November 10, 2023
Schools report increasing radicalization and polarization among their students. Community education alone receives up to four reports and questions about this every day. ‘There used to be three or four a year.’
Boys who no longer accept the authority of a female teacher or who start ritually washing their feet in the sinks at school. Girls who suddenly cover themselves completely. Students who do not want to go on a class trip because they cannot pray enough. These are just a few of the increasingly radical behaviors that schools, especially in larger cities, are seeing among their students.
“The number of questions about radical statements or behavior has been on the rise in recent years,” says Koen Pelleriaux, the CEO of Community Education (GO!). ‘Our policy manager receives up to three or four reports of radicalization and polarization every day. A few years ago it was three to four a year.’ They also notice an increase in the Catholic dome. “Especially in recent months, we have been receiving reports and questions about this every day from schools,” says CEO Lieven Boeve.
Both the anti-terrorist body OCAD and State Security are seeing more and more young people and minors appearing on the radar.
The behavior is partly Islamically inspired, although ultraconservative reflexes are also reported in which religion does not necessarily play a (major) role. Think of students who do not want to cross a rainbow zebra crossing. “Today we see an interplay between Islamism and the extreme right, who find each other in a misogynistic story, in anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-government thinking, and recently also anti-Semitism,” says Karin Heremans, the director of the Royal Athenaeum in Antwerp and at the GO ! responsible for the policy to prevent radicalization and polarization.
Not every student who polarizes is radical. And not every radical is susceptible to violent ideas. However, this does not mean that we can ignore evolution, the OCAD emphasizes. The anti-terrorist body will only publish new figures next year, but since 2021 it has seen more and more young people appear in threat files and reports. This concerns minors who do indeed have the intention of committing terrorist acts.
“These are often young people who were not on the radar of the security services at all, but who become radicalized online,” says OCAD director Gert Vercauteren. State Security is also seeing more and more minors appearing on the radar.
Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) announces that he will meet with the education providers. He believes that schools should be able to impose sanctions, for example when students refuse to participate in certain activities. ‘Because you can’t solve everything with a conciliatory class discussion or by sending in a street worker.’