Dyab Abou Jahjah & the Arab European League

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sat Mar 1 16:27:28 MST 2003


*****   New York Times  March 1, 2003
An Outspoken Arab in Europe: Demon or Hero?
By MARLISE SIMONS

ANTWERP, Belgium - He is pacing the room like a trapped panther, 
lithe and restless, as calls are coming in from the street. Thirty 
miles away, a large protest march is under way, but its organizer is 
stranded.

This is the man known as Belgium's Malcolm X, the country's most 
famous immigrant who is frightening many Belgians, including the 
government, with his radical plans and fast-growing following.

He is Dyab Abou Jahjah, 31, born in Lebanon, the founder of the Arab 
European League, a new immigrant protest movement.

On this day in February, he is working his cellphone in his sparsely 
furnished home in Antwerp because by order of a judge he is banned 
for three months from public events. But the news from the street 
cheers him. Marchers carry his photograph, some wear masks that show 
his face.

"I hate this, being stuck here," he said. "The police probably wished 
I was there so they could arrest me."

Well, perhaps not. In November he was held for five days on charges 
of incitement to riot but released for lack of evidence. Belgium's 
prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, called him a "threat to society."

It quickly turned him into a demon, and a hero. The result has been a 
flood of television appearances, newspaper articles, magazine covers 
and new recruits for his Arab European League.

"Recruiting is not hard," he said. "We're a civil rights movement, 
not a club of fundamentalist fanatics who want to blow things up. 
We're different because we are neither apologists nor extremists. We 
have such an appeal because we are filling a gap."

Mr. Abou Jahjah says he is part of a new generation of Muslim 
activists who are speaking out, frustrated with what they call 
discrimination, the lack of hope of finding a job, the problems of 
renting outside immigrant ghettos and, since Sept. 11, the distrust 
and even Islamophobia they feel.

Older immigrants who arrived from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and 
Turkey some 30 years ago, these activists say, have been too meek, 
too passive, co-opted by government funds or divided by ethnic or 
nationalist infighting.

The Arab European League, founded by Mr. Abou Jahjah two years ago, 
aims to empower Muslim immigrants. He demands affirmative action in 
schools, in the workplace, in housing. His premise: Arabs in Europe 
will only be taken seriously if they are proud and strong.

"In Europe, the immigrant organizations are Uncle Toms," he said. "We 
want to polarize people, to sharpen the discussion, to unmask the 
myth that the system is democratic for us."

The league's program calls on Muslim immigrants to resist pressures 
to integrate. "Assimilation is cultural rape," he said. "It means 
renouncing your identity, becoming like the others."

He finds inspiration in Malcolm X and his movement in the United 
States for racial pride. "Of course the context is different," he 
said, "but Malcolm X was also against assimilation. He fought for 
civil rights and he was also inspired by Islam."

Mr. Abou Jahjah's followers are hard to quantify. Hundreds of young 
men and women have shown up at street rallies. A few dozen have 
participated in the so-called video patrols to film the Antwerp 
police, who the league says abuse Arab youths verbally and 
physically. They have distributed fliers saying: "Bad cops, the Arab 
European League is watching you." There is no headquarters; regulars 
meet at an Antwerp Internet cafe.

Critics say the prime minister and the minister of interior have 
overreacted. Mr. Abou Jahjah's influence is overrated, they argue, 
yielding more publicity than sting.

But Mr. Abou Jahjah says his Arab pride movement is already echoing 
elsewhere. His group has recently set up chapters in three Dutch 
cities, and he says he has been invited to France and Britain to 
start chapters.

Articulate, fast-talking, self-assured, he is indeed different from 
many Muslims here, who have largely come from the interior of 
Morocco, Turkey and Algeria....

Mr. Abou Jahjah's demands - Islamic schools, bilingual education for 
Arab children, hiring quotas for immigrants - are resented in this 
small nation of 10 million that struggles with its own identity.

Belgium's long linguistic conflicts have been tentatively settled in 
the Constitution, which recognizes Dutch, French and German as 
official languages, though they still coexist uneasily. So there was 
an outcry when Mr. Abou Jahjah demanded that Arabic be added to the 
mix.

"People freaked out over that," he said. "Why not," he added, with a 
quasi-innocence. "There are 70,000 German speakers and more than 
300,000 Arab speakers." That mix, he has been told, grew 
historically. "I say history is not over."

Indeed, Mr. Abou Jahjah makes a point of causing consternation, above 
all in Antwerp, the country's second largest city, where he lives. 
Depending on who is talking, this city of half a million people is 
either an exemplary ethnic mix, a cauldron or a wake-up call for 
Europe.

Antwerp is the base of the far-right Flemish Bloc, a party that won 
one-third of the seats on the City Council with the slogan, "Our 
people first." It is also home to Belgium's largest group of Jews, 
many of them linked to the diamond trade.

Add to this a large immigrant population, up to one-third of them 
unemployed, said Mr. Abou Jahjah....

At home, with his brother Ziad, a businessman, Mr. Abou Jahjah said 
the police had recently searched their homes and taken their 
computers, bank statements, "even Ziad's wedding pictures." There is 
nothing to hide, he said. Money comes from members in Belgium and 
several private donors in Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, whose names 
he has posted on the League's Web site, arabeuropean.org.

In May, he will run in the Belgian parliamentary elections. No, he 
will not support any of the six Muslims - Turks and Moroccans - 
already in Parliament. "They never defended the rights of 
immigrants," he said. "They don't want to rock the boat. We do. We're 
not guests here. We are citizens."

<http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/01/international/europe/01FPRO.html>   *****

*****   AEL to fight Belgian election
7 February 2003

BRUSSELS - The Arab European League (AEL) and the extreme-left group 
PvdA will together fight the 18 May general election in Belgium under 
the name Resist, it was revealed Friday.

Agalev Antwerp district councilor Koen Calliauw, a co-founder of 
Resist, said the organisation would fight oppression, discrimination 
and racism. Other founding members are Zohra Othman (PVDA) and AEL 
members Dyab Abou Jahjah and Ahmed Azzuz.

Newspaper De Standaard reported on Friday Resist intends nominating a 
candidate list for the Antwerp Province and will also compile a 
Senate candidate list. Resist will hold a congress in Antwerp on 9 
March to determine its policy programme and election candidates.

But a ten-point statement of principles has already been released, 
indicating that Resist wants to introduce compulsory measures 
enforcing companies to employ people from minority groups. In regards 
housing, the organisation is demanding a stronger anti-discrimination 
law, reversing the so-called burden of proof.

Resist has proposed a major revamp of the education system, with the 
main goal of adjusting the sector to the "multicultural reality". It 
demanded that the Islamic community have access to its own school 
network, and said it is opposed to a war against Iraq....

The PvdA aims to represent Belgian workers and migrants in Flanders, 
Brussels and Wallonia, and fights against capitalism and imperialism. 
It campaigns for a socialistic Belgium.

<http://www.expatica.com/belgium.asp?pad=88,89,&item_id=28714>   *****

The Arab European League: <http://www.arabeuropean.org/>
Partij van de Arbeid van België/Parti du Travail de Belgique (Workers 
Party of Belgium): <http://www.pvda.be/> & <http://www.ptb.be/>
-- 
Yoshie

* Calendar of Events in Columbus: 
<http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/calendar.html>
* Student International Forum: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/>
* Committee for Justice in Palestine: <http://www.osudivest.org/>
* Al-Awda-Ohio: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Al-Awda-Ohio>
* Solidarity: <http://solidarity.igc.org/>

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