Iran recruits Syrian children and changes their faith

Iran is seeking to recruit Syrian children and teenagers, and influence their religious beliefs in order to foster a culture of loyalty to the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A POSTER of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad in Latakia.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A POSTER of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad in Latakia.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following in the footsteps of the “Cubs of the Caliphate” and other sectarian schools, Iran is seeking to recruit Syrian children and teenagers, and influence their religious beliefs in order to foster a culture of loyalty to the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Through the creation of Shia missionary schools, the country seeks to take advantage of these children so they will its serve political purposes in a variety of Syrian provinces. In these schools, it is believed that these children are receiving pro-Shia indoctrination.
Although purporting to be a humanitarian volunteer activity that has been ongoing for many years and is far from any political and religious goals, Iran has been engaging in this type of activity since 2012, when Iranian Revolutionary Guards Maj.-Gen. Hassan Shateri started working to create an “Islamic generation following Vilayet Al Fakih [a guardianship-based political system] that adhered to the teachings of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.”
Through the official page of the Syrian State Scouts on Facebook, one can see children with photos of Iran’s Supreme leader and Iranian flags participating in activities. One can view them partaking in Shia religious customs, such as Ashura ceremonies, in Latkia and Damascus. They also participate in marches in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The shirts worn by these children bear religious slogans, such as “Ya Hussein” and “Al Zahara” as well as the red and green flags of Hezbollah. Children between the ages of eight and 16 bear the name “imam’s soldiers” while taking lessons about weapons and how to aim and fire at fixed targets, in what appear to be training camps for Shia militias.
Even recreational activities like games, shows, drawing expeditions and sporting competitions are aimed to indoctrinate in favor of Shia doctrine. Their activities are prominent in religious events such as Ashura, where young boys and girls participate in Husseinat, and set up mobile Hussein banners and musical performances with many viewers.
The headquarters of the Alawalaya Scouts is located in the Sayyidh Zeinab area and is directly linked to the Iranian Cultural Center, whose activities include mainly the Shia shrines and popular markets in Hamadia, other areas of Damascus and its school districts.
REGARDING THE Syrian coast, the “Great Messaging Complex” was established in Latkia. (It belongs to the Iranian Culture Ministry and was established in 2006.) The Northern Branch is affiliated with the General Alawalaya Scouts in Syria and bears the name of the “Followers of Imam Al Mahdi,” whose activities have been prominent in recent years. March viewers toured publicly in the cities of Latkia and Tartus by foot what is called the “Forties of Hussein.” Participants in the march carried pictures and waved signs bearing slogans supporting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its leaders.
About two months ago, a new center in Deir ez-Zor that is affiliated with the Alawalaya Scouts in Syria was inaugurated. According to an advertisement in front of the center, it includes: “cultural activities, sports, the arts, volunteer opportunities, developmental work, educational and Holy Koran activities.” Aside from the Alayalaya Scouts, Syria also has other small scouting groups that belong to Iran, such as the Imam Al Mahdi Scouts.
Iran’s expanded cultural activities designed for Syrian children also indicates a growing desire for these types of activities among Syrian children and their families. According to a local coordinating committee in Jabala, the biggest incentive for Syrian children to partake in these types of activities is the “economic factor,” thus allowing Iran to take advantage of the poverty and confusion caused by the Syrian government.
“The scouting branches indicate that most of the educational courses are free and they are in sync with the curriculum of the students, who are taken out on trips for free and relief is provided to the families of the children from time to time. In addition, the children enjoy a sense of security.
“Some of the families don’t understand the slogans like memorizing the Koran, are blinded by the courses and the free trips, and are unaware in which direction they are pushing their children, but Iran has surely created a deep religious sectarian drift by its vengeful and other hostile policies.”
With the approval of the Syrian regime, Iran has opened since 2011 primary and secondary schools that teach Shia studies on the Syrian coast and in Latakia, where there previously was no Shia community.
The writer is head of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Human Rights and Public Relations. He is a lecturer and expert on Islamic affairs, terrorism, Syria and the Middle East, and was formerly the chief of staff in the Office of the Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee and Regional Cooperation.


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