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What Iranian Schools Inculcate

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The Institute for Moderating Peace and Cultural Tolerance in the Middle East, known as IMPACT-se, has just issued a study of the Iranian curriculum and its schoolbooks. It makes for instructive – and frightening — reading. Its findings are reported on here: “Iranian students are also protesting against oppressive educations -opinion,” by Marcus Sheff, Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2022:

In the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be disappointed that Iranian students are destroying textbooks that carry his image, throwing the pictures into the garbage and trampling them. His disappointment will be particularly acute, as Iran has recently been targeting girls in textbooks by increasing the amount of material celebrating female martyrs.

Iranian students, especially at the university level, have joined in the nationwide protests, but have also engaged in their own protests in schools by ripping out photographs of the Supreme Leader from their textbooks. It’s their version of shouting “Death to the Dictator!” They are not impressed with the increased coverage of girls and women in the textbooks, which consists of adding material not about girls and women in general, nor about those who are scientists or artists or doctors or lawyers, but is limited to stories about female “martyrs” who died while fighting enemies of the Islamic Republic. These include Houthi girls and women who fought Sunni Muslims in Yemen, girls and women in Lebanon whose husbands were Hezbollah fighters, and who themselves also waged war not just on Israelis, but also on both Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims, and female fighters who fought with Shi’a militia in Iraq against Sunni Muslims. That is the only favorable coverage of females that is allowed; any other roles they might have excelled in – as teachers, doctors, artists, professors, researchers – are ignored in the schoolbooks.

From an early age, Iranian children are encouraged to glorify jihad and violence, and to emulate “martyrs.” They are taught that participation in violent jihad against the Infidels – a group which includes all those who oppose the Iranian Revolution, including Sunni Muslims — is the highest and best use of their lives. Such fanaticism is inculcated in young children, and then continues all through their school years, until college.

The United States is the primary antagonist in the ongoing conflict between Islam and imperialism, leading to the prevalence of chants of “Death to America,” and “The Big Satan.” Alongside calls for “Death to Israel,” known in Iran as the “little satan” and the celebration of Hamas rocket fire raining down on the Jewish state, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s instruction that “Israel must be wiped out” now takes on a practical dimension, explaining that Israel’s destruction is achievable with reasonable effort and investment. In fact, the destruction of Israel is portrayed as a key condition for the world’s salvation.

The disappearance of Israel is taught in Iranian schools as a condition precedent to the world achieving salvation, which can only happen when the Iranian Shi’a version of Islam is accepted everywhere, by Sunni Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Once Israel is no more, the Hidden Imam can re-emerge as the Mahdi, and bring salvation to the world. 

The pursuit of Iranian hegemony in the Arab Middle East is a vital goal: students learn that the world is divided between followers of Iran’s global revolution and those infidels who oppose it. They are taught that foreign militia members are now part of the Iranian regime. Our report pointed out that this likely means the regime may be inclined to use Arab militias to crush Iranian protesters, a fact which, sadly, was precisely what came to fruition. For the Iranian curriculum, enemies – Iranians and non-Iranians – are those who oppose the Khomeini revolution and friends – Iranians and foreign militiamen – are those who follow the path of the revolution.

Just as Muslims are taught to see the world as uncompromisingly divided between Muslims and Unbelievers, between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, Shi’a Iran teaches its young that there is an even more important division, and the only meaningful one, which is that between those who support Shi’a Islam and the Iranian Revolution, and all those – Infidel or Muslim – who oppose it. The Iranian revolution welcomes the support of its Arab allies and proxies, including the Houthis in Yemen, the Kataib Hezbollah militias in Iraq, the Alawites of Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In suppressing the current protestors in Iran, Tehran has been using some Arab militia members to help suppress the protesters, believing the Arabs are more willing to use live fire; the government fears that some Iranian troops, out of sympathy with their fellow Persians, might be more reluctant to inflict such violence on their fellow Persians. Hence the decision to make limited use of Arab militias to help suppress the protests.

The Iranian government has taken note of the protesters shouting against the Iranian regime’s expenditure of money, men, and materiel, in conflicts in Arab states. The protesters’ slogans include, pointedly, “Death to Palestine!” and “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I Give My Life for Iran!” That is why the regime has added to its curriculum, and to its schoolbooks, material justifying Iran’s expensive wars in Arab lands (Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon), claiming their successful outcome will enhance Iran’s security, and what’s more, will allow Iran to control much of the world’s energy supply that is shipped through the Gulf, by controlling the Strait of Hormuz and even the Suez Canal. That last claim is hard to take, for it is unclear how Iran could “control” the Suez Canal, unless Iran somehow managed to promote a successful coup against El-Sisi and the installation in Egypt of a Muslim Brotherhood government much more favorable to Iran.

In the encouragement of political subversion of neighboring Arab states, there is a clear explanation as to whom this is directed against. Bahrain is described as illegitimate. Advocacy is dedicated to uprisings against puppet governments in the Middle East in the hopes of advancing what the textbooks laud as the school of Hajj Qassem Soleimani.

Bahrain is singled out by Iran for condemnation as “illegitimate” because Bahrain’s ruler is Sunni, but the Bahraini population is 70% Shi’a; Iran has already been sending arms to Shi’a in Bahrain, in the hopes of a successful uprising but so far the Bahraini government, aided by both Saudi and Pakistani Sunni troops, has crushed all incipient attempts at rebellion Saudi Arabia is also depicted by Teheran as an enemy of Iran, which it is, because Iran has been encouraging attacks by its proxy Houthis, using drones and missiles, on Saudi oil installations and airbases, and as a “puppet” of the Great Satan, which it clearly is not, as the latest Saudi-American contretemps over cuts to oil production makes clear.

