Published 10 November 05
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
The shifting direction of the war on terror
"This is the beginning of the war!" a French Muslim boy called out in the middle of the riots in Le Blanc Mesnil, just north of Paris.
But is it? Or was the war really going on already?
Few Americans have heard of him, but in Europe, more and more are becoming familiar with the name – and the ideas – of Dyab Abou Jahjah, founder of the now-international Arab European League (AEL) and the Muslim Democratic Party. Handsome, charismatic, well-educated, and multilingual, he has the perfect makings of a political leader, or perhaps better said, a man poised to lead a revolution. And he knows it.
More to the point: as the fury of Muslim youth explodes across the landscape of Western Europe, it's time that others know it, too.
The AEL, first founded in Belgium in 2000 – in other words, before September 2001 – now has branches in the Netherlands and France, and intends to spread across the E.U., with plans to participate in future European Parliamentary elections as the Muslim Democratic Party. With battle cries like "Whatever Means Necessary" and frequent condemnations of America, Jahjah – who called the 9/11 attacks "sweet revenge" – recruits Muslim youth to spread his ideology, a vague series of ideas that occasionally appear moderate, but when added together, call for violent resistance, the destruction of Israel, and the introduction of Sharia (Islamic) law in Europe.
Most recently, Jahjah issued a public statement supporting Iranian president Ahmadinejad's declaration calling for Israel to be wiped off the face of the map. "The foundation of Ahmadinejad's reasoning is intellectually defendable," he writes in English (the statement in its entirety can be found here) "and despite the fact that his regime is no perfect example of political morality, I argue that his position on this matter is the only possible moral one." (Ironically, the man slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh once called "a pimp for Allah" continues his rant with mention of a "mythical racial-religious holy promise by some god in some religious book" – by which, of course, he means the Old Testament. Despite such statements, Jahjah repeatedly insists he has "nothing against the Jews.")
I've thought a lot about Jahjah the last few days: Jahjah who never condemned the killing of van Gogh by a Dutch Muslim fundamentalist; Jahjah who finds the destruction of Israel "the only possible moral" option; Jahjah who has on several occasions incited riots on the streets of Antwerp and now defends the ongoing rioting of Muslim youth outside of Paris. I've thought of Jahjah as Muslim youths riot, too, in Arhus, Denmark, presumably in protest against the publication in a national newspaper of a cartoon drawing of Mohammed.
(Question: why is it that when a political leader in Western Europe refers to the Old Testament as "some religious book," it's all right, but when a Western European newspaper publishes a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed it brings international protest from across the Muslim world and rioting within the country?)
I've though of Jahjah in all of this because his influence on European Muslim youth – men and women ages 18-30, mostly – has been significant enough that the Dutch intelligence service traces the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism and extremism in the Netherlands in no small measure straight back to the AEL.
And I think of this fact every day lately as I walk the streets of my mostly-Muslim neighborhood: because suddenly, now, as an American Jew, if I normally wore a star of David or a chai around my neck, after Jahjah's declaration I would be too frightened to be seen with it on the street.
And the thing is, I have friends in my neighborhood – good people, kind people, women with headscarves and without them, men in Western dress or djallaba. They, too, are the victims of the Mohammad Attas, the Ahadi Nahjads, the Abou Jahjahs of the world. In some ways, they suffer most of all.
So he scares me, Dyab Abou Jahjah, and not just because when I wrote an article about him a year or so ago, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, herself under protective guard, called me after it was published to be sure I was okay.
Dyab Abou Jahjah scares me because as one man he can – and does – destroy the individuality of so many. While we remind ourselves repeatedly that the Mohamed Bouyeris and Mohammed Attas of the world are only individuals – and that's true – the danger is that the number of those individuals is increasing like brushfire, in large part through the encouragement and cheering of Abou Jahjah and others like him – those who pretend to be "moderate" enough to gain legitimacy, and then ignite the anger of others, many of whom even were moderate when they first came to the AEL, but don't stay that way for long.
And so we start to see them as a mass: we look at the rioters in Paris and become afraid of Muslims. Not just these Muslims, but all the Muslims in the Paris environs, and by extension, all the Muslims in French-speaking Belgium and all the Muslims in the north and all the Muslims in the Netherlands and so on. And we go back again to "us" and "them" – "the Muslims," as if they were all one entity, and the rest of us.
