Dyab Abou Jahjah

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Dyab Abou Jahjah in 2008.

Dyab Abou Jahjah (born 24 June 1971 in Hanin, Lebanon) is an Arab political activist and writer who was active in Europe between 2001 and 2007. He is the founder and former leader of the Arab European League (AEL), a Pan-Arabist movement that supports the interests of Muslim immigrants in Europe. Since then, Abou Jahjah took distance from identity politics and is more operating out of a non-ethnic, secular and leftist framework.

Personal life[edit]

He was born and grew up in southern Lebanon in Hanin, near the Lebanese-Israeli border. He holds a Masters degree in political science from the Université catholique de Louvain.

He has written several books among them an autobiography titled "Between Two Worlds - the Roots of a Freedom Fight" that sold 7000 copies in Belgium and the Netherlands. He was also the subject of two political biographies, one written by Mohamed Benzakour and the other by Maroun Labaki, and a political analysis book written by the Belgian renowned writer Ludo De Witte.[1]

Move to Belgium[edit]

In 1991, at the age of 19, Abou Jahjah left Lebanon. "I wanted to go abroad like a lot of Lebanese young people".[2] Abou Jahjah studied at the renowned UCL university in Louvain la Neuve and obtained a Masters degree in political science and International relations. After several odd jobs during his study time, including factory work and construction labour, he became the director of vzw Welkom, the Immigrant working body for the Belgian ABVV trade Union.[3]

Political views[edit]

Abou Jahjah is a Social democrat and moderate Muslim, although he later revealed that he is rather a Muslim by culture and agnostic on faith.[4] He is an opponent of assimilation. He wants immigrants to be treated as full citizens who can keep their own culture, rather than being treated as guests. He was compared to the American human rights activist Malcolm X, who was also a Muslim and also opposed assimilation and the melting pot model of integration. He sees the integration of Armenians in Lebanon as the ideal model. He has said that, "America's race laws are more advanced than here. I have relatives in Detroit and they are Arab-Americans but they feel American. I don't feel European. Europe needs to make its concept of citizenship inclusive to all cultures and religions.

Arab European League[edit]

In 2000 Abou Jahjah founded the Arab European League in Antwerp, a city with a large Muslim population. He was a candidate for the AEL in the Belgian parliamentary elections in 2003. The AEL did not win any seats but the list received 17604 votes.[5] Early in 2006 Abou Jahjah announced that he will no longer be leading the AEL nor holding a leadership position.[citation needed].

Sabra and Shatila[edit]

In 2001, Abou Jahjah founded the Sabra and Shatila committee, which brought a lawsuit against former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his alleged role in massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Israel-Lebanon war in the early 1980s.[6]

9/11[edit]

He said of Arab reaction to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks that "Most of us ... felt that day something that can not be described as joy, or as happiness, but rather as that sweet revenge feeling. We all had – except that small minority- a “what goes around comes around’” attitude", but he continued that "Now, almost two months after the eleventh of September, we see things clear(er). It is terrible how criminals can cause by their acts the misery for so many people, people of their own kind and people of their alleged enemy. How violence will breed violence that will breed more violence".[7]

Controversies[edit]

Arrest[edit]

Abou Jahjah was arrested and detained for several days in 2002 after he allegedly organized riots and called for violence. The riots broke out in Borgerhout, a district of Antwerp, after a 27-year old Belgian-Moroccan was shot by his Flemish neighbor. He was acquitted from all charges on October 21, 2008. A police officer who was watching him the night of the riots said that Abou Jahjah is innocent and that the evidence against him was fabricated.[8] His arrest sparked sharp debates and dominated Belgian politics for months. He gained a lot of support among Belgian intellectuals and academics and was considered as a political prisoner. 300 personalities signed a petition demanding a more moderate approach by the government in dealing with the AEL and the issue of immigration and discrimination in the country. The case became a famous example of demonization of political activists and violation of the separation of powers. The Abou Jahjah affaire is still taught as a case study in some law schools in Belgium and Holland.

Theo van Gogh[edit]

In the Netherlands, Abou Jahjah had a row with the late film director Theo van Gogh, who was known for his opposition to Islam. After van Gogh, who was supposed to be the moderator of a debate between him and Boris Dietrich, insulted Abou Jahjah by calling him "de pooier van de profeet" ("the prophet's pimp") in front of an audience of 1000 people, Abou Jahjah left the room and refused to continue considering that a moderator should be neutral and not insult the guests. His opponent that day Boris Dietrich declared his sympathy to his position and his dismay to the behavior of Van Gogh.[9]

2006 Israel-Lebanon war[edit]

In July 2006 he announced that he would be going to Lebanon to help in whatever way he can defending his country against the attack by Israeli forces.[10] In response, Vlaams Belang leader Filip Dewinter called on the Belgian government to revoke Abou Jahjah's citizenship.[citation needed]

He wrote a book on the Israel-Lebanon war called "Diary Brussels Beirut".[11]

Return to Lebanon[edit]

