Houston school’s viral video becomes Iranian propaganda tool

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Iranian state-sponsored media and experts have shared a video of Houston-area children singing a popular new religious song that includes references to Iran’s supreme leader – and mentions soldiers and martyrdom.

The video, which was removed from YouTube on Friday afternoon, showed young children and teenagers in traditional Islamic dress standing in a choreographed formation and singing a trending Iranian religious song in English and Farsi.

Some opponents of the Iranian government have review the video, including references to child soldiers and Iran’s supreme leader. Meanwhile, news sites and experts affiliated with the Iranian government are pointing to Houston’s video as evidence of the regime’s influence in the United States.

But Cyrus Contractor, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, is skeptical.

“Some people might see it as a kind of soft power,” said Contractor, who argued that Houston’s video titled “Salam Farmandeh” or “Greetings, Commander” carries more of a religious message than a political one.

“The commander they salute is the twelfth imam,” Contractor said. The twelfth imam of Shia Islam is a messiah, a holy figure who adherents believe will return to earth to liberate the people of God.

Contractor, who is a member of Houston’s Shia Muslim community, said that in the Shia religious context, the song’s lyrics are metaphorical. It’s about standing up for justice and good against the odds – rather than recruiting actual child martyrs.

In the video, which was posted to the Islamic Education Center of Houston’s Facebook page earlier this week, the children sang in English and Farsi with lyrics that included, “Come back, come back.” I will be your soldier. I will be your support.

The original iteration of the optimistic religious hymn was created earlier this year in Iran – a petition on change.org is asking Spotify to remove the original version from its platform for its supposedly radical content. A brilliant music video from Iranian children chanting their allegiance to the twelfth imam outside an Iranian mosque have gone viral among supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It received over a million views.

Central Asian Muslims and other non-majority Muslim countries like France and Australia have also produced their own versions of the song. The video has even been parodied by critics of the Iranian regime.

In Houston, members of the Shia Muslim community approached the Islamic Education Center of Houston to see if they could do their own English version, according to Faheem Kazimi, chairman of the center’s board of directors.

“A lot of people have translated it into their language and adapted it and when you have a religious activity, let people ask that if they can (perform it), we have that religious freedom and the expression of floor, so we said, ‘Sure, why not?'”

Kazimi, who said he thought the song was catchy, likened it to different versions of Beatles songs.

“There is no political intention in this. It’s a purely religious commitment to a messianic figure,” Kazimi said.

But Houston-based Iranian businessman Karim Zangeneh has his doubts. He said he thought the connection to Iranian politics was more apparent.

“These guys, they have a different agenda,” said Zangeneh, who is affiliated with the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, a pro-democracy group with affiliations with Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), that the State Department has previously listed it as a terrorist group. The United States delisted the MEK in 2012.

Even though the intent behind the video in Houston was not political, a Texas-based Middle East expert who reviewed the video agreed that the song makes multiple indirect references to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, the country’s highest ranking official who wields ultimate power in Iran. The 83-year-old Shia leader bristled in response to most US foreign policies. Iran and the United States ended diplomatic relations in 1980.

The pundit, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, also shared links to coverage of Houston’s music video by Iranian state-controlled outlet Fars News, with the headline “Salam Farmandeh went in America”.

But it may be the reaction to the video in the United States that has the potential to cause the most damage, they said.

Iranian expert Cyrus Contractor says that while the Iranian government claims bragging rights over the song’s appearance in the United States, critics who call Houston’s video “dangerous” may actually be fueling Islamophobia. .

“It feeds into all sorts of orientalist perceptions of what Islam is…and that these children are sort of automatons that are used by their parents,” Contractor said.

All the spit may have dried up with the removal of the video from YouTube. But if this viral video is like any other in the 21st century, new video renditions of the viral song will likely continue to pop up around the world.

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