Oct 14, 2016

South Shore CEGEPs to combat violent radicalization



October 13, 2016


Four South Shore colleges on Thursday announced the creation of the “Centre for expertise and training in religious fundamentalism and radicalization” (CEFIR in French) – a three-year project that will bring together teachers, students and researchers to prevent religious extremism among vulnerable students.

Said to be unique in Quebec, the program – at the Édouard Montpetit, Saint-Hyacinthe and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu CEGEPs and Royal Military College Saint-Jean – will also provide the locus for fieldwork centred on the students themselves. 

Martin Geoffroy, the director of the centre and lead researcher at CEGEP Édouard Montpetit, insisted he would not be duplicating the work of other groups that have focused on radicalization, like Montreal’s Centre for Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence. 

“We’re not going to chase radicals,” said Geoffroy, adding there won’t be a tip line to call. “We won’t substitute ourselves for the police. We are an educational institution. But many studies have indicated the potential for radicalization in CEGEP students 18 to 22 years old. We can’t negate the fact that our CEGEP students can be a target. What’s different for us is we’re in the field.”

There is no indication that any of the students at these colleges have been radicalized, or were part of a wave of students who left Quebec in 2015 to join jihadist groups abroad. A report at Collège de Maisonneuve, made public in August, detailed the circumstances leading to the radicalization of several youths there who left for Syria, mostly through interviews with friends, family and staff.

Geoffroy, a sociologist whose PhD thesis focused on Catholic fundamentalism in Quebec, hopes that by looking into the linkages between radicalization and fundamentalism – as opposed to a particular ethnicity  – the research can inject “facts” into the otherwise emotional debate over the place of immigrants and religion in Quebec.

For example, Geoffroy said, the Muslim faith is not the only one that can lead to radicalization. It was a Jewish extremist who assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhah Rabin in 1995, she noted.

“I have a lot of Muslim students here and they are worried about what’s happening (in Quebec) and asking questions. They feel ostracized. I want to let them know this is not about Muslims but about religious fundamentalism in the world,” she said.

“We want to change mentalities in Quebec society. Right now there are a lot of opinions in the media but not much scientific fact,” Geoffroy said. “We want people to form their opinions not based on editorials or people in one of two (polarized) factions, but on scientific research.” 

In the first year, the centre will conduct a survey of CEGEP students and staff on their knowledge of the links between religious fundamentalism and radicalization. 

Geoffroy expects the survey will reveal the participants’ ignorance or misconceptions in these matters. 

The centre will then develop educational tools for students and staff that could then be used by CEGEPs across Quebec. 

“We want to develop an expertise on the subject and then training for all the organizations that want it.”  

There are some heavy hitters on the centre’s research team: Lorne Dawson, who began his career studying religious sects, has been conducting research on foreign fighters at the University of Waterloo and is the co-founder of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS). Susan Palmer, an associate professor at Concordia University, is also an expert on sects – particularly in Quebec, Canada and France. And Ali Dizboni is a specialist in Middle East studies and Islamic radicalization at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont.





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