Since 2007 Abou Jahjah settled in Lebanon and focused on his management carrier as a CEO of a large BPO company. He continued visiting Europe regularly to speak at meetings and media shows. The VRT, the Belgian-Flemish state television was even accused of sympathising with him and promoting him after it became known that the TV station paid his airplane ticket and hotel costs to attend the famous Belgian talk show Phara.[12] He is considered an authority on issues of immigration, and the Arab world. After the Arab spring, that Abou Jahjah supports adamantly, he gained intellectual credit in the West as someone who has always defended the opinion that revolution is inevitable in the Arab world. In 2008 a group of Flemish students videotaped an interview with him in which he was speaking in details about revolution in Egypt and elsewhere and expected it to happen within 5 years. Parts of the video were later shown on Belgian Television.[13] The dominating opinion in Belgium and Holland is that Abou Jahjah and his AEL were a chance to build a better understanding between communities, and that chance was missed. Many argue today that it would have been much easier and more productive to dialogue with a democrat like Abou Jahjah instead of the religious groups that appeared after he left Europe. This opinion has been outed by many people including former rivals, like former prime minister Verhofstad, the man who decreed his arrest.[14]

Popular Culture[edit]

During the year of 2002 Abou Jahjah was the most mentioned name in the Belgian Media, exceeding reference of the prime minister and the king.[15] He became a household name in Belgium and in the Netherlands, and this was reflected in hundreds of caricatures and satires. He was played by the Comedian Paul Groot in the Dutch comedy show Kopspijkers.[16] He was also a main character in the best selling novel Los of writer Tom Nagels who was later filmed in a movie directed by Jan Verheyen.[17] The name "Abou Jahjah" also was used as a protest slogan by Antwerp dock workers during a strike in clashes with the Police. It was also sang by supporters of football club RSC Anderlecht in its clashes with rivals Royal Antwerp, as a tool to provoke the Antwerp supporters. The supporters of Feyenoord Rotterdam were also using flags of the AEL to provoke the supporters of Ajax Amsterdam who use Israeli flags.

Debating skills[edit]

Abou Jahjah was called by Roderiek van Grieken of the Dutch debating institute a "perfect pure talent" in debating.[18] Also as a solo speaker, Abou Jahjah drew very large crowds and could galvanize them to his causes. The renowned linguist Professor C. Delantsheer wrote a chapter on Abou Jahjah's rhetoric in a book published by Cambridge university in 2007.[19] He had also presented a paper on the power of metaphors in the discourse of Abou Jahjah and presented it to an academical congress in Sweden.[20]

Return to Belgium[edit]

In September 2013 Abou Jahjah returned to Belgium due to the dire security situation in Lebanon. He declared that for the time being he choses the security of his children over all other considerations. Upon his return, several opinion makers wrote articles welcoming him back. He declared that he will be founding a new movement that will seek to defend equal rights and social justice. From January 2014 he became a weekly columnist at the prestigious newspaper "De Standaard". Soon after he was chosen as the 4th most influential Belgian of foreign origin by the Magazine "Knack" Only preceded by Prime minister Di Rupo, Meyrem Almaci and Vincent Kompany.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.aboujahjah.org/-books.html
  2. ^ Simons, Marlise (2003-03-01). "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; An Outspoken Arab in Europe: Demon or Hero?". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-europe_islam/article_1908.jsp
  4. ^ http://www.standaardboekhandel.be/seo/nl/boeken/boeken_geschiedenis_hedendaagsetijd/9789085420965/Dyab+Abou+Jahjah/Dagboek+Beiroet-Brussel
  5. ^ http://verkiezingen2003.belgium.be/electionshome/nl/result/senate/table_top.html
  6. ^ Howeidy, Amira (12–18 July 2001). "Against the gray". Al-Ahram. Retrieved 2009-03-27. 
  7. ^ Abou Jahjah, Dyab (November 2001). "Our Collateral damage, and theirs!". Media Monitors Network. Retrieved 2009-03-27. 
  8. ^ Wankele bewijzen tegen Abou Jahjah - België - nieuws - Knack.be
  9. ^ Parool, May 10, 2004
  10. ^ Move to Lebanon, AEL website
  11. ^ http://www.standaardboekhandel.be/seo/nl/boeken/boeken_geschiedenis_hedendaagsetijd/9789085420965/Dyab+Abou+Jahjah/Dagboek+Beiroet-Brussel
  12. ^ http://www.vlaamsbelang.be/nieuws/8819/
  13. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3QLFONSZlA
  14. ^ http://www.demorgen.be/dm/nl/2461/Opinie/article/detail/285003/2008/05/22/Abou-Jahjah-een-gemiste-kans-voor-Vlaanderen.dhtml
  15. ^ http://www.standaardboekhandel.be/seo/nl/boeken/boeken_mensmaatschappij_socialewetenschappen/9789056175276/Ludo+Witte/Wie+is+bang+voor+moslims%3F
  16. ^ http://humortv.vara.nl/pa.321.cabaret-abu-jahjah-balkenende-beatrix.html
  17. ^ http://www.amazon.com/Jan-Verheyen-Los-Pepijn-Caudron/dp/7508453034
  18. ^ http://www.benzakour.nl/materiaal/html/Art__Jahjah-Donner_Zemzem.html
  19. ^ De Landtsheer, C. (2007). Crisis style or radical rhetoric? The speech by Dyab Abou Jahjah, leader of the Arab European League (AEL). In C. Hart, C., & D. Lukes, D. (Eds.), Cognitive Linguistics and Critical Discourse Studies (pp. 57-80). Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press
  20. ^ De Landtsheer, C. (2004). Integrative complexity, metaphor power and modality in the rhetoric of Dyab Abou Jahjah, leader of the Arab European League (AEL). Paper 27th Conference ISPP, Lund, Sweden, 15–18 July 2004.

External links[edit]