De Fabel van de illegaal 56, January/February 2003

Author: Eric Krebbers

Arab nationalism won't do immigrants much good

The riots in Antwerp, Belgium, at the end of November 2002 were caused by a racist murder. Afterwards everyone looked at Dyab Abou Jahjah, the leader of the fast growing immigrant organization Arab European League (AEL). Earlier he had played an important role at the demonstrations against Israel and against the war in Irak. The AEL also protests against the omnipresence of racism in Europe. That may sound promising to Leftist activists, but unfortunately the AEL is based on Arab nationalism. And nationalism seldom solves problems; most of the time it makes them only worse.

On november 26st and 27th Moroccan youth took to the streets in the Antwerp district of Borgerhout. They were angry because of the racist murder of Mohammed Achrak. Much of their pent up rage was caused by the daily experience of racism. One in every three inhabitants of Antwerp voted for the extreme Right party Vlaams Blok. But instead of indignation on this growing racism, the Belgian establishment became angry only because of the riots. And they held Abou Jahjah personally responsible. According to Vlaams Blok leader DeWinter now "the rats came crawling out of the sewers". And prime minister Verhofstadt claimed that the AEL wanted to terrorize Antwerp. "They want to drive off the police and try to get a grip on the districts of Antwerp, just to be able to continue their criminal activities." He said he wanted the AEL forbidden. And to realize that, the minister of home affairs even said he was willing to change the law. The AEL itself denied having any responsibility for the riots. The organisation even asserted that they had tried to soothe the situation. But "if matters run out of hand again and blood is shed again, we hold the complete Belgian establishment and the Zionist lobby responsible for the consequences", the AEL threatened. Shortly after the riots Abou Jahjah was arrested and the police searched a number of houses. At the funeral of Achrak everything remained calm, but later unknown people threw a firebomb at a synagogue. Abou Jahjah is now considered an important figure by the Belgian authorities, by the Vlaams Blok, by many immigrants, by the Left and last but not least by Abou Jahjah himself. We now all seem to be forced to choose for or against him. But we should not let such a choice be forced upon us. De Fabel van de illegaal strongly condemns the oppressive and racist policy of the Belgian government, but at the same time refuses to solidarize with the AEL. The radical Left should save its solidarity for Leftwing organisations of immigrants.

The AEL headquarters are in Antwerp. Now the organization also wants to found chapters in Germany, France and England. A Dutch chapter is planned in February 2003, but the ultra Right party LPF and the Christian democratic party CDA already want to forbid the organisation before it is even founded. The AEL has an estimated membership of between 250 and 1.000. Some of them living in Holland. In order to win support for his Arab nationalism the very charismatic and smart Abou Jahjah uses the anger of immigrants about the omnipresent racism in Western Europe. Many of them are confronted daily with rejection when they for instance apply for a job or a flat, because of their appearance or family name. Abou Jahjah wants to remove the social and economic oppression of immigrants. He also pleads for their right to vote. But instead of placing himself in the internationalist tradition, like the Turkish DIDF and the Moroccan KMAN in the Netherlands do, Abou Jahjah promotes Arab nationalism as the solution to injustice. He particularly promotes his "own Arab culture" and his "own Islamic faith". He wants to get rid of "the Western culture" and wants to build "an own party" and "own schools" for "the own community". His "own Arab language" should be acknowledged by the Belgian government as the fourth language of the country. That would, for that matter, not help many of the Moroccans, for they speak Tamazight. A lot of them do not speak Arabic very well, and they have long felt oppressed by the Arabic speaking majority in their country of origin.


Like any other nationalism, Arab nationalism is not very fond of anti-capitalism, feminism or the struggle of lesbians and gays for equal rights. Nationalists usually want to freeze unequal power relations within their nation. "I'm not going to raise my children with the idea that they can decide, once they are 18, whether they are going to love a man or a woman. I will raise a girl to love a man, and a boy to love a woman", says Abou Jahjah.1 "I don't think homosexuality the same as heterosexuality, because heterosexuality is the norm." He doesn't present any arguments. "We are just religious people who believe that God created woman for man and man for woman." 2 And for feminism there's no place in his world. "I do not hide that in our culture conservative family values are very important. Also for girls who go out working now, but who would rather take care of their children. Our girls are not indoctrinated by feminism." 1 In these issues, the Arab nationalist Abou Jahjah agrees very much with his Flamish nationalist colleagues from the Vlaams Blok. "Many women who now work, would rather be married and live as mothers. The Vlaams Blok maybe a racist and fascist party, but on several points they are right." 2

