A Belgian mother, now in Bangladesh as part of her world tour against radicalism, said families alone should not be held responsible for the radicalisation of their youths.
“Not only the parents or the families, we all should feel guilty for what has happened to our children. It’s because they are everybody’s children. They are the children of humanity,” Saliha Ben Ali told The Daily Star in an interview in the capital yesterday.
Instead of feeling guilty, the parents and the families should speak out against the scourge and tell everyone how their children were radicalised, Saliha said.
Talking about the trauma her family went through after 19-year old Sabri Refla left home in mid-2013 and joined war in the ISIS-controlled region in Syria and Iraq where he died in December, she said the reactions from her neighbours were different.
“Some Belgians told me that jihad was my religion and that’s why I brought up my children as jihadists. Again, there were others who said I was a mother of a Shaheed [martyr] and that I should be patient.”
However, she did not pay heed to anyone.
“I decided to tell everyone about my son and his story. I believed it would make people aware of the evil called radicalism and help the cause of counter radicalism and extremism.”
Wherever she narrates the story, she shows people a photo of her son so that they could see how a cheerful, handsome and smiling boy turned into a jihadist all for a wrong reason.
She said her mission would be successful, if she could transform her tragedy into something positive.
Sabri, who like many others went to Syria with an illusion about jihad but got frustrated seeing the brutality unleashed in the name of Islam, wanted to return home. He, however, could not make it, said the mother.
According to Saliha, racism, exploitation and injustice in a society often make its youths desperate and push them towards the path of radicalisation.
Walking down the memory lane, she said radical behaviour of two teachers had a bad impact on Sabri and he decided to quit his studies.
He was not getting any decent job. So, he had to work as a garbage collector, which made him very disappointed.
Suddenly, he started turning more and more religious. He went to mosque to learn more about religion but the imam rejected him due to the language barrier. The imam couldn’t speak Dutch or French while Sabri didn’t understand Arabic.
Later, he was trapped by some Jihadist recruiters.
One evening, Sabri asked for her mother’s permission to go to a wedding and she happily agreed.
The next morning, Saliha saw Sabri’s bed empty. Immediately, she felt he joined jihad.
The boy had left for the war-torn country.
After Sabri’s death, Saliha founded a non-profit organisation, Society Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) Belgium, whose goal is to fight all forms of violent radicalisation. She also works with social organisations — Mothers School in Belgium and Women Without Borders in Vienna.
She said she strongly believed that challengers could be overcome through combined efforts. So, she emphasised on launching social campaigns in Bangladesh to fight the menace of radicalism.
The media can play a vital role in this regard by portraying the real side of extremism to all, she said.
As part of her Bangladesh visit, which ends today, she is supposed to attend events at different schools, colleges and universities and talk to law enforcement agencies as well as families of some slain militant