ISIS Cuts Art, Music, and History Education in Iraq

Worried parents who choose homeschooling risk punishment.

Iraqi schoolchildren. Photo: courtesy the US Army.
Iraqi schoolchildren. Photo: courtesy the US Army.

The school year began September 9 in Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-occupied Mosul, Iraq, where extremists have eliminated art, music, history, literature, and classes about Christianity from the curriculum, reports CBS. So far, families in the second-largest city in Iraq have responded by keeping their children home.

Homeschooling has become a popular option. “What’s important to us now is that the children continue receiving knowledge correctly, even if they lose a whole academic year and an official certification,” a local man calling himself Abu Hassan told the Associated Press, declining to share his real name.

The city has been under ISIS control since June 10. As part of its attempt to establish an Islamist caliphate, the extremist group is trying to govern its occupied territories, administering courts, fixing roads, and revamping the school system. In Mosul, changes were announced in posters displayed in mosques and markets that praised the “good news of the establishment of the Islamic State Education Diwan by the caliph who seeks to eliminate ignorance, to spread religious sciences, and to fight the decayed curriculum.”

ISIS’s Guidelines

The new guidelines, which have “permanently annulled” much of the liberal arts, also replace all references to the Iraqi and Syrian republics with the “Islamic States,” and deems patriotic songs, which are banned, to be “polytheism and blasphemy.” Pictures that don’t align with ISIS’s ultraconservative views have been torn out of text books. Similarly, ISIS has jettisoned philosophy and chemistry classes from schools in Raqqa, its Syrian stronghold.

For those who hope to take their children’s education into their own hands, the posters warn that “this announcement is binding,” and “anyone who acts against it will face punishment.”

Despite the risk involved in keeping their children home (some families have received notices from ISIS demanding their children show up to school), parents like Abu Hassan are more concerned about the effects of an ISIS education, worrying that “they will brainwash them and contaminate their thoughts.”

Student Segregation

Although it is not clear if teachers and school administrators have been showing up to work, instructors will now be segregated by gender. (Formerly, co-ed schools were permitted for students under 12.) They have been asked by ISIS “to teach and serve the Muslims in order to improve the people of the Islamic state in the fields of all religious and other sciences.”

Across Iraq, fighting has delayed the start of the school year, with many educational facilities serving as shelters for the over 1.8  million people displaced by the conflict. Baghdad’s Education Ministry is ill-prepared to intervene. “The situation in Mosul is so difficult because it is far too dangerous for us to know exactly what is happening,” said spokesperson Salama al-Hassan.

“All of this has a serious impact on the psychology of the students,” she added. “We want to approach this subject in a way that boosts the confidence and spirit of the students and helps them to understand what is happening in the country without instilling them with fear.”


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