'Belgian Malcolm X' seeks office
Even as Europe's Islamic population rises, many Muslims feel marginalized and uncertain of their place in European society.
Editor's Note: First in a two-part series: To Be Muslim in Europe. On Monday, a profile of a more moderate leader.
To his supporters, Dyab Abou Jahjah is a hero, a champion of Europe's Muslim immigrant underclass.
But to many Belgians, the young, Lebanese-born activist embodies the Continent's growing fear of extremism within its Muslim population.
Now, the man sometimes called the "Belgian Malcolm X" is trying to make the leap from activism to political office: He is running for a parliamentary seat in a heated election Sunday in which immigration is a pivotal issue.
Mr. Abou Jahjah's confrontational style is forcing Belgians to consider questions echoing elsewhere in Europe: Are immigrants welcome? What does it mean to be a European?
Railing against high minority unemployment and government inertia, Abou Jahjah says he wants to form a Continent-wide political movement to defend Muslim rights.
"I am not going to be docile, I am not going to tell you what you want to hear," he says repeatedly in public appearances, separating himself from mainstream moderate Muslim politicians who have emphasized integration.
Handsome, clean-shaven, often dressed in jeans, Abou Jahjah is a charismatic debater. With a master's degree in international politics and fluency in four languages, he has all the right European credentials.
Since founding the Arab European League (AEL) two years ago, he has attracted a following of thousands of jobless, frustrated young immigrants who feel shut out by mainstream European society.
The AEL now has growing branches in France and the Netherlands.
"He says what we all think," says Hafid, an unemployed Moroccan-Belgian from Borgerhout, an impoverished immigrant neighborhood in the port city of Antwerp. "They don't want us in Belgium. They call us monkeys. But we were born here. This is our country, too. But what do we get? Everybody thinks we are terrorists and criminals."
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