News Coverage of CVE Press Lunch with Abdirizak Farah and Neal Semel (05/07/2015)
De Standaard (05/08/2015): “don’t become too focused on the number of Syria fighters.”
“Whether there is one person who leaves his homeland to go fight in the Middle East or there are hundred, the problem is just as bad. A father, mother, or sister is affected. An entire community in fact, and especially: it shows that someone does not feel accepted, so he feels he has no reason to be here.” Abdirizak Farah, a Policy Advisor in the Department of Homeland Security, does not look at the problem of Syria fighters by focusing on the numbers. There have hardly been any youngsters from the US who have left for the Middle East, especially compared to Belgium. Farah is in our country this week together with Neal Semel a diversity expert from Columbus (Ohio) to meet with police, local civil servants, and social workers. They have visited Brussels, Vilvoorde, and Antwerp. “The figures on foreign fighters say very little,” Semel agrees. “We can always learn of the techniques here and try to transfer them on how we address things,” says Semel. “For us it is for example self-explanatory to not focus too much on language. There is no to impose on an immigrant what close he has to wear or how he has to speak. If they feel that it would help them to learn the language of a country they will do so spontaneously—because it helps them to integrate. It does not work to impose it. You have to find ways to make migrants feel at home without having to change themselves.”
ATV (evening News 05/07/2015): “Antwerp police receives diversity training from two US experts.”
Journalist: “’Diversity is real’. That’s the message that Abdi Farah and Neal Semel gave today to Antwerp police officers and social workers. The two Americans are in Belgium for a series of trainings on how to address diversity and extremism.
Farah: “There has been a significant focus on youth. It is always difficult being a young person, no matter what community you’re from. We have been trying to do our best to provide some kind of avenues of regress, some kind of an outlook for young people and to provide some information on how to get a job, How to get ahead, how to build a career.”
Journalist: “Columbus, the city where Semel comes from is a multicultural city, just like Antwerp with similar challenges.”
Semel: “If we don’t feel comfortable in our community, it is a natural reaction to look for acceptance somewhere else. And I believe a lot of young people, in particular that are embracing this kind of movement of fighting oversees and such, are really expressing that they don’t feel like they belong and they don’t feel valued. And I think the more we can find a place for them and make them part of our community, the less threat we are going to have of that kind of behavior being appealing to them.”
Journalist: “Semel travels around the US with this message and is now hoping to bring some change here in Antwerp too.”
De Gazet Van Antwerpen (05/08/2015): “Obama gains some knowledge in Antwerp”
“Two de-radicalization experts visited Antwerp yesterday with a number of praiseworthy messages and some surprising insights. “Your police officers remain normal people too,” they noticed.
There seem to be some differences with police officers in the United States. “With us, police officers come from all possible cultures or religions, but once they join the police, those differences disappear. Their identity then completely merges with their function. There are even some who prefer not to mingle with the people. The police we have met here have a broader perspective and remain themselves more, detached from the uniform. That’s impressive.”
This specific culture is definitely linked to the repeated police violence against blacks, but they do not want to expand on this. They are Neal Semel, and equal rights expert from Ohio and Abdirizak Farah, a civil rights advisor with the Department of Homeland Security, the US agency that with its 230,000 employees covers all security and migration competencies.
Soon, the Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) and Chief of Police will discuss the US approach to CVE in New York and Washington. The Antwerp head of de-radicalization had on a previous occasion already traveled to the United States to gain knowledge. After this visit, the US Embassy in Brussels had proposed to bring the two experts to Belgium for workshops with the police, city agencies, and organizations. They gave two in Brussels, one in Vilvoorde, and on Thursday they were in Antwerp.
That both are clear examples of President Obama’s new America, was clear from the talk afterwards. “You fight extremism by giving them a sense of belonging, that they mean something: it is called ‘empowering local communities’.” They do not understand the ban of headscarves, whether it is in schools or at counter. “Freedom of religion and the right to free expression of your beliefs are inalienable rights, aren’t they? People of foreign origin have to integrate, “but they come as they are” says Semel. “Are they wearing a hijab? Let them wear a hijab.”
Abdirizak Farah entered the United States in 1996 as a homeless refugee from Somalia. He is an enthusiastic and diplomatic speaker, but when he talks about the boat refugees, there is fire in his eyes. “I know people who have drowned during the crossing. A friend of mine is a successful businessman in the US. One of his brothers has died in the Mediterranean. Who knows what he would have achieved. I am a Senior Policy Advisor now.”
Farah says that he has never spoken Somali to his children: “When you work hard, you get opportunities, no matter where you’re from.” But he also does not want to tell others that they have to do things the same way. “You speak the language you want at home with your children. Nothing is more important than your own values and the freedom to express them.”
But what do you do with the proportionately large number of Syria fighters in Belgium? “We do not want to comment on the concrete situation here, but one achieves results in de-radicalization by persisting, by time after time returning to communities and individuals. You should never hold a society responsible for the act of a few. There is also not one single profile that you can apply to all extremists. Eventually people from all cultures and religions want the same thing: a better life for themselves and their children.” The two seem to find it almost difficult to admit that there are also tensions surrounding migration in the US.
Neal Semel and Abdirizak Farah were also impressed by one other thing. “Your tolerance for homosexuals and transgenders. The grand Place in Brussels is decorated for Gay Pride. This is unimaginable where we come from.”