The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

J Is For Jihad: How The Islamic State Indoctrinates Children With Math, Grammar, Tanks, and Guns

The Islamic State has its own Common Core — with a macabre twist.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
isis-crop
isis-crop

Every child left behind? The Islamic State has set up education programs to groom the next generation of fighters. And they don’t just cover your standard jihadi topics, but also the more banal subjects like math, grammar and the English language. The Islamic State’s built schools, created textbooks, and even developed phone apps, to “educate” children, shedding light on a surreal aspect of the terrorist organization’s reach and strategy.

Here’s an app the Islamic State purportedly developed to teach children things like the alphabet... and tanks and guns.

Every child left behind? The Islamic State has set up education programs to groom the next generation of fighters. And they don’t just cover your standard jihadi topics, but also the more banal subjects like math, grammar and the English language. The Islamic State’s built schools, created textbooks, and even developed phone apps, to “educate” children, shedding light on a surreal aspect of the terrorist organization’s reach and strategy.

Here’s an app the Islamic State purportedly developed to teach children things like the alphabet… and tanks and guns.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

From the Islamic State’s mobile child education app: “B is for Bunduqiyya (gun)”

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

“S is for sayf (sword)”

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

“D is for Dababa (tank)”

Experts say there is a tactical purpose behind the pedagogy. “There’s a need to physically and mentally prepare children to be the ‘next generation’” of fighters, said Mia Bloom, terrorism expert at Georgia State University told Foreign Policy. “It exposes the children to violence in a routine and daily fashion so it ceases to be shocking and normalizes violence,” she said.

Bloom and others at the Georgia State University Minerva research project on children and extremism track these apps, textbooks, and other macabre Islamic State learning tools. She told FP her team already found 35 Islamic State textbooks easily downloadable and ready to use in the dark corners of the Internet. Some are even in English. Whatever they find, they send to U.S. law enforcement and defense officials.

The Islamic State doesn’t stop at teaching materials. It has even built schools in eastern Syria in 2015, complete with curriculum, lesson plans and salaried teachers to indoctrinate children.

And what school wouldn’t be complete without phys ed? The Islamic State has a textbook on that, saturated in Islamic State imagery, that focuses less on dodgeball and more on tactical fighting moves.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

 

 

Then there’s the math textbook, where children learn to count things like cherries, crayons — and bullets with weapon watermarks in the background.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Here’s excerpts of an Islamic State English primer, obtained by the Middle East Media Research Institute:

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.44.56 AM

What the Islamic State does actually isn’t uncommon, experts say. Children’s education may be one of the most important — and overlooked — front lines in the battle against terrorism. Terrorist groups from ETA in the Basque Country to Hezbollah use ersatz education programs to lure children into their ranks.

“It makes terrorist organizations resilient and makes things like targeted assassinations far less effective,” Bloom said. If a key fighter is taken out, by drone strikes, special forces raids, or otherwise, his children can quickly take his place in the ranks.

Officials and experts say it’s too early to gauge the long-term effect of the Islamic State’s educational efforts. After all, the organization has only been around for just over two years.

But the group is unusually tech-savvy, likely making its impact more potent. The Islamic State’s use of social media and technology “is more sophisticated than past groups,” said Peter Weinberger, senior researcher at University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

And the investment pays off. Weinberger told FP once the Islamic State teaches young followers English, they can deploy not just to the frontlines but to meetings with criminal networks, to cities to recruit more fighters, and to the Internet to bolster the group’s online presence in the English-speaking world.

But some are used for more gruesome tasks. The United Nations recorded 362 cases of child soldier recruitment in Syria in 2016 alone, of which 274 were attributed to the Islamic State. The terrorist group was reported to use children to carry out raids, engage in fights, and even execute enemies. But the path taken from child to executioner, experts say, all started in the classroom.

Image Credits: Middle East Media Research Institute; Georgia State University Minerva Research Project: “Preventing the Next Generation: Children and Violent Extremist Organizations”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

More from Foreign Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands.

Xi-Biden Meeting May Help End China’s Destructive Isolation

Beijing has become dangerously locked off from the world.

The exterior of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, is pictured on March 27, 2018.
The exterior of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, is pictured on March 27, 2018.

Sweden’s Espionage Scandal Raises Hard Questions on Spy Recruitment

Intelligence agencies debate whether foreign-born citizens are more targeted.

President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two leaders met in a hallway as Biden was going to a European Commission on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on November 15, 2022.
President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two leaders met in a hallway as Biden was going to a European Commission on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on November 15, 2022.

The G-20 Proved It’s Our World Government

At a time of global conflict, world powers showed that cooperation can actually work.

An illustration for Puck magazine from 1905 shows the battle against bureaucracy.
An illustration for Puck magazine from 1905 shows the battle against bureaucracy.

Only an Absolute Bureaucracy Can Save Us

The West will only restore its stability when civil servants are again devoted to the public rather than themselves.