Thu, 30 Jun 2022

Iran's clerical establishment is promoting a new religious song as part of what critics say is an attempt to indoctrinate children.

In recent weeks, Iranian state media has 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 Education Ministry and has been praised by the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the country's armed forces.

It appears to be the latest effort by authorities to promote the clerical establishment's ideological values among the youth and ensure their loyalty to the regime. Critics have 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 U.S. 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 Shi'ite 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 followers have tried to elevate his status by bestowing him the title of imam, the highest title in Shi'ite Islam.

"Salute commander! [Khamenei] has called his children to [mobilize]," the children sing. "I'm a child but just call me and watch what I'll 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 U.S. drone strike in neighboring Iraq in 2020. After he was killed, authorities hailed Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's overseas arm, the Quds Force, as a national hero.

The song, performed by preacher Abuzar Roohi, was reportedly first aired on Iranian state TV on March 20 following Khamenei's annual speech marking Norouz, the Persian New Year.

SEE ALSO: Iran Slams Brakes On Bus Drivers' Strike To Keep Protests Off The Streets Of Tehran

Since then, thousands of children have sung Salute Commander in public spaces in major cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Isfahan. On May 26, thousands of children were scheduled to perform the song in Tehran's 100,000-capacity Azadi soccer stadium.

'Unquestionable Loyalty'

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

"In this song, 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 such as North Korea, China, and Cuba."

Paivandi said the indoctrination efforts in Iran come amid rising disillusionment with the clerical regime. There has been growing public anger in recent years over an economy that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement. As inflation has soared, unemployment and poverty have spread.

Protests over economic grievances have often quickly turned political, with protesters directing their fury at Iran's establishment. Earlier this month, protesters in dozens of cities and towns took to the streets over skyrocketing 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] stands in contrast with economic and social realities and the hardship of those living in the Islamic republic," said Paivandi, while also pointing out the "cultural gap between the young generation and the clerical establishment."

Around 60 percent of Iran's roughly 84 million population are below the age of 30. Power, though, rests with the 83-year-old Khamenei and a system dominated by veteran clerics.

Saeid Golkar, a senior fellow on Iran policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, says the song is also an attempt to create a personality cult around Khamenei, who has the final say in all important state matters.

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

"The video kills two birds with one stone by connecting him to the Hidden Imam and calling him the commander that kids are happy to sacrifice their lives for, satisfying religious people and supporters of Khamenei," said Golkar.

'Rubbing Salt On Their Wounds'

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

Iran's 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 the regime's hard-core supporters. "It's targeted to a specific audience, and not meant as a recruitment tool," she said.Seyed Mehdi Bani Hashemi Langarudi, the poet who wrote the lyrics, told the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency on May 25 that Salute Commander was produced to replace what he called "obscene songs." He did not provide details.

SEE ALSO: As Bread Costs Skyrocket In Iran, So Does The Risk Of Social Unrest

In 2019, hard-liners were angered by videos posted online that showed schoolchildren dancing and singing to a song by a U.S.-based underground rap singer. Iranian officials and state-controlled media suggested it was part of a plot by Iran's enemies to undermine the Islamic republic's religious values.

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

"Salute Commander talks about the readiness to be [part] of Imam [Mahdi]'s companions and [Khamenei's] soldiers," Salami was quoted as saying by state media last week.

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

"I hope people will one day be informed about how much of their money was spent on Salute Commander propaganda," journalist Hossein Yazdi wrote on Twitter on May 21.

"These actions by a government whose people are suffering from deep economic hardship are like rubbing salt on their wounds," Yazdi added.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036

More Middle East News

Access More

Sign up for Mid East News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!