Teaching Children to Become Suicide Bombers – Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy recently explored the process of how the Taliban actively recruits and indoctrinates children to become suicide bombers. In a recent TED talk, she outlines a five step process of indoctrination. Her FRONTLINE documentary, Children of the Taliban, can be found here.

The five step process for recruitment by the Taliban:

  1. Target poor, large, rural families and separate children from families by providing food and shelter hundreds of miles from their homes.
  2. Teach the Koran in Arabic which the children do not understand. This creates a heavy reliance on the teacher’s interpretation, lending itself to distortions. Other sources of contrary perspectives such as the radio, newspapers, and non-prescribed books are explicitly banned.
  3. Teach the children to hate their world. By reducing the students to roles as prisoners, the Taliban creates a highly restrictive and punitive environment. Food is rationed, games are not allowed, eight hour sessions of reading the Koran are mandatory, and children are not allowed to leave.
  4. Taliban fighters begin exposing boys to the conception of martyrdom. They are taught that martyrdom will grant them salvation and luxury within paradise along with glory and prestige within their communities.
  5. Exposure to extensive propaganda that demonizes the West. Footage of numerous civilian deaths creates the impression that Western societies do not value human life and deserve to be targeted. Anyone that supports the West also deserves death.

Response

While extremist and ideological elements of the Taliban may certainly be employing this process to meld children into suicide bombers, the Taliban is no longer the cohesive organization it once was. As Gretchen Peters, a prominent Afghanistan journalist, documents in Seeds of Terror, much of the current Taliban has more in common with criminal networks than terrorists. While certain segments of the Taliban engage in the indoctrination of children, others may not.

The documentary and speech also lend themselves to the assumption by viewers that all madrasahs promote extremist religious views.  On the contrary, the term madrassah simply refers to any type of private school. The Taliban may employ madrasahs as a tool of indoctrination but madrasahs are not the fundamental problem. A Foreign Affairs article on madrasahs by Alexander Evans can be found here.  Obaid-Chinoy does not specifically encourage these assumptions but the audience may be inclined to make them without a background on these topics.

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