01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3

Islam Interview with Magdi Allam

Religious Freedom
The Point of Departure

The cartoons against Muhammad, the murder of Fr. Andrea, the reaction of the West, and the Italian Council for Islam.
What is happening in the relationship with the Islamic world? We discussed the situation with the Assistant Editor of the most important Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Magdi Allam

edited by Alessandro Banfi

Magdi Allam, who defines himself as a secular Muslim and an Italian citizen, is certainly the opinion leader who is most listened to today in Italy on relations between the West and the Arab and Islamic world. He very willingly accepted Traces’ invitation to discuss the latest, dramatic events that have involved our country and Europe.

Magdi, let’s start with the crisis of the cartoons satirizing Islam.
First of all, it should be clarified that the cartoons were done by Danish cartoonists in a Danish newspaper, and were published last year on September 30th. These Danish cartoonists and the newspaper exercised a legitimate right, that of freedom of expression, one of the cornerstones of Western civilization. For me, it is an inviolable right that cannot be limited, even if I do not agree at all with the writer or speaker. In fact, in the case of these cartoons, I find very questionable the one that shows Muhammad with a turban shaped like a bomb, ready to explode. I don’t like it because it identifies the Islamic religion with terrorism. But others I find even educational, if you will, like the one that shows Muhammad in Paradise telling the kamikazes who arrive: “Enough! Enough! There aren’t any more virgins available.”

Is it political satire?
It’s satire that scoffs at the absurd promises made to the terrorists, certainly not the religion. All this is to say that, in Europe, it’s normal to dissent from this or that opinion, but it seems absurd, and rightly so, to claim to impose one’s own opinion on others. When Theo Van Gogh cruelly ridiculed the Jews, he was sued and lost in court. When he offended the Muslims, he was first condemned to death, and then executed.

And yet those who criticize the cartoons affirm that they have unleashed the rage of an entire community of believers…
Let’s be careful here. Recall the fact that many months passed between their publication and the violent reaction in the Arab and Islamic countries. Why? It’s even been discovered that an Egyptian newspaper had re-published part of the cartoons in October and nobody was scandalized. The truth is that between September and February a campaign was organized by some puppets of terrorism, mobilizing extremist groups and influencing governments. This campaign of propaganda and hatred resulted in the burning of the European embassies. This violence bears the seal of terrorism, and I would also say the marks of “professionals.” There was nothing spontaneous in these mass “protests.”

How much do you think the murder of Fr. Andrea Santoro in Trabzon, Turkey, was tied to this climate of conflict?

Very much. It is deceptive and also a bit hypocritical to think that it was the fault of a hot-headed boy who was a bit mentally unstable. In Turkey, there is a rampant anti-Western, anti-Jewish, and anti-Christian culture, and this is the true context for the homicide of the Italian priest. These are countries with no religious freedom, and the Christian churches have a clandestine life. In some cases, proselytizing is a penal crime, that of apostasy, and according to the legislation of some countries, it is even punishable with the death sentence.

Wouldn’t it be opportune to attempt the road of dialogue, for example, with so-called moderate Islam, instead of using corrosive satire?
The West, and Pope Benedict XVI has always been among the most lucid in stating it clearly, is a West that hates itself. It doesn’t know how to defend its own identity and its own spiritual roots. It thinks nothing of this weakness, often calling it the desire for dialogue, but really this is only abdication of its rightful role. If, for instance, the value of the life of everyone fails, then shaking hands is wrong. Italy in particular has no strategy for true integration of immigrants. Of the Muslims present here, 95% know very little Italian, and have little or no respect for our culture and the Catholic religion. They do not feel part of Italian society. Before talking about dialogue, our political authorities should develop a serious strategy of integration. There is nothing, except compulsory schooling for the children. Italian citizenship is obtained casually, bureaucratically. Instead, immigrants, and not just the Muslim ones, should feel they are an integral part of an Italian-ness that is manifested in many ways.

So was it a mistake for Minister Giuseppe Pisanu to form the Council for Islam within the Ministry of the Interior?

No. In and of itself, it’s a good idea. Providing the Ministry of the Interior with an organism that helps the government understand problems, as a vehicle for greater integration, can be very useful. It’s a pity that the initiative was introduced at the end of the legislative session, so that the second meeting occurred with election season in full swing; it gives a certain air of opportunism. In Corriere, I faulted Pisanu for opening the Council to the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Italy, Nour Dachan, President of the UCOII. I believe that dialogue, within the Council as well, should be carried forward while remaining firmly committed to certain principles.

Which ones?
Dachan denies Israel’s right to exist, wants to impose sharia, and legitimizes the attacks on our soldiers. You shouldn’t dialogue with someone who thinks that Israel must be destroyed and that the Holocaust never happened. Let me repeat: dialogue cannot legitimize ideas that are so far mistaken. If you accept the principle of religious freedom, the sacredness of life, and Israel’s right to exist, then we can dialogue.

Pope Benedict XVI has been invited to Turkey…
I’m all for the Pope’s visit to Turkey, as long as it doesn’t turn out to be a mere photo-op handshake, good for the television cameras, but without distinction. We’re looking at a culture in an abyss of religious perversion. People are killed in the name of God, and very often they are killed as they come to holy places. Instead, it is important that in Turkey, above all in Turkey, which has an initial history of secularization of Islam, the principle of religious freedom be affirmed. Today, this principle is practically denied when, instead, it is essential for the development of freedom tout court. In this way, a process of true liberalization, a positive process, could begin. It is also a right for the believing Muslims themselves, to free themselves from the violence of extremism.

In Corriere you also criticized Minister Calderoli, who had curtly addressed Rula Jebreal, a journalist of Palestinian origin, as “tanned”…

Yes, I wrote, “I am tanned,” to underline my embarrassment and opposition. I am afraid of every generalized condemnation of Islam, profoundly mistaken. If we are ever to make it out of this crisis, it will happen above all through the Muslims who refuse the ideology of death. But we mustn’t forget that the West is under attack. You cannot compare Calderoli and Bin Laden. It would be another grotesque error.

When Calderoli resigned after the Bengazi [Libya] riots, you wrote that he did well…
Since Calderoli had a responsibility as a man of state, he should have thought of the consequences of his actions. Having behaved irresponsibly, he did well to resign. Even so, it is not true that his t-shirt with the Danish cartoons was the real cause of the attack on our embassy. Ghadafi’s son, Saif, had requested Calderoli’s resignation a week before the Minister from the Northern League had shown his t-shirt on television. When we learned of the acts against the Catholic Church in Bengazi, sacked and desecrated, it was evident that this was something premeditated and organized by higher echelons.

You warned that there’s great indignation about the acts against Muslims, but everyone pretends that nothing has happened when the Christians are attacked…
The attacks and massacres in Nigeria against Christians have been almost entirely ignored. There was absolutely no indignation. This is the cowardice of the Italian political class, both of the government and of the opposition. The evil is within the West, within a policy that asks forgiveness and demands the resignation of a minister for the Muslim deaths in Bengazi, while it pretends nothing has happened in the face of the Christian deaths.