Muslim, Italian and Zionist
Author Magdi Allam has put his life on the line with his newest book, 'Long Live Israel,' and says he sees the country as the last bastion against Islamic terror's war on the world.
It's not every day that a Muslim intellectual puts his own head on the line to defend Israel's right to exist. But that is exactly what Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-born Italian writer and journalist, has been doing for years. He recently published a book whose name alone is enough to endanger his life: "Long Live Israel - From the Ideology of Death to the Civilization of Life: My Story."
Allam defends Israel even though Hamas condemned him to death in 2003, after he denounced the group's terror attacks. Because of this threat, the Italian government has provided him with round-the-clock bodyguards. But Allam is not afraid. He finds it hard to "live an armored life," but he tells Haaretz in an interview, "I'm willing to pay the price in order to continue to be who I am, to write and speak freely." Those who cut out tongues and slit throats will not subdue him, he writes in the book.
Allam, 55, is the assistant editor of Corriere della Sera and the 2006 Dan David Prize laureate. His new book, which immediately became a best-seller in Italy, is part of his consistent and uncompromising fight against extremist Islam and for Israel's right to exist. In addition, he is trying to convince people that "the culture of hatred and death that the West now attributes to Muslims is not embedded in Islam's DNA."
In "Long Live Israel" ("Viva Israele" in Italian), Allam directly links the denial of Israel's right to exist to the death cult being nurtured in fundamentalist Islamic circles, and refers to "the ethical erosion that has led to even the denial of the supreme value of the sanctity of life." Allam sees Israel as "an ethical parameter that separates between lovers of civilization and those who preach the ideology of death." The sanctity of life, he writes, "applies to everyone, or to no one."
Sanctity of life
In recent days Allam's attention has been focused on another major event - the birth of his son, Davide, brother to Sofia, 27, and Alessandro, 23. Allam says he and his wife Valentina Colombo chose the name Davide "because in the battle for life during the pregnancy, Davide subdued his Goliath, and because it meshes with the name of my new book."
And speaking of names, weren't you afraid when choosing such a strong, even provocative name for the book?
"Those who like me and more or less agree with me see it as a provocation. 'What did you need this for, don't you have enough problems?' they asked. Those who don't like me and condemn me for my opinions see this as additional proof that I am a traitor to the Arab cause and an enemy of Islam, have sold myself to Israel and work for the Mossad. But for me, 'Viva Israele' is a song of praise to Israel's life and to everyone's life. My book opens with the words: 'What you are about to read is a declaration of faith in the sanctity of life, 'the sanctity of life of every human being.'"
Allam was not always a defender of the Jewish state. "'Zionism' was a dirty word for me," he admits in his book. For years he considered Israel an aggressive, racist, colonialist, immoral entity, and he accepted the methods of the Palestinian struggle and its leader Yasser Arafat, "without criticizing the fact that Fatah adopted the path of terror extensively inside and outside Israel." After emigrating from Egypt to Italy in 1972, he even enlisted actively for the Palestinian cause, writing, lecturing and participating in demonstrations by the Italian left: "I also shouted 'Long live Palestine! Long live the Palestinian resistance!'" he writes in the book. "My passion for the Palestinian cause was strong, as was my enthusiasm for Arafat's personality."
In his new book he describes his long road from profound admiration for Arafat and "the prophet of pan-Arabism," Gamal Abdel Nasser, and strong support for the Palestinian cause, to his unreserved support for Israel. "I want to tell you about my slow and tortured path from the ideology of lies, tyranny, hatred, violence and death, to the culture of truth, freedom, love, peace and life, until it ripened into absolute certainly that defending the sanctity of life is more than ever in keeping with defending Israel's right to exist," he writes. At the end of this "slow and tortured path" he reached the conclusion that the Arab countries' refusal to recognize Israel during the 1950s and 1960s hurt the Palestinians, and that Arafat was a tyrant, a megalomaniac, corrupt and corrupting, and the worst disaster to befall them.
