Belgian woman who lost her son in Syria talks of fighting extremism
03:40 PM, February 14, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:20 PM, February 14, 2017

Belgian woman who lost her son in Syria talks on fighting extremism

For countering extremism the focus should be on families, especially on mothers, said a Belgian woman whose son died in 2013 fighting for the Islamic extremists in Syria.

“Put the focus on the families and on mothers. Because mothers are the first and the last person that the children, the youth stay in touch with, they can counter extremism,” said the Belgian national, Saliha Ben Ali, at a programme in Dhaka today.

Mothers are the first persons from whom the children learn about truth, so it is important to get these mothers together to share about their worries, concerns, she said.

Her 19-year-old son Sabri disappeared from Belgium for Syria. Three months later she came to know that Sabri died in combat “as a martyr”. Like one of the hundreds of young Belgians, Sabri, according to reports, was recruited by Islamist militants to fight in Syria.  

Around 500 Belgians have gone since Syria’s civil war erupted six years ago, The Washington Times reports quoting the Netherlands-based International Center for Counter-Terrorism findings on May 8, 2016.

“He (Sabri) felt like useless and he tried to find a sense for his life and I think this is why he chose to join this group who left for Syria in this time from Belgium,” Ali said.

After her son’s departure she decided to create a group because it was very important just to make politicians concerned about this problem.

Politicians that time didn’t talk about it before, she said.   

Now they (politicians) started to think differently as the government found out that other Belgians left for Syria too, she said.

Ali was speaking as the special guest at the programme on Campaign to Counter Violent Extremism: Learning from the Society Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) Belgium, organised by Innovation for Wellbeing Foundation and supported by The American Center, Dhaka at Senate Bhaban of Dhaka University.

If the mothers are given more information on various topics like education, media and internet they will be able to find their own ways to support their children to find good ways for their lives, Ali said.

‘Not Islam, it is radicalisation’

According to Ali, she is one of the first Muslim European woman who agreed to speak in the media to make families aware of signs of radicalisation. 

She believes radicalisation is behind extremism, not Islam.

“You can propose several alternatives to counter extremism but you forget something important from it, it is the support for families,” she said.

Teaching and support on how to rear their children are needed for families to prevent extremism and radicalization, she said.         

“We the affected family didn’t had the right to speak out, we just had the right to be silent at home and closed the doors and windows just to be discrete,” Ali said while sharing her experience immediately after losing her son to extremism.

“I have to transform my tragedy into positive situation and I need to help people like me just by speaking”

Mother schools

In various workshops arranged by SAVE Belgium, a non-profit organisation based in Brussels with a goal to fight against all forms of violent radicalisation, mothers learn “how can they build bridges of communication between them and their children,” she said.

At newly established mother schools by an Austria-based NGO called Women Without Borders, in 35 other countries including Belgium and Indonesia, they are trying to control youth radicalisation with help of parents in a positive way, she said.

At a mother school, workshops are arranged for concerned mothers where they are provided with the tools to help them in education with their teenagers, she said.

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