This is what is going on outside of Paris and in Arhus, in Brussels and Berlin, even as I write. This is what goes on when the AEL holds meetings – closed to non-Muslims – in Rotterdam or Brussels, stirring whatever vulnerability, whatever latent anger (and what adolescent boy hasn't some of that? Then multiply it by poverty and alienation and see what happens) he can touch in the hearts of his audiences. Individual by individual, they become a group: they find the identity, the unity, the belonging that they crave, within that group: they become an "us," and the rest of us, of course, are "them."
This, too, is how it worked in Clichy: there was nothing spontaneous about these eruptions, officials announced after a week of ongoing chaos, a week of arson and shattered windows and a woman set on fire. "It was a good excuse," one 15-year-old boy in Clichy-sous-Bois told the New York Times, "but it's fun to set cars on fire." In Arhus, demonstrators said they'd been planning their uprising for weeks – possibly, that is, even before the paper published the cartoons. (That a group of suspected Danish-Muslim terrorists were arrested in Denmark at around that time may or may not be relevant.) And though Abou Jahjah does not appear to be a part of the French or Danish fury as he was three years ago in Antwerp, he supports it.
If it weren't so phenomenally dangerous, so despicably horrific, it almost could be comical: a continent of disenfranchised youth furious because they've been indoctrinated to believe they ought to be, but thoroughly confused when it comes to defining why. An example of this struck me in the revelation last weekend by Dutch intelligence that a suspected terrorist and member of a Dutch terrorist organization, the Hofstadgroep, had planned to attack an El-Al Jet at Holland's Schiphol airport. But the gesture was aimed, not at Israelis, according to his statement, but the Dutch: "Here," he said, meaning Holland, "we aim to spill your blood."
In fact, it seems to me, the reason comes down, in the end, to "anything that will work," which is to say, whatever it takes to incite Muslim youth to battle against all that is not Islamic. It is fortunate that the majority of Muslim youth do not fall for this, the way that the majority of inner-city youth do not land themselves in youth gangs. But the numbers that do are increasing, and they are increasing in large measure, I would argue, because of people like Dyab Abou Jahjah, who attain legitimacy with talk of moderation (when it suits them) in order to encourage – behind closed doors, in non-European languages – riots, rebellion, and violence instead.
There is, however, another side of this story. Recently, reporters from the Dutch newspaper de Trouw interviewed Faysal Ramsis, one of several young men who have taken on the task of turning their compatriots away from the radicalization that has here become so chic, so ultimately cool. The son of Moroccan immigrants, Faysal was forbidden to attend the mosque as a child because, as he told the Trouw, his parents feared he'd be "indoctrinated."
"Whether you go to a traditional Moroccan mosque, with a barely educated imam, or a radical, activist mosque, it makes no difference," they told him. "In the one case they keep you dumb; in the other, they make you aggressive."
Only later, while trying to understand the conflicts between the Dutch natives and Holland's Muslim population, did he begin visiting mosques to discover for himself what actually went on there. And what "went on," he told the Trouw, was, indeed, indoctrination: That Satan would creep under your fingernails if you didn't cut them, that women should be repressed, and animosity toward "unbelievers." Now, via his two web sites (both in Dutch) – http://www.gramschap.nl/islam/Islam%20Anders.html and http://islamforum.vrijspraak.org/ – he works to change these impressions – and to assure those who feel as he does that they are not alone.
Can men like Faysal prevail against the fury and the violence, the burning cars and homes and buses on the streets of European cities? We have to hope they can. If they need support, we must be prepared to provide it. If they need subsidies; governments, corporations, and individuals must be ready to step in.
Because while America has been looking elsewhere, the war on terror has rapidly been shifting its direction. No longer are the dangers restricted to the caves of Tora Bora, but have filled the streets of European capitals. And if we start paying closer attention to what happens there – and only on those very streets of those same European cities – can the war – and peace – be won.
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2005 Abigail R. Esman
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of World Defense Review and its affiliates. WDR accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy or inaccuracy of the content of this or any other story published on this website. Copyright and all rights for this story (and all other stories by the author) are held by the author.