Abou Jahjah first became known after organizing fierce anti-Israel demonstrations in 2002 in Antwerp and Brussels. "Antwerp is the stronghold of Zionism in Europe and must therefore become the Mecca of pro-Palestinian action. There's no better place in Europe to demonstrate for Palestine than in a city where the pro-Sharon gangs of the zionist fanatics dictate the law", he declared.3 The night before one of the demonstrations unknown persons threw a firebomb at a synagogue. And at the demonstrations support was regularly voiced for Bin Laden and Hamas. Also windows of Jewish shops were smashed and one time even a doll with orthodox Jewish hair dress was burned. Whoever criticized this "anti-Zionism" was a "slavish follower of the Zionists", according to Abou Jahjah. "The zionists are the nazis of our time", he often proclaims. In the eighties Abou Jahjah joined the armed struggle against the Israeli army in Libanon. Several sources claim he was a member of Hezbollah at the time.1 It doesn't come as a surprise then that he refuses to dissociate himself from other Muslimfundamentalist organisations such as Jihad and Hamas. That means a lot. According to Hamas, "the Jews" were behind the French, all communist and all other revolutions. And that's not all: "No war ever broke out anywhere without their fingerprint on it", one can read in the covenant of Hamas. According to that document Hamas considers the anti-Semitic fake "The Protocolls of the Learned Elders of Zion" as proof of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Hamas even claims that the Zionists are behind feminism leading women away from their real life fulfillment such as housework, and the bearing and raising of Muslimchildren.4

Arab soil

The AEL strives for "the establishment of a federal Arab state on all Arab soil. That state is the ultimate goal of the national struggle of the Arab people." To the League the "Arab-Islamic civilization" is most important. "All Arabs belong to that civilization, whether they are Muslims or not, and it is the duty of all Arabs to defend the two most important components of their identity: Arabism and Islam." 5 It shouldn't come as a surprise that the AEL takes sides with Saddam Hussein, who is also an Arab nationalist. Abou Jahjah therefore organized together with three other activists the anti-war demonstration "Stop USAgression" on November 10th in Brussels. Several thousand people participated. "The war against Irak is also a war against the Arab nation and against Palestine", Abou Jahjah said at that demonstration. He spoke of "the so called dictatorship of Saddam Hussein". Union leader Roberto D'orazio was one of the other three organizers. "In Palestine and in Irak I support two people: Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein", he said. Indymedia Belgium chief Han Soete also participated in organizing. On his website he claimed without a trace of irony that Irak has proved to be a democracy because Hussein was elected with 100 percent of the votes. Soete is also a member of the Belgian Stalinist Party PvdA. From that party also came the fourth organizer: Zohra Otman. In April 2002 her party had sent a delegation to Irak. Arriving home the leader of the group was asked if they had any criticism on the regime. Yes, he answered, the collecting of refuse could have been organized better. So much for Abou Jahjah's Belgian comrades.6

The best known Arab nationalist in history is probably Gamal Abd Al Nasser, who was president of Egypt from 1952 until 1970. Abou Jahjah greatly admirers Nasser, and has put some of his speeches on the AEL website. What does that say about Abou Jahjah's ideas? At first Nasser was a member of the Muslimfundamentalist Brotherhood. When he grabbed power he immediately prohibited all political parties. During his regime Egypt was a refuge to a whole series of German Nazi's. They were employed by the secret services, training centers for commandos propaganda departments or for instance as advisor at the ministry of foreign affairs. Nasser himself employed a former member of the SS as bodyguard. He furthermore had Hitlers "Mein Kampf" translated in Arabic and said on may 1st 1964: "During the Second Worldwar our sympathy was with the Germans, and no one believes the lie of the six million killed Jews anyway." Het also considered the fake "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" to be real. "This text proves beyond doubt that 300 Zionists, who all know each other, decide on the fate of the European continent", claimed Nasser. "Our main goal is to destroy Israel", he used to say.7

Black Panthers

Abou Jahjah also praises the Black Panthers to the sky. Ironically Panther founder Huey Newton strongly disliked Abou Jahjah's type of nationalism: "Cultural nationalism, or pork chop nationalism, as I sometimes call it, is basically a problem of having the wrong political perspective. It seems to be a reaction instead of responding to political oppression. The cultural nationalists are concerned with returning to the old African culture and thereby regaining their identity and freedom. In other words, they feel that the African culture will automatically bring political freedom. Many times cultural nationalists fall into line as reactionary nationalists." 8 Let's hope Abou Jahjah and his comrades have a good look at the Panther website they have linked the AEL-website to. That would be very educational for them. The Panther website pays a lot of attention to "the ways in which Black Panther women members redefined the function of gender in the historically male-dominated civil rights movement; addressing male chauvinism and homophobia through education; the contributions of lesbians and gay men".9

Like the Black Panthers Abou Jahjah recently formed patrols that keep an eye on the Antwerp police and give arrested immigrant youths information about their rights. That was a response to the plans of the city of Antwerp to be more repressive to Moroccan boys. A large part of the Antwerp police corps has sympathy for the Vlaams Blok, and is openly racist against immigrants. Moroccan boys are often beaten up and sometimes even dragged over the streets by cops. The AEL patrols could place the misconduct of police officers in the center of the debate instead of the Moroccan youth. Unfortunately this idea didn't come up from Leftwing organisations of immigrants.