Iranian religious song seen as an attempt to indoctrinate children

Iran’s clerical establishment is promoting a new religious song in what critics say is an attempt to indoctrinate children.

In recent weeks, Iranian state media have published videos and images of children performing the song, titled Salute Commander, in schools, squares and stadiums across the Islamic republic.

The song is believed to be backed by the Ministry of Education and has been praised by the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the country’s armed forces.

This appears to be the latest effort by the authorities to promote the ideological values ​​of the clerical establishment among young people and ensure their loyalty to the regime. Critics blasted the song as an attempt to brainwash vulnerable children.

“I will become your general,” the children sing, in an apparent reference to IRGC commander General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in neighboring Iraq in 2020.

The song calls for the return of the Hidden Imam, also known as Imam Mahdi, who according to Shia Muslims went into hiding in the 10th century and will reappear to bring justice to Earth.

In the song, the children pledge allegiance to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “Commander”. Khamenei’s supporters have tried to elevate his status by bestowing on him the title of imam, the highest title in Shia Islam.

“Hello Commander! [Khamenei] called his children to [mobilize]», sing the children. “I am a child, but call me and see what I will do for you. »

“I will become your general,” the children sing, in an apparent reference to IRGC commander General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in neighboring Iraq in 2020. After his death, authorities said hailed Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s overseas branch, the Quds Force, as a national hero.

The song, performed by preacher Abuzar Roohi, was reportedly first broadcast on Iranian state television on March 20 after Khamenei’s annual speech marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

Since, thousands of children sang Salute Commander in public spaces in major cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Isfahan. On May 26, thousands of children were to perform the song at the 100,000 capacity Azadi football stadium in Tehran.

“Indisputable Loyalty”

Parisian sociologist Saeed Paivandi says the song is reminiscent of indoctrination efforts in other authoritarian states.

“In this song, the children express their unquestionable loyalty to the main symbols of the Iranian regime, including [the supreme leader]General Soleimani or the [Hidden] Imam,” he said. “You can see similar propaganda in countries like North Korea, China and Cuba.”

Paivandi said the indoctrination efforts in Iran come amid growing disillusionment with the mullahs’ regime. Public anger has grown in recent years over an economy crippled by US sanctions and years of mismanagement. As inflation soared, unemployment and poverty spread.

Protests over economic grievances often quickly turned political, with protesters directing their fury at the Iranian establishment. Earlier this month, protesters in dozens of cities and towns took to the streets in the face of soaring food prices.

Criticism of Khamenei has long been a red line in Iran. But in recent years, a growing number of activists and protesters have called for his resignation.

“[The song] contrasts with the economic and social realities and hardships of those living in the Islamic republic,” Paivandi said, while pointing to the “cultural gap between the younger generation and the clerical establishment.”

Around 60% of Iran’s approximately 84 million people are under the age of 30. Power, however, rests with 83-year-old Khamenei and a system dominated by veteran clerics.

Saeid Golkar, senior researcher on Iran policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said the song was also an attempt to create a personality cult around Khamenei, who has the final say on all important state issues. .

Thousands of children sang Salute Commander in public spaces in major cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Isfahan, pictured.

Thousands of children sang Salute Commander in public spaces in major cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Isfahan, pictured.

“The video kills two birds with one stone by linking him to the hidden imam and calling him the commander the children are happy to sacrifice their lives for, satisfying the clerics and Khamenei supporters,” Golkar said.

‘Rub salt on their wounds’

In 2016, Khamenei stressed the importance of producing a “beautiful and effective” anthem that “children would sing in the streets and on their way to school”.

The Iranian establishment has used songs for propaganda purposes in the past.

But Narges Bajoghli, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, says Salute Commander is designed for hardcore regime supporters. “It is targeted at a specific audience and is not intended to be a recruiting tool,” she said. replace what he called “lewd songs”. He did not provide details.

In 2019, hardliners were angered by videos posted online showing school children dancing and singing along to a song by a US-based underground rap singer. Iranian officials and state-controlled media suggested it was part of a plot by Iran’s enemies to undermine the religious values ​​of the Islamic republic.

IRGC chief General Hossein Salami hailed Salute Commander as “a beautiful cultural product” that countered Western cultural influence in the country.

“Hi Commander talks about being prepared [part] of the Imam [Mahdi]companions and [Khamenei’s] soldiers,” Salami was quoted as saying by state media last week.

Critics question why state resources have been used to promote the song at a time when many Iranians are struggling to make ends meet.

“I hope people will one day be made aware of how much of their money has been spent on Salute Commander propaganda,” journalist Hossein Yazdi wrote on Twitter on May 21.

“These actions of a government whose people are suffering deep economic hardship are like rubbing salt on their wounds,” Yazdi added.

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