For nearly a decade, Egyptian-born Italian politician Magdi Cristiano Allam has been advocating for Israel from every possible stage, portraying it as a frontline bastion in the struggle against what he calls Islamic terror's threat to Western civilization. "We haven't learned anything from history," the 2006 Dan David Prize laureate says, referring to the legacy of the Islamic revolution in Iran. In his opinion, the blame lies firmly with the West.
Last week Allam made a quick visit to Israel for the world premiere of "To Davide," a vocal fantasy composed and conducted by Nili Harpaz, based on a poem written by Allam in 2007 to celebrate the birth of his third child, Davide. He also attended the annual reception in celebration of Republic Day - Italy's national holiday, on June 2 - at the Ramat Gan residence of Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo, in the presence of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.
The gentle and reserved Allam looks younger than his 60 years. He was born and raised in Egypt to a Muslim family and arrived in Italy at age 20. Over the years he became a journalist and an author engaged with matters of the Middle East. During the past decade, he has been one of the loudest voices in Europe speaking out in support of Israel and in condemnation of Islamic terror. For these views Hamas passed a death sentence on him in 2002. Since 2003 he has been surrounded by bodyguards 24 hours a day and has not visited his native land.
"This is the least evil option for continuing to express my opinions," he says. Allam visited Israel in the week when the Egyptian court sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to life imprisonment for his part in the deaths of protesters during last year's uprising. According to Allam, the decision is "not humane and does not take into account his status, his age and his poor state of health." The ruling in Mubarak's case is "another sign of the barbarization now underway in the country," which, he says, has already become Islamist: "The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis now have an absolute majority in the parliament and it is almost certain that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for the presidency, Mohamed Morsi, will be the next president."
Allam believes public anger at Mubarak's not having received a harsher sentence increases the likelihood of Morsi winning this weekend's second round in the presidential election against his rival Ahmed Shafiq - the secular candidate who was a minister in Mubarak's government.
"Morsi has promised that when he is elected, he will hold a retrial of all the old leadership, but even without that his election is assured," says Allam grimly.
Concerned about women's rights
Allam is fearful for Egypt's fate and for the welfare of the approximately 10 million Coptic Christians in the country, who, he says, are already experiencing "a real ethnic cleansing." He is concerned about civil rights and, especially, women's rights, noting, "the position of women is becoming more and more inferior." Of course, he is also concerned about the fate of the peace agreement with Israel, about which the Muslim Brotherhood has promised to hold a referendum. "The possibility that Israel will be surrounded by Islamist regimes, which is liable to happen if Syria and Jordan also become part of the process, is an existential threat from its perspective," he warns. "Those who build their strategy on the Koran and Islam are nurturing hatred and determination to slaughter the Jews and wipe out Israel physically."
In 2007 Allam published his book "Long Live Israel - From the Ideology of Death to the Civilization of Life: My Story" (in Italian; published in Hebrew by Matar Publishers ). In the book, which became a best-seller in Italy, Allam makes a direct connection between opposition to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and the nurturing of a cult of death in extremist Islam and the denial of the sanctity of life.
It wasn't always like this. In 1972, when he came to Italy to study, Allam was an admirer of both the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, and in general an enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinian cause. He saw Israel as an aggressive colonial entity and believed that Islam was a moderate religion whose values were in accord with Western values.
The turnaround in his worldview ripened during the past decade, in the wake of the terror attacks in the United States and the terror attacks on Israel, which he has severely censured. He has termed the Hamas outlook "the culture of death."
In 2005, when Italian writer Oriana Fallaci attacked Islam, he still defended it, in his book "Conquering Fear: My Life Against Terrorism and the West's Recklessness," in which he argued that violence is not inherent in the religion's DNA. In an open letter to Fallaci (who died in 2006 ), he condemned "the fear of Islam and of the Muslims depicted as a fifth column planted in the West," and the perception of Islam as a "monolithic religion with an integralist soul."
Today, he says there are moderate Muslims, but that "Islam is a violent religion." Four years ago, he converted to Catholicism and took the Italian middle name Cristiano - meaning Christian - to follow his Arabic first name. His much-covered Easter-day baptism was conducted by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter's Basilica, Rome. "It was a radical choice. That was the happiest day of my life," he told Haaretz at the time. Today he wears a crucifix pendant.
