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​M., 45 years old, is a woman of Moroccan origin who has been living in Brussels for the past 30 years. Her teenage son S. was born in Belgium and went to the public school. When he was 17 years, she noted some worrying changes in her son’s attitudes after Friday prayers, who also spent several hours per day locked in his room chatting with his new acquaintances online. However, M. thought that her son’s changing ideas and growing beard were due to his age and she did not link them to his increasing radicalization. When the mother finally realised the gravity of the situation, she went to speak to the Imam of the mosque where her son went. The Imam declined any intervention and advised the mother to talk to the police. M. did not do it for fear of her son being arrested. Shortly after the 18th birthday of S., he took his passport and flew to Istanbul and then went to the Syrian border. The last news M. received from her son was a text message sent when he started his initiation at an ISIL camp in Syria.


A sample of questions related to this case could include the following:

  • How to distinguish early signs of radicalization from religious practice?
  • What is the role of the family in this respect?
  • What role should the Imam play?
  • Who to resort to when both fail?
  • Are available sources of remedy against radicalization sufficient?
  • If no, what is missing?
  • If the role of the Imam in this case was clearly passive, what skills would be needed for him to engage on such cases in terms of knowledge, skills and responsibilities? 

A tip for facilitators

The main elements to debate in this case are the different courses of action and available remedies to resort to for help in cases of early signs of radicalization. This case also highlights the grey zones among shared responsibilities where inaction, late action or wrong action increase the risk of non-detection of religious radicalization to violent extremism.