'Hamas' terror is not a reaction to the occupation
"Israel's right to exist is today the international criterion for distinguishing between the terrorist camp and the camp of life," says Magdi Allam, the Egyptian-Italian journalist and writer who is now visiting Israel.
"On one side, there is the Hamas government, Iran, fundamentalist Islam and even parts of the extreme left and right in Europe." On the other side, he says, are Western countries and "supporters of the right to live." The West, he believes, has consistently failed to grasp its situation: It does not understand that it is under attack, and it is trying to conduct a dialogue with the Muslims attacking it.
Allam, 54 and a native of Egypt, immigrated to Italy some 30 years ago and studied sociology at La Sapienza University in Rome. Today he is the deputy editor of Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest newspaper, and is one of the country's leading journalists. In a series of books, articles and public appearances, Allam has not hesitated to criticize radical Islam openly. He even attacks the weakness he claims the West in general - and Europe in particular - show in the face of the growth of radical Islam.
"The West thinks the Islamic terrorism that struck New York, London and Madrid is a reaction, a kind of uprising of the poor against the wealthy," he says in an interview with Haaretz. According to Allam, the West does not understand that it is facing an organized attack that is gradually gaining supporters around the world. Following September 11, he says, a new and dangerous front has emerged of Muslim radicals and extreme left- and right-wing elements that must be dealt with forcefully.
"Denying the right to exist of Israel necessarily leads to approval of the use of violence and terrorism in order to erase Israel from the map," he notes. "This is the main characteristic of the 'culture of death' that advocates killing those who deny Islam."
Allam says there should be a law that stipulates that any statement against Israel's right to exist - whether made during an imam's sermon in a mosque or in a press statement - should be deemed a criminal offense.
'Exceptional journalistic work'
On Sunday, Allam received the Dan David prize for his "exceptional journalistic work and commitment to freedom of the press." He shared the $1 million prize with three other journalists - Monica Gonzales of Chile (see above article), Adam Michnik of Poland and Goenawan Mohamad of Indonesia. The prizes were awarded at a ceremony, attended by Israeli President Moshe Katsav, at the Tel Aviv University campus. Other prizes were awarded to cellist Yo-Yo Ma and cancer researchers John Mendelsohn and Joseph Schlessinger.
The prize committee, whose members include the head of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the editor of The New Yorker, commended Allam "for continuously voicing his opinion against extremism and in favor of tolerance." According to the committee, Allam proves that "positive dialogue with moderate Islam is both possible and necessary."
Allam is using his visit to Israel to lecture, visit Yad Vashem and present his views to the Israeli public.
"My goal is to free the West from the nihilism that has spread in its midst, from the lack of values that leads to the growth of radical Islam," says Allam. "In the face of the threat from radical Islam, the West must be united and formulate a shared value system that sanctifies life and denounces the right to kill."
Therefore, he says, there should be sharp criticism of those who argue that the terrorism in Israel and Iraq is legitimate because it is being committed against occupation and in the name of independence. "Whoever says that supports a culture of death," Allam argues. "It may perhaps start with a show of some understanding, but will quickly spread to granting permission to destroy anyone who is not Muslim."
Allam is against any attempt at dialogue with the Hamas government.
"I oppose any middle way," he says. "I oppose any type of dialogue just for the sake of dialogue. Hamas is part of the global Islamic front. It is an organization that prefers to worsen the conditions of its citizens rather than recognize Israel. The terrorism it wages against Israel is ideological terrorism. It would be a big mistake to think that it is resistance, because they are not trying to promote a Palestinian state. They have simply been trying, ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords, to destroy every effort to achieve peace."
Allam's remarks against Hamas in recent years have brought death threats from the organization and require Allam to have bodyguards at all times. But the Palestinian organization is not the only one threatening his life - his criticism of imams and Muslim preachers in Europe has sparked rage in Muslim communities there as well.
"The integration of Muslim immigrants in Europe has failed," Allam says. "The multicultural model that was tried in Britain and Holland led to the creation of Islamic ghettos; the governments that thought granting freedom to their citizens would turn it into a shared value were mistaken. Many Muslims saw freedom as a green light to enforce Islamic law and create their own society within a society."
The French model of assimilation also failed, he says, and the Muslims in the suburbs of the large French cities do not see themselves as citizens of the Republic.
One of the events that illustrated integration's failure, Allam believes, is the Mohammed cartoon affair. This made it possible "to draw the battle lines" between those who advocate Islamic law and citizens of the West - and the picture that emerged, he says, is not encouraging. "Most European governments chose to denounce the publication of the drawings," he says, "and this was a big mistake." This February, Allam published an open letter supporting the right of European newspapers to publish the drawings of the prophet in the name of freedom of expression.
Integration will have a chance only if the European countries change their approach, he says.
"There is an Italian saying, 'Every nation receives the government it deserves.' Along the same lines, it may be said, 'Every state in Europe receives the immigrant community it deserves.'" According to him, the governments must act forcefully against some immigrant groups to make it clear that the laws of the state are above the laws of religion.
"There is no one single way to be Muslim," he says, "there is also no 'right' or 'wrong' Islam. We have the freedom to interpret Islam any way we like. When I grew up in Egypt in the 1960s, Islam was completely different - girls walked around in miniskirts and guys were listening to the Beatles. It's a mistake to say that if you're a Muslim in Europe you have to grow a beard, go to the mosque and wear a galabiya. It's a stereotype that was imposed by Muslim extremists."
On the future of the integration of Muslim immigrants in Italy, Allam says he is disappointed by the election of Romano Prodi's new center-left government.
"They are promising to be 'softer' on the matter of immigration laws, to bring back the soldiers from Iraq and to consider negotiations with Hamas," he says. "This only proves that Italy is going in the opposite direction compared to the rest of the world in dealing with immigration, which will lead to a deterioration of the situation."
He says he hopes that the government does not last long. Then perhaps he may enter politics.
This coming June, his latest book, entitled "I Love Italy - But Do the Italians Love It?" will hit the stores in his country. The Italian journalist, it seems, is positioning himself as someone who knows exactly what the country needs to forge a national identity that will prevent Muslim youths from turning to religious extremism. "In my book, I suggest setting up a ministry to address the matter of immigration and to create a national identity," he says. "In my vision, I see Italy as a picture framed by justice and law. In the center I see different communities that share a unified Italian national identity."
"However," he adds, "I don't think a government ministry of this type is possible these days."
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