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Since young people from Brussels have gone to Syria, a colleague who teaches French and social sciences and I have been contacted from all sides to give our opinion, explain what we do in class or participate in a debate. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse… At the beginning we accepted, today we wonder about the relevance or not of continuing to say yes to this kind of requests…

We meet in a café in the Karreveld, a district of old Molenbeek. A few regulars drink a lager, the owner reads La DH behind the imposing wooden bar which gives an almost religious impression to the place. I have an appointment with two journalists from RTBF.  » We don’t work in a hurry. We want to do an in-depth work on Molenbeek following everything that was said in the period after the attacks. We want to show a positive side of Molenbeek with local actors « .explains the first one. The other adds that it is Sarah Turine, the alderman (Ecolo) of the Youth of Molenbeek who transmitted my coordinates.

Return on the meeting. The journalists specify the request.  » We have already met a lot of people in Molenbeek these last weeks. We are still looking for a school, we would like to film students in class in Molenbeek « , one of them said to me. So, I imagine that what will interest them is the process, what I do with my students in class. Very quickly, while explaining, I realize that it is not so much my approach that interests them but simply the possibility of filming in a class in a school in Molenbeek. Moreover, the two moments they want to film are in fact already « scripted » in the « documentary » they intend to make. We can really talk about staging, in total contradiction with what I do in class every day.  » We thought of two moments. The first one, we would invite to your class a priest, an imam and a rabbi from Molenbeek. The idea would be to show that inter-religious dialogue exists. That these three speakers can dialogue with the students. For the second one, we thought of bringing in two mothers whose children had gone to Syria.In both cases, we place the material and then we film but we do not intervene.

I then explain that organizing the first moment seems difficult because I never do this kind of thing. The very idea of participating in a pseudo moment of inter-religious communion irritates me. The second proposal is more in line with what I am doing with the students, except that they have already met and worked with mothers. I therefore propose to go back over the way my students chose this theme, prepared the meeting, made an appointment during school hours in a tea room, transcribed the interview and produced an article… There are things to say about the methodology, the reasons for choosing this subject, the way the students perceived this work, what they retain from it… But no, the RTBF journalists are formal:  » Here what really interests us is the moment in class between these two mothers and the students. We put the material in place. The exchange takes place and we film, in the background « they explain to me.

In fact, the interest in what I do in class with my students is non-existent. The interest for these young people as such also. Like a movie, the script is already set before we even meet. The intention of the first meeting is not negative in itself: it is to show that inter-religious dialogue exists in Molenbeek. But is this the case? I doubt it. And by the way, does it matter whether the answer is positive or negative? How does this kind of meeting allow young people to become actors of what they are? But the RTBF team persists and given my negative reaction to this proposal, they ask me if another teacher would not agree to organize this moment in his class…  » Or a colleague from another school in Molenbeek? To film at all costs that he said the other…

And then the idea of filming a meeting with the mothers quickly raised questions in my mind. What exactly do they want to show? My students met — at their request, as part of the course where they had to choose a question that dealt with the theme of the city (Brussels) and address a religious issue that allowed for a discussion of the diversity of religious thought — with two mothers, in small work groups, in order to produce an article for the school newspaper (see two examples below). Why should we want to show a fictitious exchange at all costs, when the work done in class this year could show how students from Molenbeek themselves choose to address the issue of departures to Syria and to work on it.

 » We should have filmed the two sequences in two weeks… », says one of them while handing me his card. With two weeks to go before the spring break and given the delays in obtaining authorizations from the Organizing Authority, this seems impossible to me. Forty minutes after our arrival in this café, I slip away to return to school, classes resume at 2pm.

The same day, after an exchange with my management about the request, I decline the offre by sending an email. I will never hear from them again…

David D’Hondt,
teacher in Molenbeek



 » I didn’t see myson anymore, until I saw him on TV with a Kalashnikov.Since then, I can’t watch TV anymore, » explains Veronique Claude, the mother of Sammy, a young man who left for Syria in late October 2012.He became a fighter there and is now married with two children.

It all started in the spring of 2008 when Sammy turned 15 and decided to convert to Islam. How do you do it?  » It was through his friends in the neighborhood, they were all Muslims. We were one of the few families to go to church. My son was also Catholic. I think that, afterwards, my son was well influenced by his buddies. ». Sammy was smart, had no trouble with the law, had an empty criminal record. He had obtained his CESS in the general, science-math option, and wanted to study law but was already in a period of radicalization. He asked his mom if he could go to Egypt to Al-Azhar University, « because he wanted to study to be an imam. » She accepts but asks to give him a project  » because we don’t leave like that in Egypt ».

Sammy then started to pray 5 times a day, to put on the djellaba and to make the Ramadan, which did not pose any problem to his mom. However, she never imagined that ten years later he would go to Syria.  » My son was always completely free, he was already very mature, he knew what he wanted. At the age of 20, he decided to live alone and it was there that he became strongly radicalized..


