Like other tyrannies before it, the Iranian clerical dictatorship, headed by “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the venomous demagogue Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeks to frighten and intimidate its subjects by identifying a wide range of alleged internal and external enemies. But the Iranian authorities cannot definitively defeat their main domestic adversaries, because there are, by now, just too many of them.

Thus, the Iranian oppressors find it easier to marginalize and persecute dissenting elements that already appear meager and disadvantaged, than to take on the whole mass of angry citizens, or the array of its authentic external critics. While trumpeting a militant menace against a variety of internal foes and the world’s democracies, Tehran’s despot have increased their specific, real measures of repression against Iran’s Sufis.

Late last summer, Iranian judicial chief Sadegh Larijani marked the first anniversary of his appointment by Khamenei to purge the country of post-election resistance. The prosecutor is a brother of Ali Larijani (public head of the Iranian nuclear program) and a well-known hardliner. On August 10, Sadegh Larijani departed from standard Tehran propaganda, which blames the disaffection of the people, especially among the young, on foreign intrigues, and declared that the motivation of those standing up against the autocracy included something else: Islam without clerical guidance, epitomized by the Sufis. In Larijani's view—which is backed by the power of extra-judicial thugs, as well as police, prisons, gallows, and stonings—“false mysticism and Sufism” are corrupting young Iranians with “tricks.”

Sadegh Larijani was particularly strident in his denunciation of Hindu traditions, which have a long history of mutual influence over Sufism, in Iran no less than in the Indian subcontinent. Larijani equated the peril of mystical Islam and the risks of studying Indian philosophy with the danger presented by the “so-called think tanks” in Iran that he accused of importing Western conceptions of human rights.

Before, during, and after the 2009 election Tehran had already concentrated fire on the Nimatullahi-Gonabadi Sufis, whose main spokesman abroad, Seyed Mustafa Azmayesh, has advocated and preached extensively and eloquently for separation of religion from the state. On January 2, 2011, in the major Iranian city of Isfahan, according to sources in the country, Gonabadi Sufi sheikh Morteza Majoubi was arrested when about 20 plainclothes and uniformed police broke down the door of a house he was visiting. The agents did not offer any charges or explanations, but detained and jailed Mahjoubi and four companions in the town of Dastgerd. Within two hours, 5,000 Sufis and their supporters had gathered at the lockup to demand the men be freed. Although the demonstrators were terrorized by armed guards, their numbers kept growing, and after two hours Sheikh Mahjoubi and his son were released. As he returned to Isfahan, where the clerical state has carried out other provocations against the Sufis, Mahjoubi said, “We must remain upright in the face of injustice.”

On November 17, 2010, thousands of Iranians gathered at the tomb of the charismatic musician and Sufi, Seyed Khalil Alinejad, who was murdered in exile in Sweden nine years earlier, on November 18, 2001. At the tomb in the western Iranian town of Sahne, Iranian security officials confiscated banners, audio equipment, and other items intended for the memorial. Two adherents of the mystical movement to which Alinejad belonged, Kheirollah Haqjooyan and Hojat Zeorian, were arrested. Haqjooyan had been warned by the regime’s agents not to deliver a speech at the observance. Both men vanished into the darkness of the Iranian state's apparatus of oppression.

At the beginning of December, six more Sufis aligned with Alinejad were arrested in the cities of Kermanshah and Shirin, as well as in Tehran. Their names are Seyyed Nasreddin Heidari, Seyyed Hijabuddin Elhami, Hormoz and Firoz Timurian, Syavosh Hayati, and Seyyed Farhad Zonnorian. They were subjected to extensive interrogation as well as detention.

Iranian fear of Sufis puts the country’s clerical oligarchs in the same camp with other Islamist radicals from the Balkans to Pakistan, where attacks against the mystics have proliferated along with anti-Western jihadism. Belying Ahmadinejad’s bluster, the aggressive stance of the Iranian clerical apparatus against Sufis is a sign of official weakness, not strength, and of fear rather than self-confidence. The incarcerated Sufis of Iran lack powerful advocates abroad. But their deep imprint on Iranian culture and society can make them a significant factor in curbing the adventurism and brutality of a reckless regime. Hence the regime's offensive against them.