A Lebanese children’s magazine sponsored by Hezbollah glorifies violence and “resistance”, reports AFP in Beirut. Mahdi, named for a ninth-century Shiite Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is seen by Shiites as a messianic figure, has been published for 11 years with the aim of teaching “resistance” of the “Israeli enemy” to the next generation.
The magazine’s heroes are “fighters who fell resisting the Israeli enemy“, and its stories are inspired by the lives of Hezbollah militants. Games encourage children to avoid Israeli landmines.
Hezbollah is a Shiite Islamist militant group and political party in Lebanon. Formed in 1985 to combat the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon following the First Lebanon War and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, it is considered an Iranian proxy. Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist organization, in whole or in part, by Israel, the US, Canada, the European Union and others.
Mahdi is part of Hezbollah’s outreach program for children, which includes schools, scout troops and summer camps. Critics accuse the magazine of glorifying violence.
“It goes too far in making guns and violence part of the kids’ imagination. It’s something really dangerous,” said Fatima Charafeddine, an author of children’s books.
But its producers disagree. “What we want to do is teach children the values of the resistance,” the magazine’s general manager Abbas Charara told AFP. “We don’t encourage carrying of weapons, we’re just making sure they know about the exploits of the resistance. We tell them: ‘Just as these great people resisted and were victorious, so too can you resist and be victorious, and that starts with your education’.”
Charara added that not everything in the magazine is focused on resistance, as it has included stories about Alexander the Great, Victor Hugo, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.
Yet the features themselves tell a different tale. A recent edition included stories about suicide attacks carried out against Israeli troops during its 22-year presence in southern Lebanon. Coloring pages include images of weapons, and puzzles consist of mazes to avoid bombs and mines left behind by Israel. Iranian Islamic republic founder Ayatollah Khomeini is identified in the magazine’s feature on “the best leaders”, indicating its strong Iranian influence.
Another criticism leveled at the magazine is its focus on the children’s Islamic identity at the expense of their Lebanese identity. The magazine emphasises “religious identity with virtually no mention of their Lebanese identity,” Charafeddine told AFP.
The magazine has a monthly circulation rate of 30,000 over three editions, each aimed at a different age group. One eight-year-old reader, Zahraa, told AFP, “I like the stories about imams, and especially those talking about victory.” Her favorite features? “Stories on the resistance and fun games.”