In Glasgow, a Turkish Kurd refugee is seeking compensation from the Home Office, claiming a decision to force him to stay in the city where he and his family have been the victims of racist attacks breaches his human rights. In Paris, a young Algerian woman is suing her employer for unlawful dismissal after she was fired for refusing to adjust her headscarf. Europe is home to some 12.5 million Muslims who suffer high unemployment and, since Sept. 11 growing mistrust from non-Muslims. One sign of the tension came when the French government tried to create a representative council for French Islam. French Muslim organizations were set to choose their representatives last June, but Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy canceled the elections. The reason: the vote would have given the majority to the Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF), a federation representing the majority of France's 1,500 mosques. The UOIF is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood the most powerful opposition force in Egyptian politics which supports the right of Muslim women to wear headscarves in public schools, something France won't allow. Europe has a long way to go before Islam is just another faith. But a young generation of Muslims is speaking out against racism, Islamophobia and Islam's own rigidities. Here are four of this generation's most compelling voices.
The Belgian government picked a fight with the wrong man. Lebanese-born political activist Dyab Abou Jahjah is charismatic, good-looking, articulate and brash and he may have a point. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt accused Abou Jahjah and his Arab European League of inciting the street riots in Antwerp that followed the murder last month of 27-year-old Moroccan schoolteacher Mohammed Achrak by a 66-year-old mentally ill Belgian man. But Abou Jahjah turned Verhofstadt's allegations into a trial of Belgian attitudes toward the country's 400,000 Muslims. Are Muslims second-class citizens? What will the government do to fight rising racial tension? And why do many second-generation Muslim Belgians still not feel at home?
The situation is especially dire in Antwerp, where unemployment in many immigrant communities hovers around 30%. Under the slogan "Our People First," the far-right Vlaams Blok (Flemish Bloc) garnered one-third of the vote in the last municipal elections in October 2000. Abou Jahjah gives Belgium's Muslims a radical voice to counter the Blok. He showed up at the scene of Achrak's murder barely 30 minutes after the crime; what happened next is in dispute. Abou Jahjah claims he tried to calm angry Muslims, who rioted for two nights. The police arrested him, saying he was responsible for the fighting, but an Antwerp court ruled last week that there was insufficient evidence to hold him.
Two days after his release, Abou Jahjah relaxes in the downtown Antwerp apartment of his lieutenant, 26-year-old Ahmed Azzuz. In jeans, navy blue sweater and socks, he looks like a graduate student taking a study break. He says he dreams of a pan-European coalition of Arab Muslims with the power to force European governments to reckon with Islamic communities. "We have three basic demands," he says. "Bilingual education for Arab-speaking kids, hiring quotas that protect Muslims, and the right to keep our cultural customs. For example, there should be laws that prevent discrimination against women who wear the veil."
Abou Jahjah founded the Arab European League two years ago; it now claims close to 1,000 members across Europe. He is not anti-American; in fact, he admires anti-discrimination laws in the U.S. "America's race laws are more advanced than here," he says. "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. I'm a practicing Muslim but I'm not a freak. I'm not a fundamentalist."
According to immigration records, Abou Jahjah arrived in Belgium from Lebanon in 1991 as an asylum seeker. On his application form, he claimed that he had belonged to Hizballah and was fleeing after a dispute with militia leaders. "That was a lie," he says now. "I was a 19-year-old boy and I had to make up a story so I could get asylum. I emigrated because I wanted a better life." During the 1990s, he studied international politics at university in Louvain-la-Neuve and settled in Antwerp, doing odd jobs for immigrant organizations and trade unions. He's currently unemployed, but says he's working on a doctoral thesis.
Among some parts of Belgian society, he's one of the country's most hated men. "He should be thrown in jail for good," says Philippe Schaffer, a mechanic who runs a garage around the corner from where Achrak was killed. Civil-rights activist or self-interested agitator? Abou Jahjah may be a little bit of both. But Belgians shouldn't expect him to quiet down anytime soon he's running for Parliament in June. By JOHN MILLER/Antwerp
The six policemen who woke shaker Assem and his family early on the morning of Nov. 12 were polite and respectful. "Maybe they knocked a little too loudly on the door, but otherwise they were very professional," he says. The surprise visit to Assem's Duisberg flat was one of a score of searches carried out across Germany that morning, as police raided homes and offices belonging to members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party), a 50-year-old pan-Islamic political organization that seeks to establish a modern version of the caliphate that ruled parts of the Arab world from Muhammad's death until 1924, when Turkey's Kemal Atatürk officially laid it to rest.
The police visited Assem, Hizb ut-Tahrir's "representative member" in Germany, as part of their investigation of the group. They took away documents and computer discs, but Assem was not arrested. German authorities are worried that the group's anticapitalist and anti-American rhetoric could incite terrorism, though no one has accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of violence. "We've been watching them for years," says a German intelligence official. "What concerns us is that they've got a lot of support among extremists at universities, although they also appear to be nonviolent."