This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/176
The Arabian Panther
by Abigail R. Esman
June 28, 2004
The Arab European League is gaining ground in Belgium and Holland.
Diab Abu Jah Jah. the group's 'fuhrer' ' was labelled a "Pimp of the Profit" by Theo Van Gogh,a Dutch journalist at a recent debate in Amsterdam.
Jah Jah described 9/11 as "sweet revenge" and has instigated riots and attacks on Jews.
The AEL was instrumental in attempting to bring a law suit against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 'for war crimes' and threatened him with arrest if he came to Belgium.
The AEL 'fuhrer' in Holland, Mohammed Cheppiah, was forced to step down after public outrage at his remarks that homosexuals should be stoned to death.
See cartoons below for more information on the AEL.
The Arabian Panther
By Abigail R. Esman
June 14, 2004 |
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Shortly after 6:30 p.m. on a
Tuesday in December, a young man named Ahmed Azzuz marched into a Belgian
television station, burst onto the set of the evening news and, standing
beside the startled anchorwoman and directly before the cameras, unfurled
the red, black, green and white flag of Palestine. "Stop the hypocrisy!"
he demanded in Dutch as news crews scrambled behind the scenes to regain
control. It was the 16th anniversary of the first intifada, and Azzuz had
a message: "
killings of Palestinians must cease."
When he had finished speaking, he calmly thanked the audience, rolled up
his flag, and walked away. The whole episode took less than two minutes.
Police were called, but lacking sufficient grounds for his arrest, he
says, they simply gave him a ride home.
Azzuz is a founder and the Belgian president of the Arab European League,
or AEL, an outspoken self-styled civil rights movement with a growing
membership -- and growing influence -- in
and beyond. Combining Arab nationalism with impassioned Islamism, it
positions itself as an uncompromising defender of European Muslims,
eschewing assimilation and espousing confrontational political ideas such
as the introduction of sharia law in
threatened -- an "almost unpreventable" attack on
community if it does not "cancel its support for Jewish policy as fast as
possible and distance itself from the state of
hypocrisy" was a reference to those Belgian Jews who, he claims, join the
Israeli army, which he sees as proof that
More recently, the Dutch faction of the League issued an invitation to
Pakistani extremist Hussain Ahmed, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a group
with known ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban, to speak at a congress center
an entry visa, citing national security concerns; the AEL blamed "the
Zionist lobby" for the decision.) The AEL has issued public approvals of
9/11, pledged solidarity with Iraqi insurgents and has challenged new
French measures to ban Muslim headscarves in public schools.
Had Azzuz used his guerrilla TV tactic at an American network, it would
have been national news -- and he might still be in detention. In
however, Azzuz's piece of political theater aroused less outrage -- in
figure out how to deal with the militancy of small but growing groups like
the Arab European League without trampling on civil rights, and without
alienating more moderate Muslims who are by far the bigger bloc.
To its defenders, the league is an uncompromising advocate for European
Muslims, in the tradition of American blacks and Latinos who aggressively
called for recognition in the '60s. But to its critics, including some
fellow Muslims, the league and its charismatic leader, Dyab Abou Jahjah,
are a divisive and potentially destructive force, so provocative that some
Belgian officials have sought to knock its Web site offline or even to
have the group banned outright. In the wake of the March terror bombings
in Spain and a pair of controversial new reports linking anti-Semitic acts
in Europe to Muslim immigrants, Jahjah, Azzuz and their league allies are
coming under closer law enforcement scrutiny and increasing political
Just before the
Security Service disclosed in a report that the number of Muslim
immigrants in that country being recruited by international jihadists had
increased. Pinpointing groups like the AEL, the report warned that "a
violent radical Islamic movement is gradually taking root in the Dutch
society." (The Dutch government has just learned that it could be targeted
by al-Qaida, in part because of the radicalization of Muslims in the
have reportedly heard on phone taps that a terrorist group is "standing
on Racism and Xenophobia issued March 31, researchers found that young
Muslims were the biggest force behind a wave of anti-Semitic incidents and
Far from apologizing, Jahjah and other league leaders have seemed to draw
energy from conflict and controversy. The league has largely declined to
condemn a wave of anti-Semitic acts by Muslim youth. League officials have
offered no public criticism of the March 11
left nearly 200 dead and hundreds more injured. (Authorities believe the
attack was carried out by a Moroccan terrorist cell with ties to
al-Qaida). Instead, Jahjah suggested in a televised debate that a similar
attack was likely in the
war with us, we make war with you."
