Iran clerics to fight West influence in classrooms

Tehran, Iran - The Iranian government said it will send hundreds of clerics into Tehran's schools this fall to fight Western influence and the appeal of the political opposition, local newspapers reported Sunday.

The move is seen as an attempt by the government to tighten its grip on the schools in the aftermath of last year's disputed presidential elections in which many Iranian youth flocked to the opposition.

Mohammed Boniadi, deputy director of the Tehran education department, said some 1,000 clerics will descend on the schools of the capital to make students aware of "opposition plots and arrogance," a reference to the attitude of Western nations.

He described the clerics as "officers" in an ideological war with the West.

Tehran has become increasingly concerned with foreign encroachment and the threat of Western-backed "soft revolutions" after months of domestic protests that followed the controversial election, which the opposition alleged was rigged.

Authorities have repeatedly emphasized the need to battle the reach of Western media, viewpoints and culture, which resonate strongly in a country where nearly half the population was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Boniadi said that the Iranian education department had previously failed to "reform and renovate the thoughts" of students. "We have to take full advantage of this opportunity."

Boniadi did not say which school grades the clerics would be assigned to.

Although Iran had previously pledged to install religious teachers in classrooms, this appears to be the first concrete step in a wider drive to insert more religion in education.

Clerics have had influence on Iranian schools since 1979 Islamic revolution but the idea of deploying thousands of religious teachers into the schools was first floated in 2006, a few months after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power.

In 2009, the Iranian government approved a directive under which Islamic seminaries could apply for licenses to run their own schools and increase religious control of education.