Flanders stops cooperation with imams on radicalised prisoners

Flanders stops cooperation with imams on radicalised prisoners
Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir. Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

Zuhal Demir (N-VA), Flemish minister for justice and law enforcement, has called a halt to a programme set up with the region’s imams aimed at prisoners who have become radicalised while in prison.

The programme – Theological Approach to Islamic Radicalisation – was set up in 2018 to work with radicalised prisoners who are about to be released back into society. The programme was led by the Ghent-based imam Khalid Benhaddou and his Platform of Flemish Imams (PVI).

But now, De Morgen reports, Demir has called a halt to the government’s support for the programme, following a thorough evaluation that raised a number of problems.

The number of working hours in 2018 and 2019 did not correspond to the subsidy paid,” she told the paper.

Certain accounts could not be associated with the project assignment. Also, only one imam was deployed at the start, while thirteen were promised. And you cannot charge unjustified costs to taxpayers,” she said.

The project, she explained, is intended to protect society, not to act as a source of subsidy. “The organisation was repeatedly given the opportunity to come up with a plausible explanation, but it was not forthcoming,”she said.

The minister now intends to pursue the same ends, but taking a different path.

Imams don't seem like the most suitable people for a sufficiently critical view of faith, she said.

However, she argues it is clear the project must involve people who know Islam. A likely source will be organisations that work on tackling extremism and radicalism among Muslims, but do so with a diverse team of theologians, therapists, psychologists and social workers. She also wants the local justice houses to make a risk analysis of every radicalised former prisoner.

Meanwhile imam Benhaddou told Het Laatste Nieuws he is disappointed. “I want to sit down with the minister’s staff anyway to hear what went wrong. Hopefully this project can somehow continue in the future.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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