On Wednesday, February 5, a rally going by the name of “A Generation of Soleimanis” was held at Tehran’s Grand Imam Khomeini Mosalla — a large plaza and mosque, where a complex of galleries and buildings host Friday Prayers, official political rallies, cultural events and many other activities supported by the government. The rally was organized by the Student Basij Organization and both students and teachers took part.
The following account is by an IranWire citizen journalist who witnessed the rally firsthand.
“The fists you have raised are not just about ‘Death to America’,” blared the loudspeakers. “You must punch America in the mouth with your fists.” The students shouted “Death to America!” as though they were lined up in the schoolyard and had been instructed by the headmaster to do so.
Some of the slogans in the event are shocking. In addition to the usual anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans, I saw a young boy aged about seven or eight casually seated on his father’s shoulders holding a banner that summarizes the ambitions of Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards: "We love to fight Zionists. We kill the Jews."
On Wednesday, February 5, the walls of Mosalla were covered with banners featuring pictures of General Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ expeditionary Quds Force who was killed by an American drone near Baghdad Airport on January 3. A few days before, government media began promoting the rally on social media using the hashtag “I am Soleimani” (#من _سلیمانی _ام). The rally was organized by the Student Basij Organization and the students, carrying placards — which also brandished Soleimani’s photo and the words “I am Ghasem Soleimani” — marched to the square. Many of them also carried banners saying they would kill Jews.
But not everybody was allowed in. Guards stood at every entrance, telling people that the rally was for students and teachers only. Prior to this, Fars News Agency had reported that 30,000 students had been scheduled to participate in the rally — half from the Sadra Schools of Islamic Sciences and Education and half from schools run by the Martyr Behnam Mohammadi Project.
The Sadra schools were founded by the Islamic Development Organization. In its mission statement, the organization declares the schools’ commitment to educating religious and revolutionary youths, and states that only teachers who are firm believers in Islam and the “Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist” and support the principles of the Islamic Republic are allowed to teach in the schools.
The Martyr Behnam Mohammadi Project educates “revolutionary” children and adolescents, instilling in them the goals and the beliefs of the Islamic Republic. According to the organization's official account of its origins, it was inspired by Mohammadi, a young boy from Abadan who infiltrated enemy lines during the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq to gather intelligence. He was killed when he was only 13.
Mohammadi’s story is similar to that of Hossein Fahmideh. During the battle for the southern port of Khorramshahr in 1980, the 13-year-old Fahmideh pulled the pin out of a grenade, clutched the grenade and leaped under an advancing Iraqi tank, killing himself and disabling the tank at the same time. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared Fahmideh a hero, and a monument to him was later erected on the outskirts of Tehran. In 2018, however, it turned out that the story was a piece of fiction created by a writer and journalist by the name of Hamid Houshangi.
Regardless of this revelation, in 2019, General Gholam Hossein Gheybparvar, then commander of the paramilitary Basij Organization, confidently announced that the Behnam Mohammadi Project planned to se up a “center” for revolutionary adolescents. The Basij Organization has described the project as a juncture where the mosque, the school and the home would meet.
Wishing for Martyrdom
Morteza is a Basiji at one of the Sadra schools. He wore a kufiyah, an Arab scarf that is usually worn around the neck or head, and carried a small picture of General Soleimani along with one of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. He is 16 but has not shaved his new, sparse facial hair. Why did he decide to join the rally, I asked him? “I have come here for my love, for Haj Ghasem,” he said after contemplating for a few seconds. “We are not even the dirt under the feet of Haj Ghasem but my biggest wish is to live with Haj Ghasem’s culture and achieve the exalted status of a martyr.”
The girls mostly wore chador and kufiyah. “We have come here to say we are ready to take serious revenge,” one said. She looked about 13 or 14 years of age and said these words as though she was singing an anthem. And she did not raise her head.
A few of the students carried the banners of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, a force of Afghan Shias who fight in Syria under the overall command of the Quds Force in support of President Bashar al-Assad. “In our country, if people learn that you are a member of the Fatemiyoun or you support them, they think you have become a member for money or for a residency permit,” said one of them. “They do not know that our fathers and our brothers went to defend the Zeynab Shrine [the tomb of Prophet Mohammad’s granddaughter, located in the suburbs of Damascus] and did not return. I mean, they know but don’t believe it.”
The student said the Revolutionary Guards promise money and residency permits to Afghan citizens in order to recruit them into the Fatemiyoun Brigade, but explained that the Afghan people generally do not have a favorable view toward those who join the brigade.
General Soleimani’s daughter, whose name happens to be Zeynab as well, was also present at the rally. She thanked the students who participated and says, “God willing, with the help of you young people and following the exalted Supreme Leader, we shall revenge my father’s blood.” All the young people participating in the rally called for “serious revenge.”
I talked to a social science professor in Tehran about the rally. “Brainwashing is one of the most important tools of dictatorships for educating the next generation,” the professor said. “The Islamic Republic is brainwashing these youngsters at the mosques and at schools to turn them into a generation embedded with revenge, death and violence. They want to turn these innocent youngsters into soldiers for the regime.”
According to him, in recent years the government has dedicated substantial amounts of money and propaganda efforts to train forces committed to the revolution and the regime. “To a certain degree it has been successful. Before, they were absent from cyberspace, but now their cyber army’s support for the regime’s beliefs and points of view is one of the achievements of these expenditures and propaganda.”
Samira is the deputy headmaster for education in one of Tehran’s non-profit religious schools. She says she had not received a letter or a circular urging her to participate in the rally, and criticizes the event because of the way it confuses the students. “In school they see that Ghasem Soleimani is praised as a hero and a savior but at home they notice that the family is not very upset about his death,” she said. “The kids don’t know which model to follow and get confused. And if they ask questions at school, they are usually shut up. At home, many families usually do not give them a straight answer because they fear that their children will quote them at school and cause trouble.”
After General Soleimani was killed, the headmaster of the school where Samira works asked the children to write down their feelings about him. “In the courtyard there is a little alcove and after Soleimani was killed the headmaster suggested that we place a table there with a notebook and a ballpoint pen so that the children could write down their feelings about Soleimani,” Samira said. “A few school employees were to pick up the notebook when it was complete, take it to Soleimani’s home and present it to the family to soothe their pain.”
Not “of the People” and not “for the People”
But after reading some of the notes, the teachers were shocked. “When the time for writing was up and we picked up the notebook, we found ugly swearwords on some of the pages,” Samira said. “Under the swearwords they had explained why they did not like Soleimani and why they had no respect for him. For instance, they had written that Ghasem Soleimani was a valuable person for the regime because he would do anything to preserve the Islamic Republic but he was not of the people or for the people because, if he were for the people, he would have complained at least once about the 1,500 people who were killed in November protests by the government.”
As the rally came to an end, the students were expected to sign a scroll that said: “We demand serious vengeance and we will follow the Commander’s way.”
Samira questioned this demand. “In almost all of his speeches, the head of the Student Basij talks about the role played by social networks in damaging family relations,” Samira said. “He believes that this leads to violence, destroys morality and spreads corruption. But doesn’t signing a scroll that says ‘we demand serious revenge’ inspire violence in children?”
Soleimani Was a Murderer, So is his Leader, 12 January 2020
Many Syrians Celebrate Assassination of a War Criminal, 6 January 2020
Who was General Ghasem Soleimani: Murderer or Hero?, 3 January 2020