A new video game developed by Lebanon's Hizbullah that simulates the fighting in Syria has met with fury from critics, who say it incites youth to violence and indoctrinates children into the Iran-backed militia's culture of killing.
Hizbullah's electronic media department unveiled the new war game during a February 28th ceremony and news conference in Beirut.
The game opens with the protagonist, Hizbullah element "Ahmad", entering Sayyida Zaynab shrine near Damascus. The shrine is shown being shelled, and Ahmad then appears in a military uniform in a room where a portrait of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah hangs on the wall.
He picks up a weapon and joins Hizbullah's fighters in battle, picking off his enemies with a rifle. The battles take him to Syria's al-Qusayr region, near the border with Lebanon, and then into the Lebanese town of Ras Baalbek.
In real life, Hizbullah deployed fighters in Syria in 2013 in support of Syrian regime forces, an intervention widely condemned as it breaches Lebanon's dissociation policy and violates UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
A dangerous game
This dangerous game aims to build a militarized society immersed in Hizbullah's ideology, writer and political analyst Tony Abi Najm told Al-Mashareq.
The militia seeks to introduce children to military concepts at a young age, he said, and to teach them to fight when they are called upon, without any regard for the Lebanese state or their citizenship in that country.
"This video game is part of a comprehensive societal operation by Hizbullah that starts at al-Mahdi schools," he said, referring to Hizbullah-run schools in southern Lebanon.
Hizbullah seeks to use video games, television, and other social influences in service of its ideology and the Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), he said.
"Accordingly, even this video game is part of [Hizbullah's] general policy of educating and ideologically conditioning [a member] from the time he is born to the time he dies," he added.
Violation of resolutions
"Hizbullah's distribution of a video game depicting its military battles on the Lebanese-Syrian border and inside Syria constitutes a flagrant violation of international resolutions," said Radio Free Lebanon editor-in-chief Antoine Murad.
UNSCR 1701 calls for the Lebanese government to "extend its authority over its territory", such that there will be no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon, he told Al-Mashareq.
Hizbullah’s actions are in violation of this resolution, Murad said.
"Resolution 1701 affirmed support for the Taif Agreement with regard to the full sovereignty of the Lebanese state over its territory and the need to eliminate any authority and [illegal] weapons on the territory of the Lebanese state," he said.
"Hizbullah today is exercising authority in parallel to that of the Lebanese state, and possesses weapons in violation of the constitution, the Taif Agreement and laws in force," he added.
The resolution also stipulates that Lebanon must "secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon, without its consent, of arms or related material", he said, noting that Hizbullah is violating this clause as well.
Robbing children of innocence
Murad expressed surprise that Hizbullah would flaunt its involvement in Syria, noting that "the Lebanese government's dissociation [policy] is a decision in the name of the Lebanese government" and is not merely a recommendation.
During its December 5th session, the Lebanese cabinet announced it was renewing its policy of dissociation.
"The Lebanese government, with all its political components, has decided to commit to dissociating from any conflicts, disputes or wars ... that harm Lebanon's political and economic relations with Arab countries," Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said at the time.
According to Murad, "Hizbullah is violating the principle of dissociation by promoting its involvement in Syria under various pretexts and promoting its weapons and wars outside Lebanese territory".
With this video game that incites violence and raises children on the culture of killing, Hizbullah is going against the general trend towards détente in Syria and a search for a peaceful means to end the conflict, Murad said.
This game is dangerous not only in its approach, but in principle as well, he noted, as Hizbullah is turning its fighting in Syria into a "game that it puts in the hands of children".
"This game will instill hatred in children at an early age, get them accustomed to the sight of the blood and rob them of their innocence," he added.