Despite their confrontational stance, AEL leaders insist that they
advocate only peaceful methods of change: Jahjah has declared that "we are
against violence." But their stance is ambiguous. One line from the AEL
manifesto asserts: "You don't receive equal rights: you take them." And
the league's Web site praises Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder and
spiritual leader of Hamas, who along with seven bystanders was
assassinated in March by
said, is "an example for many of us."
Somali-born Dutch Parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim whose
outspoken criticism of Islam's treatment of women has made her the target
of death threats from Muslims around the world, blasted this statement in
a March 27 Op-Ed in the Dutch newspaper de Trouw. "A terrorist leader with
the blood of hundreds on his hands is evidently a source of inspiration
for the young men and women of the AEL," she wrote.
Jahjah stirred more controversy in an open letter to U.S. President George
"Mr. President," the letter reads, "we are a peaceful people, we do not
attack unless we are attacked, we do not kill unless we are killed, and we
do not aggress, we defend. If you want peace, you and your people, there
is only one way, and that is the way out of our land." But if the
continues its close backing of
and persists with its "aggression and occupation troops in Faloudja, in
of your soldiers will undoubtedly rest in peace."
It is the sort of rhetoric that has come to define the self-described
"Arabian panther." Eloquent, charismatic and Hollywood handsome -- think
George Clooney meets Robert de Niro -- the 32-year-old Jahjah founded the
Arab European League in Belgium in 2000, before the 9/11 attacks. Born in
star. His makes no attempt to conceal his goal: He wants to introduce
sharia -- the religious laws and codes of Islam -- to form what he calls a
banned, as would sexually suggestive advertising. Islamic holidays would
become national holidays, like Christmas.
Jahjah has spoken of the Sept. 11 attacks as "sweet revenge," though the
Dutch newsweekly HP/de Tijd quoted him as saying he would prefer to have
seen empty planes crash the Pentagon and the White House. "I'd have found
that quite beautiful," he said.
Jahjah and his followers vehemently insist that Middle Eastern immigrants
and their children must preserve their own culture and religion; comparing
assimilation to "fascism" and "rape," Jahjah demands that the cultural and
religious traditions of Middle Eastern immigrants and their children be
not just preserved but integrated into the culture of the West. "I'd
rather die than assimilate," Jahjah has said.
When asked by a Belgian television reporter if terrorism or a revolution
were possible in the
could very well happen."
Jahjah and the AEL burst into the headlines in November 2002, when
Moroccan youths (Belgians of Moroccan descent are simply called
"Moroccans") looted shops, threw stones, smashed cars and staged a
three-day standoff with police after a psychologically disturbed Belgian
shot and killed a young Muslim teacher on the streets of Antwerp for no
apparent reason. Belgian officials blamed Abou Jahjah. Though Jahjah
insisted his only part in the event was trying to calm everybody down,
police arrested him after the chaos had subsided and thoroughly searched
his home. The AEL called this proof of
their movement; Belgian lawmakers contended that Jahjah posed a danger to
the community of
that there was insufficient evidence to hold him.
Either way, the arrest propelled his name and the league's cause into the
international arena. To some, he was a celebrity radical, an alluring
combination of sex symbol and martyr; the Belgian media frequently called
him the "black angel of integration."
That was hardly the first brush with notoriety for the league. In April
2002, enraged by
response to a Palestinian terrorist attack, Moroccans and AEL members
smashed the storefronts of Jewish-owned shops, calling for jihad and
chanting "Osama bin Laden!" Before the
year ago, league members hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails during
anti-American demonstrations staged at the
In 2003, almost a year after Pim Fortuyn's assassination, the league
opened a Dutch chapter; soon after, Mohammed Cheppih was appointed to head
it. But earlier statements from Cheppih supporting suicide bombers in
that he was forced to step down. Still, he remains an influential
consultant to the league.
Today, behind a motto that is early Malcolm X -- "by any means necessary"
-- the Arab European League reports steady growth, with members now in 12
2003 to about 1,000 now. A new office has opened in
summer, the league deployed a new political wing, the Muslim Democratic
Party, to represent its views in European Parliamentary elections this
For its adherents, the AEL offers a united platform and an amplified
voice. This is especially true for the second- and third-generation
children of immigrants who came here -- primarily from Turkey and Morocco
-- as guest workers in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, kids struggling to define
their identity in a post-9/11 and increasingly nationalistic Europe. The
children and even the grandchildren of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants are
still considered "Turkish" or "Moroccan," rather than Dutch or Belgian. To
these boys, Jahjah is a role model, a hero; for girls, he is a star. One
newspaper quoted a young girl saying to Jahjah's bodyguards outside a talk
he gave in
In person and via the league's Web site, Jahjah speaks directly to these
disenfranchised youth. He is deeply mistrustful of the Western press,
arguing that no matter what he says, he will be misquoted or that his
words will be twisted by "the Zionist lobby" in an effort to turn popular
opinion against him. Non-Muslim reporters are barred from Jahjah's
lectures and speeches, and he pointedly ignored Salon's several attempts
to reach him. Other AEL officers rarely speak to non-Muslim members of the
However, Jahjah's Belgian lieutenant, Azzuz, agreed to an interview in
December, after a series of protests that led to the arrest of 10 league
members -- including some who hung the Palestinian flag over the Dutch
Parliament building in The Hague and Azzuz's own television caper.