Regarding the present situation in Gaza, Allam says he never had any illusions about Hamas. "I thought it was a big mistake to allow a terror organization to participate in elections. Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair deluded themselves in believing that Hamas' very participation in the government would turn the group into a pragmatic political power," he says. "Instead, it turned out that Hamas will never recognize Israel's right to exist, will not relinquish terror and will not honor international agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas wants absolute rule in order to impose sharia and to revive the international Islamic caliphate. As it pushes for absolute rule, it does not hesitate to massacre its Palestinian brothers in Gaza. It will try to do the same thing in the West Bank."
Do you believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved before the "ideology of death" is uprooted - that even if Israel returns all the territories it occupied in 1967, it will continue to live by the sword?
"The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza demonstrates that the problem is not the need to withdraw from territories occupied in preemptive wars, but rather the Arabs' lack of desire to recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel erred in 1967 when it accepted the formula of territory for peace, and thus placed its very existence up for public auction. Experience teaches that the right to life cannot and should not be a subject for negotiation and bargaining. No negotiations should be held with extremists and terrorists who deny Israel's right to exist."
Allam believes the defeat of the Arabs during the Six-Day War was the watershed between the waning of pan-Arabism and the rise of pan-Islamism. Allam, who was then 15, remembers the war, the brainwashing, the deceptive Egyptian propaganda machine, the blind admiration of Nasser and the masses he joined in the streets calling on Nasser not to resign. He devotes a substantial part of his book to the war: three autobiographical chapters seasoned with the fragrances, sounds, colors and flavors of his beloved Aunt Adreya's home and the streets of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo - a colorful, pluralistic and tolerant city where girls wore miniskirts and boys sported Beatles haircuts.
This was the city where he was detained, interrogated and imprisoned at age 15 by the Muhabarat, the secret services, on suspicion of spying for Israel, because of his relationship with a Jewish girl, also 15 and "the first true love of his life." "The trauma of that interrogation at the Muhabarat barracks accompanied me until that day on Christmas Eve 1972, when I left Egypt to continue my studies in Italy."
In the book you lovingly describe your childhood. Do you miss Egypt? Do you visit often?
"I miss an Egypt that no longer exists and that continues to live inside me thanks to the memories, the songs of Umm Kulthum, the novels of Naguib Mahfouz and the films of Yusuf Shahin. I long for the social fabric that embodied a genuine love of others and a simple life where emotion was more important than money. Unfortunately, for reasons of personal security, I haven't been back to Egypt since 2002."
Regarding the question of the Islamization of Europe, Allam says, "Europe is already a bastion of Islamic extremism. Just look at attack on Mike's Place in Tel Aviv, which was carried out by British suicide bombers drafted by Hamas; the massacre by Islamists in Madrid and in London; the slitting of director Theo Van Gogh's throat in Amsterdam; and the dozens of Islamic terror attacks that were prevented in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland.
"This bastion exists thanks to a widespread network of mosques, Koran schools, financial bodies and charitable institutions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood; Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian Salfists; Saudi Wahabis; Al-Qaida jihadis and Pakistani groups. This multicultural Europe, which has trampled its values and betrayed its identity, is satisfied with reacting to the obvious terror, which is only the tip of the iceberg, but is afraid to deal with terror's ideological and organizational roots."
Why don't we hear the voices of the moderate imams?
"Because they're afraid. They're a minority and they're afraid. Only a handful of Islamic intellectuals, journalists, women and clerics have shown courage and condemned terror and Islamic extremism, and as a result they were sentenced to death by the terrorists. But make no mistake, even those moderates who condemn Islamic terror often legitimize terrorists who massacre in Israel. They feel there is good terror, which massacres Israelis, and bad terror, which threatens their lives."
What do you believe is the best way to deal with the Iranian threat?
"Israel has to prevent the Nazi-Islamic government of [Ali] Khamenei and [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad from acquiring nuclear weapons. I don't place my faith in the United Nations and I have no illusions about the Bush administration, which now wants only to leave Iraq without losing face. And of course I don't count on a weak, cowardly and divided Europe. I believe Israel is the last bastion in Islamic terror's war against all of human civilization. Therefore I hope Israel will have a strong national unity government, determined to confront the most serious threat to world security since World War II."
Last year, when he came here for his fourth visit, in order to receive the Dan David Prize, he visited Yad Vashem. This was "an experience that left an indelible impression on me," he says. "I hope that some day Israel will capture Ahmadinejad and force him to live the rest of his life between the walls of Yad Vashem."