Inside the Hezbollah-run schools where ‘teachers pray for Iran’s Supreme Leader’
Hezbollah, or the “Party of God”, is a Lebanon-based Islamist movement including a powerful military wing and an influential political party.
The latter is in control of TV stations as well as an extensive network of social services ranging from healthcare to comprehensive education, ranging from primary school to university courses.
The welfare services run by Hezbollah are primarily aimed at the Shiite population in Lebanon, historically a disadvantaged group in the country.
But, as Hezbollah provide the neglected population with vital services, the impact of its influence particularly on the youth attending the group’s schools has attracted the attention of international observers and scholars.
The Education Unit of the organisation, which is a proscribed terror group in the UK, includes different networks of schools, including the Al-Mahdi schools, Al-Mustafa schools, Murtadha schools and the Emdad schools.
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Hezbollah doesn’t formally claim to administer any public or private school, but is more or less affiliated with these networks.
Portraits of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s previous Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini are reportedly hung in many Mahdi schools, while Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s second-in-command, is believed to have founded the Mustafa network in 1974.
In an analysis looking into whether Hezbollah is teaching antisemitism to the Lebanese youth, the Jewish NGO Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claimed that “the Mustafa and Mahdi schools appear particularly focused on indoctrination and recruitment”.
One former student of a Mustafa high school, Ali al-Sayyed, told the New York Times in 2008 that he was ready to “sacrifice [his] life” for Hezbollah after the help provided by the group to the Shiite population.
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The US newspaper wrote about his experience in the school: “He spent at least five class hours every week studying religion and listening to his teachers pray for Hezbollah’s fighters and Ayatollah Khomeini. After school and during the summers, he was with the Mahdi Scouts. Later he became a Scout leader.”
Mahdi Scouts are an extracurricular youth group described as the “vanguard of the Hezbollah’s youth movement”.
Scouts are just one example of how Hezbollah-promoted education can be carried out outside of schools.
A nationwide network of clerics provide weekly religious lessons to young people on a neighbourhood basis, and the party organises non-Scout-related summer camps and field trips for young people, the US publication claimed.
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A study by the Middle East Policy Council on the social services provided by the group noted “some Hezbollah staff members believe that the role of the social-service units is to build a ‘resistance society’, measured by their readiness to face Israel in war”.
While the analysis argues it seems “unlikely” for the wide range of Hezbollah’s health and social-service provision to be “merely a front to raise funds for their violent activities”, it acknowledges welfare services may well influence the population and push some to engage in more violent activities carried out by Hezbollah. But the impact the group has on the Lebanese youth is difficult to quantify due to the lack of reliable statistics and the party’s secrecy.
The Council said the group has managed to earn the loyalty among poor Shiites by supporting the population and, in some areas, being the sole provider of services.
The organisation wrote: “In part through providing these services, Hezbollah has increased its votes, its share of power in the Lebanese government, and perhaps some militants for its cause. While we cannot prove that these were the motives behind Hezbollah social-services provision, the results are clear.”
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