DEIR EZ-ZOR — As soon as ISIS fighters fully seized Deir ez-Zor, they made a number of draconian changes, one of which was to close schools. After a lengthy period, during which teachers were required to attend training courses in Islamic education, the schools reopened.
The city's schools are no longer housed in public buildings. Residents instead have volunteered their houses as classrooms and supplies, such as desks and boards, have been moved there from the schools. The curriculum has been modified — many subjects were omitted, while others were added — and the number of schools is limited, as they serve only male students and operate for just four hours a day.
Ahmad, a 35-year-old father of three, was born and raised here. He studied elementary school education at the University of Deir ez-Zor and taught in the city system for 14 years. During an interview with Syria Deeply, he told us more about the current education situation here.
SYRIA DEEPLY: What has changed since ISIS took over the city of Deir ez-Zor?
AHMAD: Schools were closed for a long period of time, during which teachers were required to attend 25 days of courses in Islamic education. One of the books taught in these courses is The Three Inevitable Duties by Ibn Taymiyyah. ISIS demanded that teachers pledge loyalty to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, follow the Islamic dress code and lengthen their beards. Many teachers rejected such demands and abandoned their jobs. As for female teachers, they were told that when the girls' schools open, they must wear the niqab covering the entire body and face.
What can you tell us about these required courses for teachers? How did they affect teachers?
The courses never addressed the educational issues caused by the war in the region. They were humiliating and they reminded me of the mandatory military training in the regime's army. Teachers were treated poorly. They were insulted, abused and some of them were accused of blasphemy. Those were interrogated, convicted and punished by the Hisbah Committee (Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) and they were forced to join the ISIS armed forces. The justification was that ISIS needs fighters more than it needs education, but we believe that its goal was to get rid of those who voiced dissatisfaction with the new education system. Most of the course teachers were not Syrians and they did not know anything about Syrian society.
What were the teachers' nationalities? What did they teach you?
They were from Tunisia and Iraq and some were from Morocco. They mostly tried to convince us to join ISIS. Most of the lectures focused on the necessity of fighting Western countries and the Arab countries that are their allies. They appointed themselves as God's soldiers on earth and gave themselves the right to judge and punish people. Many teachers were affected by their words. They abandoned teaching and joined the ISIS armed forces.
What educational subjects did ISIS eliminate from the curriculum? And what subjects did it add?
They eliminated chemistry, physics, philosophy, social sciences and math. They argued that these subjects are at variance with Islam and that some of them, like math, are not useful in everyday life. Some of those who support ISIS argued that some of these subjects were established by non-Muslims and therefore are prohibited. Six subjects were added to the curriculum, including Fiqh Islamic jurisprudence, biography of the prophet, biographies of Islamic leaders, and English translations of the Koran and of the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad).
What about teachers' salaries?
In the view of ISIS, any money obtained from the Syrian government is forbidden by Allah and teachers who attempt to collect salaries from the government are charged with treason and killed. The Bureau of Education pays teachers a monthly salary of 15,000 Syrian pounds ($60), which does not cover living expenses. Prices have quintupled. For example, the price of a bag of pita bread has increased from 20 Syrian pounds ($0.08) to 105 ($0.42). At the end of every month, teachers get their salaries in person from the office of the Bureau of Education in their neighborhood. The deteriorating situation has forced many teachers to abandon teaching and look for other jobs with better incomes.
What about female teachers who are not allowed to work?
Female teachers are not allowed to teach male students and of course, male teachers are not allowed to teach female students. Girls' schools will not operate until female teachers complete their Islamic education courses. ISIS did not compensate female teachers who were forced to leave work.
What is your assessment of the new educational approach? How will it affect the generations to come?
ISIS aims to raise this generation in darkness and to instill aggression and extremism in them. Children are preoccupied with fighting and vengeance. They want to take revenge on those who killed their relatives and what they learn in ISIS schools nurtures and validates such urges.
This bleak and deteriorating situation forced me to abandon teaching. I can't be a part of this system. It seems to me that they want to disseminate ignorance and hatred, not education and compassion. They seek to impose the same blind obedience that we suffered from under the totalitarian Syrian regime. I am seriously considering applying for asylum somewhere where I can live with dignity.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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