Schools sound alarm over radicalisation and extremism

Schools in Flanders are seeing increasing signs of radicalisation and polarisation among their pupils, De Tijd reports on Friday. Both the GO! and Catholic education networks say they have seen a rise in the number of reports about concerning behaviour, particularly in urban schools. 

Some of this behaviour is related to Islam, such as pupils who don't want to go on class trips because they won’t be able to pray, girls who suddenly start covering themselves up completely and boys who ritually wash their feet in basins at school.

There are also reports of ultra-conservative or misogynistic statements or behaviour. These include young people who refuse to use a rainbow zebra crossing or make offensive statements about the LGBT+ community, and boys who refuse to sit next to girls in class or ignore the instructions of female teachers.

"Every day, our policy officer for radicalisation and polarisation receives up to three or four reports. A few years ago, it was three to four a year"

“The number of reports of radical statements or radical behaviour has risen notably recently,” Koen Pelleriaux, CEO of the GO! network, told De Tijd. “Every day, our policy officer for radicalisation and polarisation receives up to three or four reports. A few years ago, it was three to four a year.” The Catholic network says it is also seeing an increase compared to recent years, with the latest reports often driven by the war between Israel and Hamas. 

“Today we see an interplay between Islamism and the far right, which share a misogynist narrative, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-government thinking, and recently also antisemitism,” said Karin Heremans, director of the Koninklijk Atheneum in Antwerp and policy officer at GO!. 

'Line in the sand'

Not every student who is polarised is radicalised, and not every radical is prone to violence, but these changes shouldn’t be ignored, according to Belgium’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA). The anti-terrorism body is not due to publish new figures until next year, but since 2021 it has seen increasing numbers of young people appearing in threat reports who intend to commit terrorist acts. 

“Often these are young people who were not at all on the radar of the security services, but who are radicalising online,” says CUTA director Gert Vercauteren. 

Education minister Ben Weyts of Flemish nationalists N-VA has called for sanctions. “If young people side against our norms and values, we must draw lines in the sand, with serious sanctions if boundaries are crossed. We are not going to solve this by sending out street workers.”


#FlandersNewsService | Koen Pelleriaux © BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT

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