Speaking by phone from
son of Moroccan immigrants, was cordial but direct. The deaths of 9/11
were "collateral damage" -- a term, he says, that Muslims learned from
Americans. "Finally, something had happened to those who kill our women
and children," he said of the terror strikes that have reshaped world
at all." What lesson is that? "Stop supporting the terrorist state of
the Zionists do.
Relations between the peoples of the West and the
deteriorated to such a point, Azzuz said, that "something like Sept. 11 is
likely to happen again."
powerful engine of European capitalism, a bastion of conservatism and home
to a large population of Orthodox Jews. It has long struggled to reconcile
the submerged cultural conflicts between its Flemish, or Dutch-speaking,
culture and the French-speaking Walloons. Neighboring
contrast, is a tiny country with a large reputation for liberalism and
tolerance. In "coffeeshops" throughout the country, menu items for
"Colombian" and "
marijuana; in the winding streets of
pose in lingerie before the windows. It is here that same-sex marriage and
doctor-assisted euthanasia were first made legal.
But the two countries share a common dynamic: As their Muslim populations
have grown larger and more restive, both have spawned a sometimes fierce
anti-immigrant backlash. The result has been a cycle of building
hostilities between Muslim and European in which it is usually impossible
to tell who threw the first stone.
The influx of Muslims into
immigrants everywhere, often came looking for political freedom and
economic opportunity. Even now, though, the grandchildren of those
immigrants say they often feel like second-class citizens in the countries
they call home. The immigrants' levels of education are generally lower;
for them and their children, unemployment rates are higher. In
unemployment among Muslims is estimated at up to 40 percent.
Still, the population of Muslims in
one recent report, it could nearly double by 2015, approaching 30 million.
Almost a million Muslims now live in the
the second-highest Muslim population per capita in
In a country still coming to grips with its guilt over the large numbers
of Jews deported during the Nazi occupation more than 60 years ago, many
are reluctant to discriminate against a different religious group, even if
that group stands opposed to Holland's famed liberal and secular mores.
But after some Dutch Moroccans openly celebrated the 9/11 attacks, and
after a radical imam in
many among the Dutch were pushed over the brink. The rightist sociology
professor Pim Fortuyn rose suddenly to political prominence, inaugurating
his own party which he led into Parliamentary elections. Fortuyn, a gay
man, ripped Islam as a "backward culture" and called for tough new curbs
on immigration. Though he was assassinated in the spring of 2002, his
party swept to power with considerable support from voters under 30.
Though Fortuyn's party did not hold power long, its powerful influence is
still felt in strict new immigration rules and the planned deportation of
26,000 failed asylum-seekers.
The rise of far-right parties like Lijst Pim Fortuyn and
Blok and the popularity of right-wing leaders like
Pen has made European Muslims feel increasingly unwelcome, even hated.
"People are getting angry," says Ayhan Tonca, chairman of
largest organization of Turkish mosques.
The international political climate in recent years has further eroded
tolerance and goodwill on both sides. The bloody Israeli-Palestinian
conflict has inflamed Muslim animosity toward the West, a rage fueled by
Arab news stations and Internet sites that beam graphic news and
propaganda into Muslim homes throughout the West, thousands of miles from
the zones of conflict.
In that atmosphere, the rhymes Moroccan youth chant beneath the stormy
skies and along the cobbled streets of
become frighteningly familiar: "Hamas, Hamas, alle Joden aan het gas!"
they cry. ("Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas!) Or: "Joden moet je doden!"
which translates with chilling simplicity: "Kill Jews!" On
during a national moment of silence in remembrance of those who perished
in Holocaust, a group of Moroccan boys began playing soccer with the
crimes, such as the recent murder of a teacher by a Turkish student in
known only as "Murat D.," explained to the media as other Turkish
classmates chanted, "Murat, we love you!"
And while Jewish schoolboys in
the law demands it, in
increase in anti-Semitic acts in the year 2002 and first half of 2003.
