Politics

Hizbullah school networks indoctrinate youth with Iranian traditions, politics

By Nohad Topalian

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Lebanese students take part in a graduation ceremony at the Hadath branch of al-Mahdi High School in Baabda district. Hizbullah manages the al-Mahdi school network. [Hassan Ezzedine]

BEIRUT -- In almost every village in the areas where Hizbullah holds influence -- Beirut's southern suburb, the south and the Bekaa Valley -- there is a school affiliated with the party, from primary school to university level.

Most prominent among them are the al-Mahdi and al-Mustafa school networks and the Amjad college institutes.

Lebanese Shia who oppose the party complain that these networks have become hubs for the promotion of Iranian culture and propagation of the ideology of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Lebanon.

Through Hizbullah, they said, Iran is seeking to change Lebanon's educational and cultural landscape in order to bring the country into its fold under the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist).

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Hizbullah organises celebrations and marches for Lebanese students, in which youth raise the party's flags, rather than the Lebanese flag. [Hassan Ezzedine]

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Lebanese Shia students who attend Hizbullah-affiliated schools raise portraits of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei. [Hassan Ezzedine]

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In the schools it controls or operates in Lebanon, Hizbullah holds ceremonies for girls when they reach the age of nine and are forced to wear the veil. [Hassan Ezzedine]

This calls for allegiance to al-Wali al-Faqih: Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

This is not news, said Hassan Ezzedine, a Shia activist who opposes Hizbullah, noting that Iran and Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah have sought to "make Lebanon part of the Iran-based Wilayat al-Faqih state" since the 1980s.

Both have worked to entrench the culture of the IRGC in Lebanon, he said.

Iran-centric education

To this end, Ezzedine said, Hizbullah has opened a number of universities, schools and institutes under its direct ownership -- such as the al-Mahdi school network -- or under the ownership of affiliated individuals who follow its orders.

These include the al-Mustafa schools, owned by Nasrallah's deputy, Sheikh Naim Qassem, and the Amjad institutes, owned by party official Sheikh Nabil Qaouk.

Ezzedine said these institutions "promote the culture, customs, traditions and rituals practiced by, and imposed on society by, the IRGC's regime in Iran".

Farsi is adopted as a second language in al-Mahdi schools, 9-year-old girls are obligated to wear the veil, and coming of age ceremonies are held for them with the blessing of Hizbullah clerics, led by Sheikh Qassem.

Hizbullah has "replaced the Lebanese national anthem in its schools with Dua al-Hujjah", the prayer of the 12th Imam, al-Mahdi al-Hujjah, Ezzedine said.

The party also holds Ashura Councils throughout the days of Ashura, interspersed with political speeches that celebrate the actions of its fighters.

"Nasrallah is portrayed as the holder of the key to Heaven and the arbiter of who enters Heaven or is cast into Hell," Ezzeddine said.

He is presented to al-Mahdi school students as "the grandson of Fatima al-Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, and as the leader of the awaited al-Mahdi's army", he said.

Meanwhile, Nasrallah himself instills in the minds of the students the notion that Khamenei is the rightful heir of the Prophet and the imams.

'Systematic cultural change'

"I have three school-aged children, and despite my difficult financial circumstances, I would not think for a moment of enrolling them in any of the party's schools," said a Shia opponent of Hizbullah, who asked not to be named.

As a Lebanese citizen, he opposes and rejects "this sectarian policy", he said, adding that he thinks the introduction of Farsi in Hizbullah-controlled schools "poses a danger to Lebanese society" and the concept of Lebanese citizenship.

While the party's base "has no objection to learning Farsi in return for benefitting financially and from the services provided by the party's educational institutions", he said, the students are swept into Hizbullah's cadres.

In order to successfully execute its expansionist agenda, Iran must effect broad change across the political, economic, cultural, educational and financial arenas, said Lebanese Centre for Studies and Consulting director Hassan Qutb.

To this end, he said, "Nasrallah explicitly declared that he is part of the Iranian network" in Lebanon and the region, and is working to further Iran's ambitions.

"Hizbullah has begun work to establish and consolidate systematic cultural change that targets the culture of [Lebanese] society," he told Al-Mashareq.

This encompasses "the naming of streets, buildings, institutions and media campaigns on billboards erected on both sides of public roads and even on private buildings in return for a financial compensation", he said.

More significantly, he added, it includes "manipulating educational and cultural curricula in all Shia areas, which constitute its incubating environment".

Process of indoctrination

Hizbullah sets the curriculum in these schools, Qutb said, and its precepts "are easily introduced to the minds of young students".

Once students have been indoctrinated with the party's ideology, he said, they are enrolled in the al-Mahdi scouts, a youth organisation affiliated with Hizbullah.

The scouts' mission "is to translate words, headlines, constants and beliefs into actions and practices that are in line with the culture that serves Hizbullah's policies in Lebanon and are compatible with Iran's plans in the region", he said.

"Iran established hawzas (Shia seminaries) in Lebanon devoted to teaching the principles of Wilayat al-Faqih, on which the Shia of Lebanon and the Arab and Islamic world disagree," he said.

Inside these institutions, he added, Farsi has become widely spread among the party's base and among Hizbullah partisans.

Two Iran-based universities -- al-Mustafa and al-Maaref -- also have branches in Lebanon, and grant degrees in various fields of university education, as well as scholarships to Tehran universities, he said.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah "dominates the administration of the Lebanese University", he added, which has recently increased the number of classes it offers on Persian language and Persian history.

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