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Time Magazine recently reported on a suicide bombing that tore through Lahore, Pakistan murdering thirteen people. The attack was carried out by a teenage boy, who detonated his explosives after being stopped by police. Shortly after, in Peshawar, a boy wrapped in a shawl blew himself up at a funeral killing thirty-seven people. The Taliban claimed responsibility. In Iraq and Afghanistan children as young as 5 years old are being recruited and trained by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, forced to act as human shields, plant bombs, and wear suicide belts. One such child, a 6-year-old, was told by the Taliban that his belt would explode flowers, but he was caught before he could detonate it. He was later pardoned by Hamid Karzai.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s youth movement (the Imam Mahdi Scouts) teaches tens of thousands of children military tactics and indoctrinates them with radical Shia beliefs, including waging a final, apocalyptic world battle against all non-Muslims. In Somalia, unable to recruit enough adults, the Islamic terror group al-Shabaab recruits children “large enough to handle an AK-47″ to join its ranks. In Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian terrorist groups hide bombs in children’s backpacks and blow them up by remote control.
The illegal, state-sponsored indoctrination and recruitment of innocent children to become suicide-homicide bombers is happening every day in Islamist countries, yet few people know of the insidious methods by which these children are made ripe fruit for the picking. Moreover, most people are unaware that information aimed at inducing children to blow themselves up is being disseminated far beyond the Middle East, invading the homes of children around the globe via European satellites, Facebook, YouTube, and through your iPhone or iPad.
“Birds of Paradise” (Tuyur al-Janna in Arabic) does not sound offensive; Google it and you will undoubtedly come upon a song titled “When We Die As Martyrs” (Lama Nestashed in Arabic, also translated as “When We Seek Martyrdom”), an upbeat music video depicting toddlers, the choir of the television show, singing and dancing while asking “without Palestine, what meaning is there to childhood?” Despite the youth of its main characters, nothing about the show connotes good will, peace, or tolerance toward others. No messages of building bridges to obtain that long-sought goal of peace in the Middle East. Rather, it teaches young Arab children to hate and to kill themselves for the sake of Allah. One episode of the show ends with a call to martyrdom:
Even if they give us the world, we won’t forget her [Palestine] no, no, my country and my blood are for her sake . . . No, don’t say we are young, this life has turned us into grown-up . . . When we die as martyrs, We will go to Heaven . . . there is no God but Allah, and the martyr is Allah’s favorite . . . .
The channel is run by its 39-year old founder, Jordanian-Palestinian Khalid Abdullah Jubrail Maqdad, and is headquartered in Amman. The channel’s genesis can be traced back to 1994, when Maqdad established the Birds of Paradise Foundation, a youth choir, and produced various patriotic children’s songs. Some of these songs canonized Palestinian terrorists such as Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas’ late spiritual leader). Today, the Bahrain-based satellite operator Noorsat beams the hate-filled “Birds of Paradise” program into millions of homes across the Middle East. In a 2008 interview with the Algerian daily An-Nahar Al-Jadeed, Maqdad maintained that he “carefully studies” the channel’s shows in order to “include a selection of the finest . . . programs.” Maqdad has also claimed to enlist the aid of child psychologists in developing the station’s lineup.
The choir claims to be one of the most prominent, well-known groups specializing in children’s art and music in the Middle East. The group, which consists of eight core members and between fourteen and twenty secondary singers, has produced albums in Britain, Canada, and other Western countries. In addition to performing on the satellite channel, the choir has toured throughout Europe and the Middle East, performing in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and France, among other locales. The troupe made headlines in 2009 when its Egyptian sponsors canceled a planned concert, prompting speculation in the Egyptian press that the country’s security services had forced the choir to cancel the show and leave the country. Maqdad vehemently denied the reports, stating that the reasons behind the cancellation were purely financial and not political, as the Egyptian media had insinuated.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism has reported on how Birds of Paradise is already “racking up millions of hits on Arabic and worldwide websites,” and “is quickly becoming one of the most popular children’s groups in the Arab world.” The terror group al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia named a special unit of suicide bombers aged 10 to 16 as “Birds of Paradise” and recently released Wikileaks Iraq-War documents detail a high rate of concern on behalf of US forces who detained four children this past April 2009 in Kirkuk, Iraq, suspected of being part of a “Birds of Paradise” cell. Meanwhile, “Youtube, has dozens of editions and edits of the video, ranging from Arab parents having their children parrot the lyrics to Jihadists using it as background music in terrorist videos.”
Facebook fanpages for the young Dima Bashar Arafat, a choir member, clearly illustrates the rising popularity of its young stars. The official “Toyor aljannah” Facebook Page has 1,174 fans, and displays a number of embedded YouTube videos, including “lama nestashed,” which has received over 11 million views. Even stranger, iTunes carries three “Birds of Paradise” apps that you can download for between $0.99 and $3.99.
In an article published in the Saudi daily Al-Jazeera in June 2009, journalist Fawzia An-Naeem described how the channel “airs songs . . . that support the idea of armed jihad and death for [one’s] beliefs and encourage[s] the use of weapons, killing, explosives, bloodshed and terrorism in all of its manifestations.” She added that although satellite channels like Birds of Paradise “light the fuse for war, destruction, and pain, they do not serve the Palestinian cause; rather, they serve the enemies of security and the homeland who contribute directly to rearing our children, shaping their personalities, and determining their beliefs.” “[Birds of Paradise] is one of the most widely distributed children’s song groups in the Arab world, and it seems to have crossed the ocean to Canada and Britain.” Naeem concluded by exhorting mothers to watch over their children and “to look at those who share with you in raising your children and steer them from the right path. Lose the Birds of Paradise and other birds before you and your sons are the firewood of hell.”
Satellite telecommunications giant Eutelsat seems to have a different take on the program. With the help of France-based Eutelsat’s Atlantic Bird 4A satellite, “Birds of Paradise” has reached over 38 million homes across the Middle East, North Africa, even parts of Europe. Moreover, for a period of approximately two months between April and June of 2010, Eutelsat apparently broadcast the channel across Europe via its Hotbird 8 satellite.
In June of 2010, French authorities censured Eutelsat for hosting Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV and ordered it to shut down the channel on the grounds that its programming incites hatred. In 2004, the French company was ordered to remove Hezbollah’s Al Manar television channel and, in the following year, ordered to take down Iran’s Sahar 1 channel. Yet despite the domestic censures, the company continues to permit the daily mass marketing of violence to children, allowing them to unwind by watching episodes of “Birds of Paradise” in the comfort of their homes.
In the meantime, satellite channels broadcasting hate propaganda have spread like wildfire in the Arab world, as proponents of Islamist terrorism seek to access millions of young viewers at home and through the Internet. Hamas and Hezbollah have found ways to circumvent restrictions imposed by the US and Europe by using satellite services provided by Muslim countries and by frequently changing the non-Arab communications companies they deal with. Reports say Hezbollah and Hamas are currently using Nilesat and Arabsat satellite companies to spread incitement and hate propaganda.
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