Belgium: Racist murder in Antwerp leads to riots

On the 26 November Mohamed Achrak, a 27 year old teacher from Moroccan origin was shot in Borgerhout, one of the poorest areas of Antwerp. It is almost certain that this is a case of racist murder. A spontaneous protest action of immigrant youth met with severe police-repression and ended up in riots with over 200 being arrested. The press, while focussing on the riots, has absolutely no attention for the huge social problems on the origin of these recent events.

A racist murder in Antwerp has led to serious riots. Below is the statement of the LSP/MAS (Linkse Socialistische Partij – Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste, Belgian section of the CWI) and some additional updates on the situation. CWI online.

Racist murder in Antwerp leads to riots

Stop poverty – Stop racism

Where does the anger come from?

The social problems aren’t new. More and more people are confronted with poverty and unemployment. For every five inhabitants in Borgerhout, one is dependant on state benefits to get a minimum income (which is even below the unemployment benefits). But these problems are no priority for the Antwerp city council. They prefer to focus on prestigious projects such as a new museum or a new court building, while at the same time serious cuts in the social sector have been announced. There is a threat to sack 200 social workers and the budget of the social sector would go down with between 38% and 46%. On top of this the unemployment in Antwerp is twice as high as in most other Flemish cities. This leads to criminality and other problems in the poorest neighbourhoods.

Confronted with this situation the policy of the city council is to copy the rhetoric of the neo-fascist Vlaams Blok, the biggest party in Antwerp with 33% of the vote. For example a police plan to fight criminal acts in Borgerhout received the name "integrated plan Moroccans". This is clearly an attempt to blame one group of victims of the present system, something that does not offer a future to the many people suffering problems caused by that system. The council stimulates the division between poor Belgians and poor immigrants. It is in such a situation that we see racist murders taking place.

Democratic control on the police

We understand the anger of many immigrant youth. The question however is in which way we can fight back, without causing opposition from the rest of the population and without giving extra reasons to the police to be even more repressive. Everyone understands the anger against a murder. But seeing your shop window smashed makes that this understanding is very quickly disappearing. It furthermore is being used by the city council to announce zero-tolerance.

Contrary to those figures that are now brought forward in the press as so-called official spokespersons of the immigrant community, the Arab European Ligue (AEL, an Arab activist group) recognizes a lot of the real concerns of immigrants. It is generally known that at police controls there’s often racism. Immigrants are more frequently stopped by the police to check their legal identity. The police have managed to get a very negative reputation. The violence against the Antwerp demonstrations in opposition to the war in Palestine is an example of this. The intervention of the police has to be investigated. It is the task of the police to avoid riots, not to cause them. Today the police heavily attack the immigrants; tomorrow this can be the case against Dockers who are on strike or other workers.

Fighting together for jobs, health care and education – against the strategy of divide and rule

The AEL has won a lot of support in a short period of time. The spokesperson of the AEL, Dyab Abou Jahjah said on television: "We can’t find a job, a house and a school for our children. There’s no political party that finds this important enough to take it up in its program." It is correct that it isn’t easy to find a job, especially not if your name is Ali or Muhamed.

The traditional parties are always talking about integration of immigrants, but they’re not capable to create the conditions for it. Everyone has right on a decent job, education and health service. Both immigrants and Belgians are victims of cuts and unemployment. But immigrants are presented as being those responsible for this. It however is clear that it’s not the immigrants, but this government that privatises our services and makes our schools more expensive. It is the bosses worldwide who close factories to bring the production to countries with low wages (which in many cases are the countries where refugees come from). A strategy of divide and rule makes us weaker. We have to fight together against our common problems.

While the AEL is pointing out the real problems, it still is unclear what its solution is. There have been brought conservative positions forward by AEL spokespeople on issues like the family, the role of women, gay people,… The AEL also did not offer any reply to extreme reactionary Islamic tendencies that were present at its demonstrations. On the other hand the AEL is managing to make the idea of ’self-organisation’ popular, something that is a positive element.

The AEL has started to organise its own patrols to control the police. The bourgeois press was protesting very loudly and demands an immediate ban on the "private militias" of the AEL. Again they remain silent on the question why a lot of immigrants have no confidence in the police and find it necessary to start controlling the police themselves.

The introduction of zero-tolerance and the hard repression against the protests this week make clear that the city council wants to criminalise every protest. We have to question who controls the police. Officially the police are there to defend our safety, but then why haven’t we got anything to say on the police? A democratic control on the police organised by the people (immigrants, trade union activists, youth, unemployed,…) should be normal.

Which way forward?

The LSP/MAS understands the anger and frustration amongst many immigrants in Antwerp. We have to turn the anger into actions and movements that are able to realise effective changes.

Without forgetting the specific problems of immigrants, the resistance has to be broader through a movement that offers a programme that replies to the problems of social housing, education, the cuts in the social sector in Antwerp,… Such a program has to be based on solidarity of workers and youth, independent of their origin. It is only by a joint fight of the working class in opposition to the system of which we’re all victims, that we can reach something.

In the past a lot of workers and youth looked at the social democracy (now called SPA) to make steps forward. This party today has abandoned those who built the party. Instead of offering a socialist alternative, this party is following the same neo-liberal logic of other bourgeois parties. The result of this policy has become clear in the past days. We can however change this. Belgian and immigrant workers and youth have to build their own political instrument. LSP/MAS wants to play a role in building such a political instrument. Help us doing this and join our party!

Comments and updates

Police repression

"Tonight about a 100 youth came together at the Turnhoutsebaan in Borgerhout to protest against yesterday’s racist murder. As soon as there was a group of youth there, the police started to pass by every few seconds. There were fully equipped policemen, robocops, present. The spontaneous action tonight was attacked very hard. At a certain point negotiations between police and youth started, but at that very moment the police used pepper spray against the youth wanting to negotiate".

Micha, who was in Borgerhout on the 27 November

Dyab Abou Jah Jah arrested

The attempts to criminalise the AEL and the whole immigrant community are taking unseen proportions. When popular discontent leads to actions, the only solution of the establishment is repression. The arrest of Abou Jahjah is an example of that. He was arrested the evening before the funeral of the murdered Mohamed Achrak, what indicates the political motives for the arrest.

This event is an attack on the democratic rights to protest against the establishment. It rather makes us think of dictatorships where any opposition meets hard repression. The fact that Prime Minister Verhofstadt announced the arrest few hours earlier in a debate in parliament indicates that it is a political move.

29 November


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December 2002