Bel­gian scheme tries to nip rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the bud

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MOLEN­BEEK, Bel­gium: In the trou­bled Brussels dis­trict of Molen­beek, politi­cian Sarah Turine is on the front­line of her own war to stop the sons of Bel­gian fam­i­lies go­ing off to Syria to join Is­lamic State fight­ers.

The first step is of­ten to send a so­ci­ol­o­gist and psy­chol­o­gist to try to re-es­tab­lish the link be­tween the trou­bled young man and his fam­ily. The next is to flag up the dire con­se­quences of the choice they seem to be about to make.

“We must try to defuse this anger among the young,” Turine, who over­sees a rad­i­cal­iza­tion preven­tion pro­gram in Molen­beek, told AFP over tea at an up­scale Arab cafe. “We have to as­sure them they have a place here, that they are not sec­ond-class cit­i­zens, and to un­der­mine the re­cruiters’ ar­gu­ments,” said Turine, a mem­ber of the left­ist Ecolo party. Bel­gium has come un­der fire for fail­ing to crack down on the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of its youth since the Paris at­tacks this month saw 130 peo­ple killed by ji­hadists, many of whom lived in or had links to the im­pov­er­ished im­mi­grant dis­trict of Molen­beek.

For fam­i­lies it can be hard to know where to turn in the tiny north­ern Euro­pean coun­try, al­ready the re­gion’s top re­cruit­ing ground for ji­hadi “for­eign fight­ers” in Syria and Iraq com­pared to the num­ber of peo­ple. Com­mu­nity lead­ers say Molen­beek presents a toxic mix of rea­sons its youth are be­com­ing rad­i­calised: high un­em­ploy­ment, lack of ca­reer prospects, drug abuse, petty crime and iso­la­tion from Bel­gium’s non-Mus­lim ma­jor­ity. Com­pound­ing that is poor po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment and lax se­cu­rity over­sight. Bi­lal, a 21-year-old Mus­lim res­i­dent of the dis­trict, says re­cruiters from the Is­lamic State group that claimed the Paris at­tacks con­vinced around a dozen of his male and fe­male friends to join their cause in Syria.

He said re­cruiters played on his friends’ guilt over their “craze for nightlife,” their re­la­tions with the op­po­site sex and “brushes with the law”-a way­ward life­style in a con­ser­va­tive and poor im­mi­grant com­mu­nity.

They also whipped up a sense of in­jus­tice over the per­ceived Western med­dling in Mid­dle East events, said Bi­lal, who him­self re­sisted re­peated re­cruit­ment bids.

“Re­cruiters tar­get the weak,” he told AFP.

‘Fer­tile ground’

Ja­mal Hab­bachich, who chairs a coun­cil of 22 mosques in Molen­beek, said ex­trem­ist re­cruiters have started dis­tribut­ing leaflets in the streets and the mar­kets. And he said Molen­beek-cut off from the rest of Bel­gium like a “ghetto” of­fers re­cruiters “fer­tile ground” to lure in young peo­ple with the false prom­ise of a more right­eous life. “The Is­lamic State con­ducted a di­a­bol­i­cal, satanic strat­egy,” he told AFP

in his of­fice at At­tadamoun Mosque. “It won peo­ple slowly with its pitch: ‘Help the poor and end in­jus­tice’. And once they get over there, they pass to the war phase.”

The mosques work with peo­ple like Sarah Turine to try to stop the young from be­com­ing rad­i­cal­ized, but they need far more peo­ple and re­sources, Hab­bachich said. “There is also preven­tion work that we do with the imams,” he said. “The imams warn the young... ‘If you take this path, you are go­ing to de­stroy your life.’” Olivier Van­der­haeghen, an ad­min­is­tra­tor for Turine’s preven­tion pro­gram, said he and his col­leagues, work­ing with schools, so­cial work­ers and oth­ers, try to re­store the com­mu­nity and fam­ily ties that young peo­ple break when they are lured by rad­i­cals. “First, the young per­son will break with his or her net­work, he will break with his friends, he will break with his school, his sport­ing club,” he said. “Sec­ond, he will no longer fre­quent the same pub­lic places. “In the third and last phase, he will break with his fam­ily,” he added.

Turine said she is cer­tain the pro­gram has helped “dozens and dozens and dozens” of young Mus­lims and has pre­vented some go­ing to Syria. But Hab­bachich said much more work needs to be done to pro­fes­sion­ally train and help the young find work, in­clud­ing out­side Brussels, as well as give them an out­let to ex­press them­selves. “No­body lis­tens to them, no­body speaks to them,” he added. — AFP

DONETSK: Women look at their bal­lots at a polling sta­tion in Mar­i­upol, in the Donetsk re­gion yes­ter­day. Vot­ers in the east Ukrainian gov­ern­ment-held port of Mar­i­upol yes­ter­day cast their bal­lots in a de­layed lo­cal elec­tions af­ter an ear­lier poll was scrapped in the strate­gic front­line city. — AFP

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