In the wake of these events, all fingers point at one man, deemed responsible for the series of events. Fouad Belkacem, the spokesperson for the radical organisation Sharia4Belgium, is believed to have incited hatred against non-Muslims over the internet, something he was already convicted of last year. Belkacem has now become public enemy number one in the press and political circles, though most Muslims consider him to be nothing but a troublemaker.
The attention Belkacem has received recalls similar events in 2002, when a Muslim teacher was killed in the Antwerp district of Borgerhout. The racist murder sparked several nights of rioting. In the wake of those events, all fingers pointed at one man, deemed responsible. Dyab Abou Jahjah, the spokesperson for the radical organisation Arabisch-Europese Liga (AEL) was believed to have incited the rioting youth, though he was later acquitted.
In 2002, Abou Jahjah became public enemy number one, leading to one of the most remarkable episodes in Belgian politics when then prime minister Guy Verhofstadt announced Abou Jahjah’s arrest. To this day, there is discussion over whether this formed a breach in the separation of the judicial and executive powers.
In the months before the Borgerhout riots, Abou Jahjah had become a controversial public figure. Eloquent, outspoken and with the looks of a Middle Eastern film star, the media could not get enough of him. He seized the opportunity to talk about racism and the growing unrest with the youth of Moroccan descent. In his 2005 novel Los, Flemish journalist Tom Naegels portrays Abou Jahjah as an exemplary product of integration, with only his love of Chris De Burgh as a slightly odd reminder of his Lebanese roots.
Ten years on, opinions about Abou Jahjah have evolved. Yes, his ideas were radical, but at least he was intelligent, open to discussion and a democrat too, none of which can be said of the caricature Belkacem. Before he moved to Lebanon two years ago, Abou Jahjah warned that something much worse than AEL would rise up. Is this what he was talking about?