“Freedom of Belief in an Era of Radicalization” was the theme of Liberal International Human Rights Committee (LI HRC) and the Network of Liberal Parliamentarians on Human Rights which met at the European Parliament, Brussels on December 5th – 6th.

Khadija el Morabit Vice President of INLW and member of LI HRC and Margaret de Vos van Steenwijk as INLW President participated at this special LI event.

On the 5th of Dec, they attended the Welcoming Reception hosted by former ALDE Party President Graham Watson at Gibraltar’s Representative Office “House of Gibraltar”. In his welcoming speech, he touched on the human rights of EU’s “forgotten people” like the people of Gibraltar are.

Here they got to speak with various interesting persons in particular with Mrs Ensaf Haidar the wife of the jailed Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi, who is sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment as well as a fine.

She had come to receive the LI Prize for Freedom in name of her husband. She is a real example for women; the way she is continuously approaching governments asking them to help fight for her husband’s freedom.

On Tuesday morning Dec. 6, the LIHRC got together for an administrative Meeting. The situations of Human Rights in various countries were discussed as well as suggestions on what actions can be taken and how Liberals can bring the violations of human rights to the attention of the United Nations as well as the European Parliament.

INLW will make an evaluation on the status of the Istanbul Convention and its globalization. Depending on the developments LI and INLW will decide on the next steps to be taken.

Then a VISIT TO MOLENBEEK Cultural Center was made to see what there is to learn from the experiences in this town as well as of Vilvoorde in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium concerning the radicalization of young people in these towns.

The Roundtable Debate was opened by Mr. Boris van der Ham, former D66 MP, now Chairman of Humanistic Foundation in Netherlands. The 3 other speakers were:

Ms Francoise Schepmans, Mayor of Molenbeek-St_Jean (French Belgian liberal party, MR). As liberal mayor, she is taking a more liberal approach from her predecessor, which is more successful.

Mr. Jo De Ro, member of Parliament and deputy mayor of Vilvoorde in the Dutch speaking Belgium (Open VLD)

And Mr Olivier Venderhaeghen, who spoke on his local radicalization prevention plan.

What came out of the discussion:

Already in the 1990’s Molenbeek became the immigration quarter that it is now, when the industry departed from this part of Brussels. In the 21st century there was an explosion of inhabitants. The schools did not grow accordingly. Mistakes were made letting all the same nationalities cling together in this area, mostly Moroccan. The networks of “voyoux” who radicalize come from these families where the parents or grandparents do not speak French. The guys do not speak French together, tend to group together and between 18 and 25 years old, only 25% have work and 40% of the families have work. They live in very small apartments, culturally and socially not integrated. It’s important to make them feel “inside”.

The mosques often do not relate to the home land and are imported from a different Islamic country and therefore are not so attractive to the Moroccans who are the majority here. The radicalization does not start in the mosque. Recruiters work more in the open space, there where there is social distortion. You are a “zero” here; Is it not time you become a “hero”? Jihad can then become the solution for them. Religion is not the main problem, for it is more an identity problem.

So, it is important to work with the families. Helping to build strong identities here in Molenbeek

In Vilvoorde 70% of the born babies are non-Belgium. Also, there was a loss of the industrial work which has been exchanged for high tech employment for which this population is not qualified. This is combined with an explosion of population in the last 5 years. Parents have difficulty keeping children from leaving to “help” and then radicalizing.

A project has been started to build stronger identities: using free speech, where they can speak on everything. Also, ex Guantanamo prisoners speak with them. Schools must give earlier signals.

Policy of “round tables” where people related to youngsters are brought together to signal any problems of individual youngsters: people from the religious environment, teachers, sport centers, policemen, employers get together to give early warning signals.

Since 2014 nobody has left Vilvoorde for the Middle East anymore.

It was concluded that better quality of education is necessary, also they have tried to have more diversity in the schools. Bilingual schools (French and Dutch) are needed and education should be adapted to teach the training skills for the jobs they will want.

Important what is taught socially and culturally at home, but also on TV. School can not correct things, if they hear different things at home. Do not focus only on teachers!

Better integration is needed in jobs. And the fear of employers to employ certain persons from certain countries must be taken away.

Education of imams is a challenge; in Vilvoorde they speak nothing but Arabic. In Belgium where there is freedom of religion of the 100 imams only 10 speak French.

In Molenbeek they reinvest: leaders are going to Democracy courses and there are now interreligious dialogues and schools are supposed to provide religion as a course.

It is a myth to speak of the islamists. There is not “one Muslim” community.

Remedies? Make bigger accommodation by putting together 2 small apartments. Focus on positive things engaging youngsters, workshops to visit other religions, including the Jewish.

After a working lunch at the European Parliament the LI Prize of Freedom Ceremony was held, whereby Mr Marcus Loening presented the LI Prize for Freedom to Mrs. Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi.

Lastly a Panel DIscussion on “Challenging Radicalisation, Respecting Freedom of Belief: Where should Liberals Draw the line?”” was held, chaired by Mr Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP and LI HRC member and ALDE Party Vice President for MRF, Bulgaria, who was hosting the whole event in Brussels.

Speakers were:
Dr. Solomon Passy, former foreign Minister of Bulgaria and now of Atlantic Club of Bulgaria. Stressed with charts that the Population of the African Continent is rising sky high. He is convinced of a clash of civilization: Clash of Islam with liberal/western values. The institutions that curbed extremism do not exist anymore. But we must not fall in the trap that all Muslims are bad.

Abir Al-Sahlani, LI HRC Member and former MP (Centerpartiet, Sweden) said that as long as there is dictatorship there will be extremism or fundamentalism. Help should be given to any attempts to change radical Islam. For all schools of Islam were involved in the past in formulating the UN Human Rights! An individual Muslim is in principle free to live his own Islam.

Sophie in ‘t Velt, MEP, D66 leader in ALDE group. Extremism is not only found in Islam. Think of Neo Nazi’s. Individual factors are reasons for radicalism. Extremism takes a grief and twists it until it becomes extremism.

Mr Adam Deen, Managing Director, Quilliam Foundation, spoke of the radicalization of islamists, through making people susceptible for their ideas, whereby it is always young men who are attracted to radicalization.

During the discussion; Margaret de Vos remarked that in the Netherlands the government had encouraged the creation of a Dutch based Imam University, but that up to now that had failed.

Khadija EL Morabit mentioned the King VI Institute for the training of Imams and female Preachers. The successful model of Morocco which teaches foreign imams from different continents: Europe, Africa etc. a moderate Islam based on Maliki rite, Islam religion of peace, tolerance, coexistence, in order to tackle extremism and to counter terrorism and Islamist radicalization.

Mrs. Annemie Neyts, Minister of State, Past LI President and patron of INLW (open VLD, Belgium) made the closing remarks after this very interesting and instructive LI HRC.