One year has elapsed since the July 14, 2015 ceremonial conclusion of the Iran Nuclear Deal, officially designated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Iran Deal was one of the most controversial agreements in recent history. Interestingly, neither supporters nor opponents have disagreed that the Islamic Republic of Iran is led by a dangerous regime. Iran has run an ambitious nuclear program amid an expansionist agenda striving to unite first the Muslim world and then the rest of the world under its hegemony. It is also deeply involved in international terrorism, undermines Arab regimes across the Middle East, applies ruthless methods to keep its own population under control and is actively committed to its genocidal goal of destroying Israel.

Since the announcement of JCPOA, Iran has sent mixed signals to the world. Oppression of opposition at home, executions, violent activities across the region, ambitious nuclear, missiles and cyberwar programs continue unabated. No less ambitious is Iran’s gunboat diplomacy. Iranian vessels are already sailing in the eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, the South China Sea and, in the future, they plan a permanent presence of nuclear submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Simultaneously, business delegations and official state visits abound from all directions and observers report that Tehranis benefit from an unprecedented respite in the imposition of some chastity rules.

So, here is the question: Is Iran (as optimists would have it) turning about, slowly, but steadily, in an effort to become a thriving status quo nation-state? Or (pessimistically speaking), does the vision of a respected member of the family of nations amount to not much more than a shimmering mirage? Has the Islamic Republic only used the nuclear deal for gathering strength while reverting to its old empire-longing ways, unabashedly striving towards imposing a revolutionary Persian-Islamist hegemony on the entire Middle East and beyond?

The so-called Iran Deal will not last forever—even in the short run it leaves much to be desired in terms of security concerns. Thus, an understanding of Iran’s intentions, for any period just beyond the horizon, is critical.

Those of us at IMPACT believe that one of the best tools for providing such a strategic evaluation is by delving into a nation’s k–12 school textbooks. The textbooks derive from a joint effort by academicians and religious authorities and supervised by a regime intent on preparing the nation’s youth for any future challenges (including those created by the regime’s ambitions).

Our new Iran report, “Iranian Education: The Continuous Revolution,” paints a troubling picture. If Iran intends to change its course, the process has been extremely slow and indeed perhaps non-existent. Of particular interest are efforts to develop a unique way of thinking, predicated upon the heritage of Persian culture and Shiite Islam, with much emphasis on poetry and mysticism. Also, there is the belief that societies change their identity over time because “culture is learned.” There is the lingering hope that the West will Islamize. A new fifth grade textbook presented a clearer delineation of Iran’s immediate neighbors (but not Israel) as independent countries. What seemed to be increased attention to women has also, disturbingly, meant their partial inclusion among those permitted to be martyrs.

The upcoming school year (2016–17) contains direct calls within the curriculum for students—including young children—to destroy Israel. A new picture includes a quotation from Imam Khomeini, the Republic’s founder, reading: “Israel must be wiped out!” (literally: “Israel should be destroyed” [esrail bayad az beyn beravad]). The students are asked to connect the picture showing Israeli soldiers attacked by Palestinian children and the text, describing Khomeini’s struggle against the Shah, whom he described as a traitor controlled by America, which “did not allow our scientists to make scientific progress.”[1] Khomeini’s edict to destroy Israel is provided in the conclusion to a chapter entitled: “[Khomeini] The Greatest Man in History.” This title is mind-boggling for a Shiite-Islamic regime: neither the Prophet nor the Imams are so venerated.[2] Besides the genocidal message, the picture also brings to mind the tragic veneration of child martyrdom.

To understand where Iran is heading, we suggest reading our report’s conclusion, part of which says:

Unquestionably one can find within Iran’s educational curriculum an emphasis on strong family values, morality, and commitment to one’s friends, the Islamic Nation and the meek and oppressed. Alongside an emotional and mystical grasp of reality and an uncompromising religious worldview, this might indeed appear to be a worthwhile experiment—combining the best of modernity with a serious link to the wisdom of the ages.

But this must be viewed within the harsh paradox that is simultaneously present in the selfsame curriculum that teaches Iranian children to hate and weaken their enemies—especially in the West—while extolling the virtue of suicidal martyrdom. Not a little discernment is required to understand such a dichotomy.

An evident split divides the rational, inclusive dimension of the curriculum from that of the mystical-totalitarian exclusive one. Some scholars believe that despite these “circles of inclusion and exclusion,” aimed at identifying “outsiders” and their Iranian “Westoxicated” allies, the impact of the Iranian curriculum is limited: “. . . the sharp contrast between preaching and practice in the larger society has led Iranian youth to question the truth of what is conveyed in the classroom.”[3]

Indeed, the violent oppression in Iran itself—amid Iran-induced turmoil in places such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza—point to limitations of this worldview’s convincing power. But the curriculum does not need to convince each and every individual—just enough radical leaders, committed military commanders, soldiers, scientists, technicians, legal experts, and a range of other key elements of Iranian society and the region—all led by an absolute Supreme Leader. Imperial dreams aside, the phantasmagoric character of this educational system must be factored into any assessment of Iran’s intentions and plans for the future.[4]

[1] Heaven’s Presents, Grade 5, 2016–17 (1395), p. 94

[2] Ibid. pp. 94–96, picture on p. 94.

[3] Golnar Mehran, “Iran: A Shiʻite Curriculum to Serve the Islamic State,” in eds. Eleanor Abdella Doumato and Gregory Starrett, Teaching Islam: Textbooks and Religion in the Middle East. Boulder and London: Rienner, 2007 p. 69.

[4] Eldad J. Pardo, “Iranian Education: The Continuous Revolution,” Impact-se, June 2016, pp. 71–72.