and shady business deals has grown so intricate that drawing a power map based on links between ayatollahs, businesses and militias today is an impossible task. What is certain, however, is that a constant struggle exists among the top ayatollahs to extend their influence. An indication of such struggle is the chronic delay that affects the construction of Tehran’s second airport. It took almost three decades to complete just the first phase, and the end of the project is still uncertain. The ayatollah who succeeds in controlling the airport will be the most powerful man in Iran, as the airport is likely to become the major hub for all illicit and clandestine operations, from drugs to prostitution, from weapon smuggling to young women and children’s sex slave dealings. Much like Mafia wars, the mullahs’ power struggles often assume violent tones, such as when members of the various militias kill each other or when cars are blown up, often in daylight and in busy streets of Tehran, as a warning to opposing gangs. The difference between the Mafia and the Iranian power structure is that the Mafia was always a parallel and clandestine subsystem, so it never stood a chance of replacing the U.S. government. In Iran, on the other hand, the Mafia is the government. Structures like the Parliament and the judiciary are empty shells deprived of all power. Instead, power firmly resides in the hands of a few ayatollahs, and is exercised without any democratic control through private militias and squads of thugs, often recruited among ex-Taliban refugees, Al-Qaida members escaped from Afghanistan, Palestinians and other Arab Islamists who found a safe haven for terrorists in Iran. The extent of Iranian corruption is difficult to comprehend in the Western world. It is something so endemic and so entrenched in all societal strata that it can be described as an uninterruptible chain which starts with the President, continues through the functionaries and public servants at all levels and ends with the police officers who patrol the streets. On December 26, 2004, One year after the terrible earthquake that killed 70,000 people in the Iranian city of Bam, survivors are still sleeping in poor quality tents, exposed to the inclement weather. Top quality tents sent by Germany, which could alleviate the poor living conditions of the survivors, have been sold by the mullahs on the black market, together with other items such as water pumps, water filters and generators, sent by the international community in great quantity in the weeks that followed the earthquake. Iran as a nation is today sending the world a message of self-destruction and annihilation. Death is constantly brought about by stoning, public executions, floggings, and massive drug addiction and diseases such as HIV. Death is also promoted through the political and financial support offered by the Islamist regime to the suicide bombers of Hamas and Hizbollah. The construction of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, is actively pursued by the Islamic Republic, which wouldn’t hesitate to use it to annihilate Israel. The West has hesitated far too long to face the situation in Iran; inertia and appeasement have contributed not only to the constant deterioration of the living conditions of Iranians, but also to the weakening of security of not only neighboring countries, but also the West, which is the ultimate target of the mullahs’ Islamist fury. Now is the time to inject a culture of life into Iran, and to counteract the nihilism of the Islamists with a message of optimism and hope for a better future. The only way to achieve that is by creating the conditions for a regime change promoted by Iranians inside and outside Iran who put party politicking and festering ideological grudges aside. This will clear the way for an internationally monitored referendum to choose a secular and democratic supplant for the mullahs’ primitive, vicious and sadistic regime.