That number "omits any act that could be viewed as anti-Israel," says the
center's director, Ronny Naftaniel.
"There were some 330 incidents last year," says Naftaniel, who estimates
that 75 percent were perpetrated by Moroccan youth. "There is a minimal
amount of anti-Semitism that is constant in Holland, of course, but if you
blame Jews for being the world power who direct the politics of the world,
if you throw stones at Orthodox Jews, if you chant 'Hamas, Hamas' on trams
and buses in the cities, that's anti-Semitism, and that's a problem."
Some Muslim leaders also acknowledge rampant, and often rabid,
anti-Semitism in the Muslim communities here; even Jahjah and other AEL
officials have, on occasion, spoken against it. But not Naima Elmaslouhi,
the Arab European League's vice president in
cellphone from the
the release of fellow league officers arrested during a pro-Palestinian
demonstration, she said the claims of anti-Semitism are exaggerated. "It's
just one or two incidents," she said.
Perhaps the clearest expression of who Jahjah is and what he wants comes
in his book, "Tussen 2 Werelden: Roots van Een Vrijheidstrijd," or
"Between Two Worlds: The Roots of a Freedom Fight." Published late last
year by the prestigious Dutch-Belgian publisher J.M. Meulenhoff, a house
known for its strong list of Jewish literature, Jahjah's
memoir-cum-manifesto suggests that ambiguity and contradiction are central
to his character -- and maybe to his strategy.
Born and raised in Hanin, in south Lebanon, Jahjah grew up in the midst of
that country's civil war and Israel's invasion of Lebanon, which
culminated in the 1982 slaughter in the refugee camps of Sabra and
Shatilla, where an Israeli commission of inquiry found that Israeli forces
and their commander Ariel Sharon were indirectly responsible for the
massacre of at least 800, and perhaps as many as 2,000, Palestinian
civilians at the hands of Israel's Christian Phalange allies.
In the early 1990s, at the age of 19, Jahjah traveled to the West; he
applied for political asylum in Belgium, telling immigration officials
that he'd been a member of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah and was
seeking to escape its persecution. When authorities began to question his
story, he married a Belgian ex-girlfriend, receiving residency as her
spouse. The couple divorced shortly after his papers came through. Since
then, he has denied he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he made the story
up to get asylum.
The league, Jahjah says in his book, isn't especially radical, but rather
a "healthy, democratic protest organization born of the frustration and
disappointment and hurt" of its members, a movement that seeks only
equality and freedom. Only action, maintains Jahjah, will produce change.
Azzuz agrees, saying that sometimes a bit of civil disobedience is
necessary to win attention. "It's not like we take hostages," he says. But
in another passage, Jahjah's book also contains a somewhat different
message: "Violence is no solution," he writes, "but it can open the way to
In his book, Jahjah claims people wrongly accuse him of ties to al-Qaida
when in fact, he says, it is the AEL that is terrorized. Bodyguards
protect him from the many domestic and international organizations that he
claims want him dead, including
charge as "laughable.")
But critics see evidence of the league's character not only in what Jahjah
says and does, but equally in what he doesn't say:. For instance, neither
he nor the AEL condemns al-Qaida. And while it would be unreasonable to
blame Jahjah, Azzuz or the Arab European League for the wave of
anti-Semitism, they are widely seen as contributing to the climate of rage
and polarization, if only by issuing mixed messages.
This impression was strengthened last November, after terrorists suspected
of al-Qaida links killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds in four
bombings in Turkey -- including two bombings at Istanbul synagogues. Some
in the AEL did publicly condemn the attacks. But Elmaslouhi, the Dutch
league's vice president, voiced "support and understanding" for the
bombers. "I am against the killing of innocents," she told the Dutch
newspaper Algemeene Dagblad, "but how do you know who is innocent?"
To some critics, Jahjah, Azzuz and others in the Arab European League seem
less interested in multicultural harmony than in hostile separatism. These
critics warn that a militant "Arab pride" movement poses risks that far
surpass mere social tension.
The recent report by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service
noted that self-styled mujahedin "purposefully influence members of the
Muslim communities in the
society and to alienate the Muslims from the rest of the population." The
effect, according to the report, is to strengthen their recruitment
efforts by "appealing to the idea that the rights and interests of 'good'
Muslims are being violated time and again." As proof of the potential
danger, the report cites the example of two Dutch-Moroccans who were
Such concerns have provoked officials in both
wonder whether the Arab European League should be banned. In
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has called Jahjah a "threat to society,"
though his effort to shut down the AEL on the grounds of "inciting
violence, issuing threats and disturbing the public order" -- a move
Jahjah ascribed to "the Zionist lobby" -- failed.
