The Struggle for Syria’s Soul  

Syrian students in Damascus arrive for the first day of school. (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

Syrian students in Damascus arrive for the first day of school. (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

By Oula Abdulhamid 

A personal account of Baathist and Islamic indoctrination in Syria’s schools

Mine was not a normal childhood with clean schools, happy classrooms and unbiased education. But like ninety percent or more of Syria’s students, my personal education experience in Damascus was very similar to a military camp experience spent in soviet-style buildings that felt like prisons! Indeed, we were prisoners inside our classrooms. But our prison-guards had agendas that at their heart were irreconcilable, and seem to have been united only in their belief that we, the embodiments of the future and its true heirs, needed to be subjugated.

Growing up under the Baath Party system, all that we really learned was how to obey the authorities, because they were in control of every aspect of our lives. We were not treated as individuals with unique personalities, but as objects that needed to be subjugated, controlled and even militarized. We were all brainwashed and pressed into the service of our de facto masters, the Assads in their holy resistance against enemies near and far. Our educational system was never meant to liberate and empower, but to shame, humiliate and make us all conform to the dictated norms of obedience without question! Fear and humiliation were our school curriculum!

There is no way out! Systematic dehumanization and brainwashing under Assad regime begins at a very early age. Indeed, our indoctrination began in the First Grade. Rote memorization was the essence of our education. Any deviation from the rules could result in expulsion; we were always threatened. There was no place for discussion or critical thinking. In elementary school, most of us were pressed irrespective of our will into the Baath Vanguards Organization (Talae’a al-Baath), founded by Hafez al-Assad in 1974. Whether the child was enrolled in a public school or one of the few remaining semi-private schools catering to the elite, he or she was subject to Baath indoctrination. “Unity, Liberty, Socialism” is the Baath Party motto that we needed to memorize “exactly like we memorize our names” Military Studies teachers told us. We had to write it down on our notebooks, on the top of the chalkboards, and repeat it every morning at the beginning of the school day as well as at the end of some long and boring lectures often delivered by our Baathists. “Unity” referred to pan-Arabism, while “Liberty” and “Socialism” came as expression of hatred towards the imperialist capitalist West.

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