How to be a ‘good’ jihadi

For some parents in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, the worst has come true.

After destroying many of the textbooks their children used to use in Mosul’s schools, the Islamic State, or IS, group has developed a whole new curriculum for school aged children living inside the areas they control.

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The cover of one of the Islamic State text books.

Abu Omran* is a father of three in Mosul. Until very recently he was hoping that his children might be able to go back to school – they left school the day that the IS group took control of the city in mid-June last year and they’ve never been back.

But now he is increasingly pessimistic about his children’s future – they have already lost two terms of schooling and now it looks likely they will lose a third.

“I will not let them attend school just so they can learn about murder and extremism,” Abu Omar told NIQASH in a conversation conducted over a social messaging service. “Nobody is going to accept any of their qualifications anyway. My children were excellent students. I just wish I could take them out of this city so they could continue their schooling.”

There are between 300,000 and 400,000 students of all ages in Mosul who have the same kinds of problems. Iraq’s Ministry of Education has already said that it wouldn’t accept any certificates or qualifications that pupils passed in areas under the control of the IS group.

If the IS group has 275,220 heroes in a battle and the unbelievers have 356,230, who has more soldiers? 

– Islamic State school curriculum mathematics question

NIQASH managed to obtain some digital samples of the new primary school curriculum, to be taught to children aged between six and 12 years old. Even just reading the introductions to the textbooks it is clear the level of indoctrination that is at work in them.

For example, in a book about physical fitness for six-year-olds, two words are written on the cover: “continue”, or exist, and “expand”. The two words are used continuously inside the book with regard to sports and physical exercise. However these two words are more significant than that – they are part of the IS group’s well known motto, where they say the Islamic State will “continue (or persist and remain) and expand”.

near Mosul, Iraq

A picture taken on August 17 shows buildings that were damaged during fighting between Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and the Islamic State (IS) group’s militants in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, west of the city of Mosul. Photo: Getty

Illustrations in other books, such as one on religious education and religious missions, or jihad, show children wearing the same outfit as the grown IS fighters wear – a loose “Afghan-style” tunic and baggy pants – and carrying weapons like pistols and machine guns.

A mathematics textbook asks arithmetic questions like this: If the IS group has 275,220 heroes in a battle and the unbelievers have 356,230, who has more soldiers?

“This is insane,” says Amal Hamid, a retired school manager who currently lives in Sulaymaniyah, in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, very close to Mosul. She was looking at the new IS school books on her computer. “Parents shouldn’t even allow their children to go to school and read these,” she said. “They will graduate as militants, rather than as doctors or engineers!”

Hamid isn’t surprised this has happened though, she says. The head of the IS’ so-called department of education is a man called Khaled al-Afari, a 30-year-old Turkmen from the town of Tal Afar, who has a degree in Islamic science.

The new school curriculum first appeared in Mosul two weeks ago, Khaled al-Attar, a headmaster at a school in Mosul, told NIQASH. But the information was only available on CDs. The CDs were distributed to primary and secondary schools throughout the city and the students were asked to print out the pages themselves, and foot the cost for doing so. Alternatively they could buy a printed copy from one of the local print shops that had started producing the textbooks.

Parents shouldn’t even allow their children to go to school and read these. They will graduate as militants, rather than as doctors or engineers!

The new governor of Ninawa, Haji Sido, said he was concerned about the influence these kinds of textbooks would have on the children of Mosul. But at the same time, he said he was also optimistic because he didn’t think the IS group was capable of properly administering the city’s schools. The best indication of that is that Mosul’s schools haven’t actually started lessons again, he says.

Iraqi children

There are between 300,000 and 400,000 students in Mosul. Photo: Getty

There are other reasons why classes have yet to begin again. Around six months ago the Iraqi government stopped transferring salaries to its employees in Mosul. The reason given was that the money was simply ending up in the IS group’s coffers – the group heavily taxes all those living in areas it controls in order to fund its own activities. Government employees in Mosul include around 53,000 teachers and other educational staff.

In order to pay the teachers and other staff, the IS group’s department of education requires all students to pay fees. One employee of the Ninawa education department still in Mosul, Abu Safaa, told NIQASH that every student at primary school must pay US$12, secondary school pupils must pay US$18 and university students, US$50.

“If there was anyone who was willing to send their children to school to be indoctrinated by the IS group’s new curriculum, those high fees will surely dissuade them,” he says.

The school year started two weeks ago. However most of Mosul’s classrooms and lecture halls remain empty of students or teachers. Many locals are hoping that the IS group’s new educational curriculum has about as much currency as the group’s own coinage, the “golden dinar”. But they also worry that the extremists might try and get the school system going again through force – it wouldn’t be the first time.

*All names in this story have been changed to protect those still living inside Mosul.

The video below shows what life is like under Islamic State in Mosul.


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