Mohammad Hossein Fahmideh
Portrait of Fahmideh in the Martyrs' Museum, Tehran
|Native name||محمد حسین فهمیده|
|Born||May 6, 1967|
|Died||October 30, 1980 (aged 13)|
The concept of martyrdom is understood in the Western world as facing persecution and giving of one’s life for a set of beliefs, most often religious beliefs. The definition of martyrdom is expanded in Iran, where martyrs are greatly revered, including martyrs from the distant past as well as martyrs from the modern age. In Iran, Shia Islam is the majority religion, at 89% of the estimated 79 million inhabitants, and is a very important part of public and political life. The Shia concept of Martyrdom has been shaped by the deaths of the early martyrs of the Shia faith, Ali and Husayn ibn Ali, and Iranian society and government have further shaped the understanding of martyrdom in the modern age. The importance of Martyrdom in Shi’a Islam has brought about the existence of a type of “cult of martyrdom” in Iranian society.
Iran used child soldiers extensively during the Iraq/Iran war,c. 1980 and estimates are as high as 100,000 for the number killed. They allegedly went into battle with a plastic key around their necks, issued personally by the Ayatollah. It was their key to paradise upon their death in battle, which was pretty much expected to happen, since their chance of survival was only just above nil. Quite often, they were simply used as human mine-clearers, charging across the minefield to make a path for the real soldiers who would follow behind them. In theory, 16 was the minimum age to join, but 12 was not uncommon, and all of the children were ostensibly volunteers.
They were not particularly effective as a weapon, but the psychological toll they took on the Iraqis, who took little joy in shooting down children, could be quite great. In an account given by an Iraqi officer who withstood one of the attacks:
They chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ and they keep coming, and we keep shooting, sweeping our machine guns around like sickles. My men are eighteen, nineteen, just a few years older than these kids. I’ve seen them crying, and at times the officers have had to kick them back to their guns. Once we had Iranian kids on bikes cycling towards us, and my men all started laughing, and then these kids started lobbing their hand grenades and we stopped laughing and started shooting.