The Belgian intelligence services have warned of a growing trend for Muslim parents to take their children out of schools system, for home-schooling which exposes the children to extremist Salafist propaganda. The state security was announcing its latest annual report, in which the service explained that tackling extremism is more than ever a priority, but that right-wing extremism is a growing trend.
According to the report, up to 20% of children who are registered as being home-schooled in Belgium could be exposed to extremist Islamist teachings. Until recently, the nerve-centre for extremism in Belgium was the Great Mosque in Brussels’ Cinquantenaire park (photo), which had its licence withdrawn as a result. Islamic extremists were responsible for the March 2016 bombs in Zaventem and Maalbeek metro, and were linked to the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
Education has been regarded by the intelligence services as an important vector for extremist teachings, including lessons in schools for Muslim pupils. The latest report, however, stresses the home-schooling environment, which though still supervised by the education authorities, allows more leeway for extremists to come in contact with children and young people. Many home-schooling families – and not only Muslims – cite religious beliefs as one of the reasons for opting out of the school system.
The figure of one in five may come as a shock, particularly as the report explains that the figure includes many young girls, who are being withdrawn from the state system to be educated in a more hard-line direction. The service admits that it is difficult to determine the exact motives for choosing home-schooling in particular cases, but the number of parents with extremist links is, it says, a cause for concern, particularly as the target population is made up of vulnerable and easily-influenced children.
Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits, meanwhile, said state security has never asked for stricter inspections of home-school situations suspected of extremism. Home-schooling situations can be inspected at the request of police, pupil support, magistrates and state security. The Flemish education ministry has a protocol for the exchange of information with state security, but nothing stronger has ever been requested, Crevits said.