 » I was going on vacation, he came to say « goodbye » before I left, but I didn’t know that the next day he was leaving for Turkey. When I tried to call him to tell him that I had arrived at my destination, I had no news.. He never called his mother back, she waited several days before learning that he had left her apartment.  » When my husband went to see his apartment, it was empty. She returned from vacation as quickly as she had left. As for Sammy, he left with several friends from here but one of them stayed in Belgium.  » He wouldn’t tell me where my son was. It was only after 3 weeks that I cooked him and one day he came to my house, dropped off a cell phone and said « this afternoon your son will call you » « . That Saturday, three weeks after his departure, Véronique finally had news of her son.  » He told me that the journey was very hard, that it took them two and a half days to get there because he didn’t fly; they went first by car to Cologne, then Turkey, then by bus to the border with Syria. During her calls, Veronique then learned that her son had married a Syrian woman and that they had two children aged 1 and 2. They stayed in touch via Skype, until Sammy said they should stop contacting each other because he was afraid of being targeted by drones.


 » I live badly, I ask myself the question every day, what’s happening to him? I try not to watch the news on TV anymore, to go on the internet as little as possible even if I am interviewed myself in newspapers, but I admit that it is quite hard « . Sammy will be 27 years old, she hasn’t seen him for 4 years. She accepts that he is doing his life but not that he has gone to a country that is at war, that is violent. She thinks he won’t come back, because  » the government has made it clear that for some people like myson who are seen on videos with a gun, we’re not going to give them gifts when they come back .


 » I don’t think that Islam is violent, I knew this religion when he was 15 years old, because before, I didn’t know it. For me religion is something personal. I don’t get up in the morning with my religion, it’s something that’s mine, so that’s a difference I would say with Islam. We, in the Catholic religion, it does not intervene in our daily life, it intervenes in our beliefs but it does not govern our life. The only thing I said to him, and I think he didn’t like it, but I couldn’t change my religion, he wanted me to convert to Islam. It’s unfortunate for him but I think we have the same God and I can’t change that « .

The way this story will end worries him:  » It’s not going to last another 10 years, one day they’ll have to forfeit and our children will do what? What will happen to them? « .

An article by Soheib, Sara and Abdel


Sabri, very affectuous and sensitive, left at almost 19 years old. Three months before his departure, he was a smiling, studious young man who played high-level sports. His main problem was to find his place. He was at an age when he had many questions about his future and his friends. He felt bad about himself because he thought he was rejected because of his origins. He stopped school shortly after
Just before he left, he said that at 18 he had the right to decide for himself. He had found a job, but he called it « slave » work. He thought he was rejected because of his origins. He tried to join the army but was turned down because of health problems, he also tried to join the fire department but they told him he had to finish 6th grade. So he ended up as a garbage man. Contrary to his habits, he hung out in the neighborhood at night and had bad company. Saliha then took the initiative to go to an imam to ask him questions and tell him that her son was taking Islam the wrong way. Then the Imam replied: « What do you prefer? Whether your son is a good Muslim or a
offender? »


Four days after his departure, Sabri contacted his brother Mehdi on Facebook under the pseudonym « Abou Tourab » to tell him that he wanted to speak with his mother. Saliha didn’t know this name but when Mehdi told her it was Sabri, she took the keyboard and asked him a hundred times where he was. After a while he answered that he was in Syria to save the people and added « If not, who will? Saliha then understood that Sabri could die at any moment. They communicated mainly through Facebook and some phone calls. The police had been made aware of their communications because they had been wiretapped.


After a brief moment of hesitation, we broached a delicate subject, Sabri’s death, and asked him who had told them about their son’s death. Saliha looked at her glass of tea for a moment and then replied, « We didn’t hear from him for 2 months and one day, my husband was at the Sunday morning market on December 8th and his phone rang. It was a prefixe from Syria, you should know that my husband had never contacted his son by phone since he left because he did not want to talk to his father. He said that if his father was a good Muslim, he would already be on the path of Allah. Then my husband sees his phone, he picks it up and it was a Syrian who asked him if he was indeed the father of Abu Tourab. There my husband answered that he was Sabri’s father and there the man said to him « Congratulations, your son has fallen on the path of Allah », then he hung up. We tried to call back to find out where he died, how he died, when he died but we never got an answer ».

Speaking about the feelings felt in the voice of this Syrian and his intonation when announcing the death of his son, Saliha explained:  » This guy said it, I guess, with a smile up to his ears. When he said to my husband « Congratulations » he thought his son had gotten married but it was to announce that his fthey were dead; so he said it ironically.  »


 » Every day is a new struggle… » she explained. « Through this fight, Sabri is still alive and for that I will never stop. She denounces all this publicly and talks about it with politicians to open their eyes to the problems of radicalization here in Belgium. « I created an association because if you want to be listened to by politicians and to get subsidies, you have to be one, otherwise you are just a mother who comes to talk a little. But if we are an association, it is more meaningful, it is more professional.  »

To all the young people who want to go to Syria, Saliha asks them to make themselves useful, here, in the country where they live. If they really want to help they can simply join a humanitarian aid group that could save lives instead of kidnapping them. The parents of the young people will be traumatized and the family will be destroyed if they go to fight. Saliha’s message is clear:  » If you are in a moment of trouble, refrain. »

Redouan, Taoufk and Yassin

These two interviews were conducted as part of a classroom project with the teacher
David D’Hondt


*Article published in Kairos Special 3, January 2017

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