The video is chilling: a jihadist from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda’s branch for those two countries, addresses a crowd of boys at a school in Syria, rallying them to jihad. The boys look to be about ten or twelve years old, and they eagerly participate in the lesson – which is all about how Muslims should wage war and slaughter infidels in order to defend Islam.
“The mujahideen are coming here, to Syria,” says the jihadist, telling the boys that they have come from “Egypt, from Chechnya, from Morocco, from the U.S., from Belgium, from China, from Russia, from Cameroon. … Who unites them?”
“Allah!,” the children dutifully reply.
The jihadist bats back a follow-up: “Why did they gather here?”
The boys aren’t stumped: “For the sake of Islam,” they answer readily.
That was what the jihadist wanted to hear, as he was ready to expand on the point – one gets the impression that he was asking the boys questions that they had been asked and answered many times before. “Islam,” he tells them, “unites everyone under one word, with no distinction between skin color, nationality, or anything. The entire Earth belongs to Allah. Islam elevates the Muslims and humiliates the infidels.”
Had he so desired, the jihadist could have pointed to Qur’anic sanction for the idea that Islam “elevates the Muslims and humiliates the infidels.” The Muslim holy book tells believers to “fight those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden” even if they are of the “People of the Book,” that is, primarily Jews and Christians, “until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.” (9:29)
The Qur’an also says that the Jews: “have been put under humiliation wherever they are overtaken, except for a covenant from Allah and a rope from the Muslims” (3:112) – that is, unless they submit to the rule of the Muslims.
The Syrian jihadist then went on to explain to the children exactly who the infidels were that Islam humiliated, asking them: “The ‘Crusaders’ – who are the Christians – are they Muslims or infidels?”
When the boys responded that the Christians were infidels, the jihadist began elaborating on the point: “Allah said: ‘Those who say that Jesus son of Mary is God have disbelieved.’ Allah said: ‘Those who say that God is the third of three have disbelieved.’ They cross themselves like this. Allah said: ‘Those who say that God is the third of three have disbelieved.’ Whoever says that God is three is an infidel. Whoever says that God is two and that Jesus is His son is an infidel as well. Whoever says that Jesus is God is also an infidel.”
He was paraphrasing the Qur’an: “They have certainly disbelieved who say, ‘Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary’ while the Messiah has said, ‘O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Indeed, he who associates others with Allah — Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. They have certainly disbelieved who say, ‘Allah is the third of three.’ And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment.” (5:72-73)
The Christians were not the jihadist’s only targets. He then asked the boys: “Is Bashar Al-Assad a Muslim or an infidel?” When he got the answer he wanted, he asked them, “Why do you hate him?”
“Because he is an infidel,” they cried.
The jihadist then upped the ante: “Imagine,” he asked, “we had here with us an Alawite, from Al-Assad’s family or religion. Would you like him?” The Alawites, a Shi’ite offshoot sect that Sunni Muslims consider to be heretical, make up about twelve percent of Syria’s population – including the ruling Assad family.
When the children answered No, they would not like an Alawite, the jihadist asked: “What would you do to him?”
“Slaughter him!,” they shouted.
The jihadist was pleased. That was the right answer. “Slaughter him,” he responded. “Right. Because he is an infidel. Anyone who does not believe in Islam is an infidel.”
All this is bad enough, but the video ends shortly after that, leaving us with no clue as to the answer to the most important question: What happened next? Did these boys rush to join the jihad and slaughter infidels? Did they go home and get asked by their mothers, “What did you learn in school today?” If they did, and answered honestly, did their mothers react with horror and tell them that believing that Islam required them to slaughter infidels was a twisting and hijacking of their Religion of Peace? Did they quickly pull their children out of the school and upbraid the principal for allowing this incitement to hatred and violence to take place on school grounds?
And whatever happened next, what will become of these boys in five or ten years? How many of them will heed the call to slaughter infidels for the sake of Islam? Will any of them be stopped by the moderates that we are constantly told are the vast majority of Muslims, and who despise and abhor the violent jihadists? Will any school – the school where this jihadist spoke or any other – hold a session about how Islam is really peaceful and doesn’t involve slaughtering infidels?
For years the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the source of this video, has been chronicling similar teachings of violence and hate in Islamic schools in Pakistan. And so it is no surprise that the Taliban are today alive and well in Pakistan, and that in that country the tiny Christian and Hindu minorities increasingly face violent persecution. The boys in Pakistani madrassas learned their lessons well, and are applying them. The same thing is likely to happen in Syria and elsewhere – everywhere that the Qur’an’s exhortations to violence against infidels is taken as applying to the present day.
Children, at least some of them, learn what they’re taught, and follow in the paths their elders have mapped out for them. Yet in response to all this, Western leaders issue denial after denial that any of this has anything to do with Islam, or that it calls for any accountability, much less genuine reform, among Muslims in the West. Some of the current shapers of public opinion and public policy may be repeating that Islam is a religion of peace and that only “Islamophobes” think otherwise right at the very moment that one of the boys who learned the Syria jihadist’s lessons in this video begins to slit an infidel’s throat.