Broadcasting Martyrdom

From the Middle East to your child’s favorite TV show.

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.

Al-Arabiya TV director Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed called the proliferation of Islamic "religious propaganda channels" "too dangerous to be left unrestricted." The proliferation of these channels is made easier by fatwas, or religious edicts, that permit zakat (charity) "as a means of funding Islamic media projects." Hezbollah’s Al-Manar Beirut-based network beams children’s television programs throughout the Middle East, and to Asia and Australia, by using Indosat, an Indonesian satellite company. The channel depicts cartoons and music videos glorifying suicide bombing and revering violence and terrorism.

Other videos, leaked on the Internet, show the results of such mass indoctrination, for example, a shocking 2007 video showed a young knife-wielding boy beheading an accused American spy in the Balochistan province in western Pakistan. What looks like a homemade video recently emerged on YouTube showing a Sudanese “jihad terror training camp” for boys, some as young as 4 years old. The subtitles state that each of the children has been trained to use an AK-47 assault rifle and “will do their duty to Allah and the Ummah when called upon to do so.”

Across the pond, DVDs have been marketed to UK born Muslim youth, teaching them to become human bombs. One such DVD is part of an Egyptian series and features a sing-a-long glorifying suicide bombing and was on sale in West Yorkshire, where three of the July 7, 2005 London bombers lived. Even more shocking, a BBC investigation exposed that across Britain, pupils at Saudi-funded Islamic schools are being taught how to chop off a criminal's hand and that Jews are conspiring to take over the world. As a result, British children as young as 7 have been identified by police as being groomed for terrorism, and officials at the Home Office have set up what they call “The Channel Project” to deprogram their youth.

Concerns over freedom of expression abound when discussing the censorship of television programming. Yet, by virtue of their age and impressionability, children are entitled to special protections under both international and national law. When a broadcaster knowingly and specifically targets children with its programming, a legal obligation ensues due to the nature of its underage audience that would not otherwise have arisen with respect to an adult viewership. To illustrate, Article 17 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) emphasizes the responsibility of broadcasters to “encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being.” The CRC likewise emphasizes the right of every child to an education system and media free of incitement to hate and violence. The CRC further mandates that Signatory states “encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child.”

Sadly, the employment of children to wage war is not a new tactic. However, the widespread indoctrination and recruitment of a society’s own children to kill themselves, through mass-marketed music videos, satellite-beamed television shows and Internet sites, is historically unprecedented.

By broadcasting hate channels aimed at children, satellite companies are not only violating the law; they are also aiding and abetting the murder of innocent Muslim children. No child, Muslim or otherwise, should be exposed to abusive programming. Nor should U.S.-based websites like Facebook and YouTube be excused for hosting martyrdom propaganda. Given the scale of this child abuse and the obvious relevance of this phenomenon to the war on terrorism, turning a blind eye is simply out of the question. Yet the silence thus far exhibited by our politicians and the human rights community is alarming and operates only to give a green light to terrorists so that they may continue their actions with impunity, destroying the world’s most valuable resource: its children.


Brooke Goldstein is a New-York based human rights attorney, author, activist and award-winning filmmaker. Her documentary film, The Making of a Martyr, received the Audience Choice Award for Best Film at the 2006 United Nations Documentary film Festival, and details the ongoing, illegal, state-sponsored recruitment of Palestinian children as suicide bombers and child soldiers. Goldstein is the founder and director of the Children’s Rights Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about, and legally combating, the violation of children’s basic human rights as occurring throughout the globe. Goldstein also serves as director of The Lawfare Project, a not-for-profit legal think tank aimed at raising awareness about the abuse of human rights laws and judicial systems to further military ends.

Elisa Rojas is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in Political Science and International Studies. She is currently pursuing her J.D. in New York City and seeks to practice in the field of international law particularly in the area of human rights. Rojas serves as research assistant at the Children’s Rights Institute.