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Life Under Islamic State Rule: Teaching High School

  • Heather Murdock

Nathir Bashir, 36, was forced to teach in an IS school for two and half years, but he kept his four children at home, away from IS ideology, in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 27, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Nathir Bashir, 36, was forced to teach in an IS school for two and half years, but he kept his four children at home, away from IS ideology, in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 27, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

After Islamic State militants took over Mosul, Iraq, they issued a decree: All teachers must report to a school and resume work for the fall semester. And for two-and-a-half years, Nathir Bashir, an Arabic language teacher, followed orders that started out benign and morphed into terror. In Arabic, he tells his story to VOA from a garden in his Mosul home, as mortars fall and gunfire rings through nearby neighborhoods. His account has been edited for clarity.

When Islamic State militants came to Mosul, schools were closed for the summer holiday. Then, a note appeared one Friday on the door of the mosque, saying all teachers were required to report to school.

I wasn’t worried because we thought they were angels at first. They did nothing to civilians; but, after a month or two, they started to give orders, like saying women could not go out without their husband or brother.

When the militants started killing Christians and Yazidis and stealing people’s homes, we knew they were terrorists.

A simple Arabic grammar book depicts fighting militants on the cover in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 23, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

A simple Arabic grammar book depicts fighting militants on the cover in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 23, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

They told us we needed to write down our names, where we were teaching last semester, and the name of the school closest to our house. Kurdish peshmerga forces control the area I used to teach in, so I needed to work elsewhere.

Initially, militants didn’t say, "You have to teach for free," but after a year, the curriculum in the school changed. It became a pro-militant program that glorified violence, as in, "One bomb plus one bomb equals two bombs."

For example, there is an Arabic language book with a prayer for a dead al-Qaida leader, and on every page, there is an outline of an AK-47. Why are there armed fighters on the cover of a high school language book?

Other than that, though, the Arabic grammar is the same.

Silencing protests

When the curriculum changed and the Baghdad government stopped paying our salaries, the militants said, “You still have to come to work. You have no choice. If any one of you refuses to teach, you will be beaten or your home and valuables will be confiscated.”

Teachers point out AK-47 logos and prayers for dead al-Qaida leaders on book pages in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 23, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Teachers point out AK-47 logos and prayers for dead al-Qaida leaders on book pages in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 23, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

By then, most of the students were the children of militants, with four or five children in classes that used to have 30 or 40. The students, like their parents, were excited about learning IS ideology. Plus, older children of militants were required to fight if they were not in school.

The children of civilians were not forced to go to school or join IS, but the teachers were forced to teach the militants’ way, no matter what they thought personally.

One teacher argued about the new system. She said, “How can we teach this? It’s not for children,” and told her students not to attend classes any more. A child of an IS fighter in her class told his father, and militants approached her.

She argued, “This is not good. It will ruin their childhoods.” They killed her and I heard about it as word spread among the teachers in Mosul.

Arabic language teacher Nathir Bashir and his family stand outside their Mosul home as mortars and gunfire can be heard in the next neighborhood in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 27, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Arabic language teacher Nathir Bashir and his family stand outside their Mosul home as mortars and gunfire can be heard in the next neighborhood in Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 27, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

With hungry families and no end in sight, we decided to protest when the last semester began. We hadn’t been paid in a year, so we agreed to stop teaching.

An IS soldier went from school to school with a sword, saying “Any teacher who doesn’t go to school will have their heads chopped off.”

Killing was like water for them.

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