THIS YEAR, the Iranian curriculum includes passages commemorating the martyrdom of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) late terror master Soleimani, while Iraqi-Iranian terror leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis is depicted as a model martyr of the Islamic World in a passage that is part of an entire chapter focused on exporting Iran’s revolution.

The Iranian curriculum celebrates two terror masters who were killed by the Americans — the IRGC’s head, Qassem Soleimani, and another terror leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, each of them “the very model of a modern major terrorist” (with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan). These are the people – not scientists or artists – whom Iranian children are being taught to admire and to emulate.

Iran’s militia doctrine and, implicitly, Iran-induced turmoil in places such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza, are explained to students as contributing to the preservation of Iran’s internal security. The act of jihad is integral for defending Iran from invaders, fighting Iranian insurgents and supporting militias against the rival regional powers of Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Iranian students are told that Iran’s role In supporting proxies and a allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Gaza is a way to keep enemies from wreaking chaos and undermining the regime in Iran itself; those enemies are being fought against, instead, far from Iran. If Iran is to be free from invaders, it has to keep its foreign enemies off-balance as, for example, the Iran-backed Houthis do to Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, or as Hezbollah, directed by Tehran, has achieved through constant threats to northern Israel.

Interestingly, the curriculum expresses admiration for the Muslim Brotherhood and its founder, Hassan Al-Banna, while conspiracy theories abound, including a tenth-grade textbook on “Defense Preparation” teaching the false claim that Saudi Arabia and the US created ISIS to sabotage Iran.

The initial surprise over Shi’a Iran praising the Uber-Sunni Muslim brotherhood should have dissipated by now. The Muslim Brotherhood is admired for the fanaticism of its members, if not for the exact nature of its ideology (ideologically the MB and the Islamic Republic are not on the same page); Iran’s hatred of Egypt’s El-Sisi is so great that it is willing to support his regime’s greatest threat, the MB. Furthermore, the Gaza branch of the MB, Hamas, is supported by Iran because of the excellent work it has done in killing so many Israeli civilians, and thereby terrorizing many more. Presumably that allows Iran to consider the MB, and its founder Hassan al-Banna, as not enemies but ideological brothers, who even if they remain Sunni Muslims are acting just as the Supreme Leader would have them.

Familiar antisemitic tropes are a feature of the Iranian curriculum, including that Jews control the media, and that Jewish tribes have conspired and collaborated with enemies of Islam. Iran’s Arab neighbors are portrayed as servants of Jewish and colonial interests. Wars in the region are driven by Zionist aims to incite strife among Muslims, and Arab leaders are portrayed as ignorant and extremist Muslims sought out by America, Israel and the West to slander Islam. Jews and Sunni Muslims are, it is taught, working together to operate against all Shiites. Similarly, Jews are depicted as the enemies of the nascent Islamic nation and government.

The belief that “Jews control the media” must be a bit hard to swallow, even for many Iranians who have access to the Internet, given the consistently critical treatment of Israel in the world’s mainstream media, but it fits the narrative that the antisemitic ayatollahs want to present to the world. The Arabs opposed to Iran, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, do so not because they are being manipulated by the diabolically clever Israelis, but because they have suffered from Iran’s aggression. The Saudis and Emiratis don’t like having the Iran-backed Houthis shooting missiles and drones at their oil installations, and the Sunni ruler of Bahrain doesn’t like Iranian agents whipping up the 70% of the Bahraini population that is Shi’a against his rule. Israel had nothing to do with the understandably hostile reaction of Arab states to Iran’s behavior.

The characteristics of Iran’s educational system must be factored into any assessment of the regime’s future plans and intentions. The curriculum provides us with a blueprint for the regime’s goals, values and worldview. In 2016, we argued that the curriculum was then limited in its power to widely influence students due to overly mystical dimensions, but that it would nevertheless be welcomed by hard-core loyalists. The curriculum has changed and now poses a very direct threat that must be taken seriously.

Apparently there is less of what Marcus Sheff describes as “mystical dimensions” to the current curriculum. I assume this means less attention to Shi’a theological doctrine, such as the re-emergence at the End of Time of the Hidden Imam as the Mahdi, which will come only after Israel disappears, and to other aspects of Twelver Shi’a chiliasm, and more about concrete ways to increase students’ support for Shia Islam hatred for the those opposed to the Iranian Revolution.

The Iranian regime no longer seeks unanimous support among its citizens. After three large-scale protests in 2009, 2017, and 2019, the regime’s rulers have felt the ground shifting under its feet, and want to shore up support among not all Iranians – now recognized to be an impossible task — but among a sufficient number of them. As the IMPACT-se report says, they want to shore up support among “enough clerics, military commanders, soldiers, scientists, technicians and other elements of Iranian society vital to the revolution.” Unfortunately for the regime, the current protests, that have now entered their second month and show no signs of abating, suggest that it’s too late; that too many Iranians, especially young adults, are deeply disaffected and not inclined to make peace with the regime.

Meanwhile, as the IMPACT-se report on Iranian schoolbooks and curricula makes clear, the regime is brainwashing a new generation of students, hoping that this time the effects will not be undone by disaffected parents and subversive websites. The contents of those schoolbooks are appalling. They describe, and proscribe, a world divided uncompromisingly between supporters of the Iranian Revolution, and everyone else, including Sunni Muslims. These books teach jihad and violence to children, beginning in the first grade. The texts insist that only after Israel disappears will the Hidden Imam reappear as the Mahdi, and bring salvation to the world. What kind of peace is possible with a regime that teaches such things, and what kind of Iran deal would ever be kept by such a country, its rulers in thrall to such crazed beliefs?

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