After his conversion, he was accused of heresy in the land of his birth, where he effectively became persona non grata.
Corriere della Sera
Allam, who is married and the father of three children, aged 5, 28 and 32, was born in Cairo in 1952. When he was 20 he went to Italy and after completing a degree in sociology at La Sapienza University of Rome, he settled there. He worked as a journalist for two leftist newspapers, L'Unita and La Repubblica, and in 2003 was appointed deputy director of the country's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera. He left this position three years ago when he founded the political movement Io Amo l'Italia, which is also the title of a book he wrote. The movement appeals to moderate conservative and Catholic elements at the center of the political map. In 2009 he was elected to the European Parliament as an independent candidate on the Union of Christian and Center Democratic list. His mission at the European Union, he says, is "to contribute to the consolidation of a European spirit that will be faithful to its Judeo-Christian roots, to the values of human dignity and freedom of speech, and above all to the value of life itself."
Allam criticizes the EU as a single body for not having taken action so far to deal with mass immigration from Africa - a phenomenon that has been making headlines of late in Israel, of course, and the extent of which is far greater in Europe. "It is untenable," he says, "that Europe absorb tens of millions of people fleeing from Africa because of internal conflicts, hunger, poverty or unemployment.
"The only solution," he continues, "is that we, the Europeans, go to Africa and bring knowledge and professional training there, not money, in order to give the young, unemployed masses tools for bringing about progress and development on a continent that is rich in natural resources and raw materials."
Regrettably, he says, Europe has not consolidated a policy of cooperation in this area, just as it has not shaped a joint policy concerning immigration and the integration of tens of thousands of refugees. He does not share the optimism still shared by some in the West with regard to the democratic implications of the Arab Spring. "Tunisia [where the popular uprising against tyrannical Arab regimes began, in December 2010] today looks more like the Taliban's Afghanistan than like the secular and moderate society that had always been there. In many neighborhoods in the capital, the country's laws have given way to the laws of the Koran and they have already begun to chop off thieves' hands," says Allam.
The responsibility for these changes, he says, rests with the West. "This is the second act in a wicked strategy formulated in 2006 by the leaders of the United States and Britain, [President] George Bush and [Prime Minister] Tony Blair, who supported the Muslim Brotherhood circles to fight Al-Qaida terror, which they did not succeed in defeating in Afghanistan and Iraq," argues Allam.
This strategy is now ripening, he adds, with the rise to power of extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in the entire region, from Morocco to Yemen, where Al-Qaida controls some of the territory.
"The West has deceived itself that in order to maintain security within its borders, it can sacrifice the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the Islamists. It is acting as though free elections are the be-all and end-all of democracy, but it has forgotten that Hitler also came to power in free elections."
The decision by the United States and the European countries to turn their back on Arab rulers they had supported for decades, and whom they had seen until then as secular and moderate leaders - a barrier against the spread of extremist Islam - is "disgraceful," according to Allam. "Overnight, the Americans and the Europeans switched to the side of the opponents, who were unwittingly manipulated by Islamist circles, whose declared aim is to impose Sharia law, which contradicts basic human rights. The West was not credible then, when it supported them without reservation and did not demand human rights. But now, when it is blatantly supporting opponents of democracy and human rights, it is many times less credible."
No lesson has been learned from history, he says, and nothing has been learned from the Iranian experience and the transition in the late 1970s from the Shah's regime to Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic, which only brought disaster upon that country. "Most probably, before we see any ray of light, we will have to touch bottom," adds Allam.
A few days ago, Allam declared his intention to run in next year's Italian parliamentary elections. Io Amo l'Italia, said the statement he released to the press, aims to be an "alternative to the economic tyranny of [Prime Minister] Mario Monti's government, to the party system that supports him and to the demagogic opposition that is contributing to the country's destruction." If he succeeds in his ambitious aim, Israel will have a loyal friend in the Italian legislature, but it will lose a loyal advocate in the European Parliament.