But when the AEL posted its statement supporting Hamas founder Yassin on
its Dutch-language Web site, motions were filed in the Belgian courts to
have the page, if not the entire site, pulled from the Web. While the
courts debate, the provider serving the site has cancelled the League's
account, forcing it to scramble for another and rebuild essentially from
scratch. (The English version of the site remains for the most part
But some are concerned that banning the league would only send the
movement underground, making it even more dangerous. "At least, it's out
there in the open," says Ayhan Tonca, who heads the organization of
Turkish mosques in
For their part, AEL members accuse European officials of criminalizing
their movement and exaggerating the social problems within the Euro-Muslim
community. Even if that's true, the increased pressure on the league and
allied groups is likely to increase the tension. As with the conflict
Islamist groups and the West, it sometimes seems that there is no middle
Tonca, speaking from
appeal of the Arab European League, and cautions that
but to accept a cultural evolution. "We have to accept that Muslims are a
Moroccan-born Mohamed Sini, a Dutch Labor Party official who chairs the
organization Islam and Citizenship, calls the league an "extremist group"
that only exacerbates tensions. Tonca, too, accuses Jahjah of being not
much different than his opponents -- Fortuyn, le Pen, the Vlaams Blok.
All, he says, divide in anger rather than unite in peace.
The European establishment is wrestling with similar worries. Last
December, the European Union shelved a report that blamed Muslims for the
recent wave of anti-Semitism; when a new draft was issued last month, it
blamed neo-Nazi and other racist groups, with Muslims being only a
secondary cause -- even though the numbers in the report showed that
Muslims were in fact behind most of the incidents.
But to those who say that Europe must become a melting pot now in a way
that it has not been in modern times, Jahjah and other league members say
they're not interested in blending in.
Absorbing the principles and norms of Holland, Belgium and other European
democracies, they say, would mean sacrificing their integrity, their
identity as Muslims. Rather, they argue, the Judeo-Christian majority of
would be a better, safer place," a message on the now-defunct Dutch Arab
European League Web site proclaimed, "if it observed the values and the
norms of Islam."
"As a minority group," says Azzuz, "we have rights."
"Idiocy!" Naftaniel snaps in reply. "Integration doesn't ask that you give
up your culture."
Despite the league's plans to expand its presence in the coming year,
movement will eventually fall by the wayside. "They fail to serve the real
concerns and interests of [European] Muslims," Sini says, "mostly because
they blame everyone else for the tensions without looking within
But he is nonetheless concerned, both about the AEL's actions and about
the responses they engender. "Extremism," he warns, "breeds extremism."
Tonca likewise worries that Abou Jahjah's call will produce Turkish
militants. "The most dangerous terrorists are those who are well educated
in the West," he notes, "and I fear that the Muslims who are educated here
are becoming radical."
Separation, Naftaniel says, is not compatible with democracy; coexistence
requires collaboration and cooperation. "If one believes in democracy," he
says, "then the most challenging thing is to sit down with those who with
whom you differ."
That might be the starting point for détente, but does the league want
détente? Its signals have been mixed, at best. Jahjah himself has publicly
denounced the chants of "Hamas, Hamas, alle Joden aan het gas!" Elsewhere,
though, he has expressed impatience with talk of peaceful coexistence.
"The days of sharing couscous with a Jew are over," he told Belgian
newspaper De Morgen in April 2002.
Another top league official, apparently distressed by reports that Muslim
in a statement on a league site that the organization is "against each and
every form of discrimination and racism. As Muslims we see the Jews as
'the people of the book' and it is obligatory to fight the hate against
these people." But the statement continues: "With equal fury the AEL
fights Nazism and Zionism." This association of
these days among European Muslims, is widely seen as a crude and
inflammatory form of anti-Semitism.
Which to believe, then -- the overtures of peace, or the rhetoric of fury?
In the interest of the vrijheidstrijd, or the freedom fight, Jahjah wraps
himself in the mantel of the American revolutionary hero Patrick Henry.
"We seek only to live in peace and with the freedom to live our own lives
with equality, appreciation, and respect," he writes in "Between Two
Worlds." "And if anyone tries to remove that right and to oppose us, we
will fight until the oppression stops, and we acquire freedom -- or die in
For the female members of the AEL a weekly course on wailing is being organised :
"Now, once again, exhale slowly "
Below: Mohamed Cheffi former 'fuhrer' of the AEL in Holland who stepped down after a public outcry erupted over his statement that homosexuals should be stoned to death
Tranvestites and transexuals can also become members of the AEL
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/176