In a RAN interview, Jesper Holme, a Danish educator and expert in preventing radicalisation, offered insights into how schools could be transformed into laboratories of democracy.
According to International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), Denmark, aside Belgium, has produced more “militant Islamic fighters per head of a population since 2012 than any other European country”. This has created the need for Denmark to explore new models for preventing and countering violent extremism.
As such, Denmark created the “Aarhus model” already in 2007, following the 7/7 London bombings. The model focused on developing trust between authorities and the communities as well as the social circles in which radicals are believed to operate. However, Denmark has since experienced fatal shootings, like in Copenhagen in 2015, signifying that there remains further need for deradicalization.
Jesper Holme, a consultant at the Aarhus municipality – at the Department for Children and Young People, believes that education offers the best prevention strategy.
“Our programme [a cooperation between the municipality and the police] works on what I call the ‚green level‘ – the youngest youth level – doing work with them to build up confidence, embrace belonging and participation in schools no matter what background”, says Holme.
However, the Syrian conflict among other conflict areas, like Somalia or Iraq, have attracted several Danish fighters. As such, de-radicalisation approaches have begun to make and maintain contact with those, returning from conflict zones.
“You have to help them in the best way possible to make them aware of what they are doing. But first of all you also have to understand what is going on in their lives. Ultimately, their manifestations are expressions that reveal unsatisfied needs, and going into these needs could be a good starter.” explains Holme.
Therefore, the program offers help from assigned mentors for radicals or returning fighters.
While the program has been hailed a success, those behind it have called for a greater need to include teachers. The aim is to introducing a holistic education model fostering critical thinking skills and inculcating diversity.
“Teachers and schools should not be focused only on the substance of lessons and the curriculum being taught, like history, and maths, but how teachers are treating students daily, inviting all opinions that will allow classrooms to become breeding grounds for critical thinking linked to democratic values.” outlines Holme.
However, implementing such a concept requires support for the teachers. “Some teachers and pedagogues are just not prepared to invite controversial and difficult issues into the classroom,” Mr. Holme concedes. “Simply because they are not educated and prepared to do so, faced by the daily challenges of teaching.”
As such, Holme praises the work of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), especially their work groups.
He states: “Every time I attend such working groups, I return to Denmark fired up with designs to add more interventions and plans to help prevent violent extremism.”
Note: This article is based on a RAN interview with Jesper Holme
Author: Niklas Hamann
Carassava, Anthee (2019). Expert Interview with Jesper Holme In: Migration and Home affairs Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_network/ran-news/expert-interview-jesper-holme_en
education, de-radicalisation, interview