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Orwellian 'New-Speak', Iranian Style

By Nir Boms
June 26, 2007

This article was composed for The Henry Jackson Society by Nir Boms, Vice President of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East, dealing with the alarming findings of recent research on Iranian school textbooks.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • An examination of the Iranian curriculum under former President Mohammad Khatami, considered a moderate and reformer, demonstrates that there has been no change in the values taught in Iranian schools since the time of Ayatollah Khomeini.
  • The indoctrination of Iranian children in the Iran-Iraq war is celebrated by references to their martyrdom. This "martyrdom" involved their committing suicide by running into minefields along the border areas in order to reach paradise.
  • The Millenarian patterns of thought of the Iranian leadership can be seen by constant references to clashes between the Islamic State and the "Oppressors" (i.e. the West). Seen in this light, President
  • Ahmadinejad's international statements acquire an even more sinister resonance.
    Iran's continued use of such a curriculum demonstrates the leadership's mindset is not a benign one and that it sees education as a tool of its control mechanism.

ARTICLE

"Ignorance is power," wrote George Orwell in his famous book 1984, referring to the information police that kept bad ideas from good people. Our world is not immune from this logic that reversed "good" with "bad" and "war" with "peace". Some of our darkest moments in history resulted from that very same type of indoctrination. And another such moment may be approaching.

While the international community may be busy in initiating yet another round of negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear aspirations, or the lowering of benchmarks for nuclear acceptability, Iran's leadership is busy preparing itself for an imminent war. Iranian students are taught in their educational curriculum that they must fight to bring about a global Islamic victory or accept collective martyrdom. This is one of the key findings in a study of 115 Iranian elementary and high school textbooks and teachers' guides that was recently completed at the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace. These books were all published under the apparently "moderate" former President Mohammad Khatami, and all reflect the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of Revolutionary Iran.

  • In Islamic Viewpoint, Grade 11 (2004) p. 29, Imam Khomeini is quoted, "I am decisively announcing to the whole world that, if the World Devourers [i.e., the United States and the Soviet Union] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all of them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater liberty which is martyrdom… Either we shake one another's hand in the joy of victory of the world of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours."
  • In Defense Readiness, Grade 10 (2004) pp. 9-10 it recalls, "During the eight years of Holy Defense [the war with Iraq, 1980-88] more than 500,000 school students were sent to the fronts. 36,000 martyrs, thousands of missing-in-action, invalids, and liberated [prisoners of war] of this sacrificing section were offered to the Islamic Revolution."
  • In History, Grade 8 (2004) p. 76, it states, "Israel does not want the Koran to be in this state [i.e. Iran]. Israel does not want the Muslim clergymen to be in this state. Israel does not want the Islamic law to be in this state. Israel does not want scholars to be in this state. Israel pounded the Feyziyeh [tr. religious] college by the hand of its black agents. It pounds us. It pounds you, the nation. It wants to take possession of your economy. It wants to eliminate your commerce and agriculture. It wants to take possession of your wealth. Israel wants these things that are an obstacle to it – these things that are a barrier on its way – to be removed out of the way by the hand of its agents."
  • In Islamic Culture and Religious Instruction, Grade 7 (2004) p. 29, "As for martyrdom, a new ideal is brought to light: collective martyrdom. The war is unavoidable and is part of the Islamic Revolution itself – Now, in order to continue the Islamic Revolution, it is our duty to continue with all [i.e. our] power our revolt against the Arrogant Ones and the oppressors… But victory is not guaranteed!" One may even find in Khomeini's vision of the global war a suicidal mood.

The textbooks paint an alarming picture of a regime that divides the world between "good" and "evil" forces that are destined to clash. According to the textbooks, since the evil and arrogant West seeks to destroy Iran, a war is inevitable. Iranians are therefore tasked with a religious mission to fight "evil" until it is eradicated, or, until the "good" camp is wiped out.

The "evil" camp, also called "the Oppressors" and "the Arrogant Ones", is comprised of the entire West under the leadership of the United States and its allies. "Now, in order to continue the Islamic Revolution," reads a passage in a seventh-grade textbook, "it is our duty to continue with all [i.e. our] power our revolt against the Arrogant Ones and the Oppressors, and not cease until all Islam's commandments and the spread of the redeeming message of 'there is no God except Allah' are realized in the whole world." This type of war is called "Initiative Jihad" (Jehad-e Ebtedayi), and it is explained in further detail in an eighth grade textbook.

Apparently, that war has already begun. According to Iran's educational syllabus, the West uses culture as a weapon for world domination. Westernization is given the epithet "Westoxication" (Gharbzadegi). Students are warned to keep away from Western influences since they seek to divert them from reaching the next stage of the struggle.

Verses from the Koran are used to complement the teaching of military drills. During a weapons and explosives course entitled "Defense Readiness", is taught to ensure vigilance against all enemies of the Islamic revolution. This is taught to grades eight and higher. Passages in the course textbooks foster a siege mentality among students, warning them of imminent attacks by their enemies.

The books in the educational curriculum also indoctrinate students to prepare for war by encouraging martyrdom. The spirit of martyrdom-seeking (shahadat-talabi) is inculcated in the minds of youths through various means. This includes verses from the Koran, quotes from Shiite Imams, stories and poems that glorify past and present martyrs, and reading aloud martyrs' wills that are also posted on school walls. The motif of the martyrs' blood and its symbol – the red tulip – are prominent features of the textbooks, and are expressed both verbally and through illustrations. Most of the hate literature and war indoctrination is found in books for higher grades, but manifestations appear in textbooks for lower grades as well. One horrific outcome of indoctrinating Iranian youths with this type of literature was during the Iran-Iraq war whereby children chanted quotes from these books while running towards minefields.

The textbooks in question did not begin with Ahmadinajad, but all date back to the era of President Mohammad Khatami, who was considered a moderate and reformer by many in the West. Aside from the development of new textbooks, Khatami's reforms included Iran's nuclear drive and a record in the arrest of students and dissidents in Iran during his tenure between 1997-2005. This should serve as an indication that the ideas expressed in these books should not be associated with a particular personality but rather should be viewed as the principles that guide the entire Iranian regime.

These principles have not changed since the 1979 revolution that sought to create a world order dominated by Islam. Education became an essential to a revolution that sought total devotion up the point of convincing Iranian students to clear Iraqi minefields in order to help the Iranian army during its war with Iraq. 36,000 such children, all wearing a plastic "keys to heaven", were sent to their deaths, a tale that receives a prominent mention in the Iranian curriculum as a model for the future.

George Orwell's 1984 was written as a warning about the future that would come about if the world did not stop those who used ignorance to gain power and saw war as the only means to hold onto it. It spoke about Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Imperial Japan who, like Iran today, manipulated ideas to nurture commitment to war and self sacrifice in their quest for world domination.

If the world wishes to ensure this new dark empire and the war that it seeks to create, then more needs to be done for the people of Iran and for those Iranians who call for a change in their country. And faster please...before 2008 becomes a realization of 1984.