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Magdi Allam, as a Catholic Magdi Cristiano Allam ( Maǧdī ʿAllām; born April 22, 1952), is an Egyptian-bornmarker Italianmarker journalist, noted for his criticism of Islamic Extremism and his articles on the relations between Western culture and the Islamic world. Allam converted from Islam to Roman Catholicism during the Vaticanmarker's 2008 Easter vigil service presided over by Pope Benedict XVI.

Biography

Allam was born in Egypt and raised by Muslim parents. His mother Safeya was a believing and practicing Muslim, whereas his father Muhammad was "completely secular and agreed with the [until the early seventies wildely held] opinion of the majority of Egyptians who took the West as a model in regard to individual freedom, social customs and cultural and artistic fashions." At age four, his mother entrusted him to the care of Sister Lavinia of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, and later he was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Egypt - the Institute of Don Bosco - for junior high and high school, where he was further exposed to Western culture and civilization.

Early Years in Egypt

Allam describes growing up in a vibrant and multicultural Cairomarker. He recounts vividly the "fragrances, sounds, colors and flavors of his beloved Aunt Adreya's home" and remembers Cairo as a "colorful, pluralistic and tolerant city where girls wore miniskirts and boys sported Beatles haircuts." He has positive memories of Egyptian society during his childhood years, characterizing it as having a "social fabric that embodied a genuine love of others and a simple life where emotion was more important than money." However, an unpleasant incident occurred when he was detained and interrogated at age 15 by the Muhabarat, the secret services, on suspicion of spying for Israel, because of his relationship with a Jewish girl. At that time, in 1967, Jewish men were rounded up and incarcerated in the detention camps of Abu Za'abal and Tura . Allam's sympathy for the plight of the girl and her flight might have displeased the authorities. He claims the trauma of that interrogation accompanied him until Christmas Eve 1972 when he left Egypt to continue studies in Italy.

Immigration to Italy

In 1972 he moved to Italy and enrolled in La Sapienzamarker University of Romemarker. He graduated from La Sapienza with a degree in sociology and in 1986 became an Italian citizen. Allam began his journalistic career at the communist newspaper Il Manifesto. Later, he moved to the center-left leaning Italian newspaper La Repubblica, where he worked as a commentator, mostly writing about issues faced by extra-communitarian immigrants in Italy, especially those originating from North-Africa, and supporting progressive policies on the immigration issue and on the compatibility of Islam and Western values (see #Opinion and Stances). In 2003, following a radical shift in his views, Allam joined the more conservative, Milan-based Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's oldest newspapers, as deputy director of the newspaper (vice-director ad personam). Today he is one of Italy's most famous and controversial journalists.

Allam is married to a Catholic woman, Valentina Colombo, and has young son from her, Davide (1), and two adult children, Sofia (27) and Alessandro (23), from a previous marriage.

High-profile conversion

Allam has firmly stated that he was not a practicing Muslim - he never prayed five times a day nor fasted during Ramadan. Yet he did make the pilgrimage to Mecca, with his deeply religious mother in 1991, as per her will. In his autobiography Vincere la paura (Conquering Fear), Allam acknowledges thinking about conversion to Christianity on moving to Italy so as to fit in better, but he remained known as a non-practicing Muslim until age 55.

On March 23, 2008, Allam was offered the baptism during the Vatican's 2008 Easter Vigil service in St. Peter's Basilicamarker presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, consequently Allam converted to Roman Catholicism, in a widely-publicized and televised baptism ceremony (see #External links) as usual on every Easter Vigil service. In a 2,000-word letter to the editor of his newspaper, Paolo Mieli, Allam explained his motives for converting to Catholicism. He thanked his mother for sending him to Catholic schools, where he was able to "know Catholicism well and up close and the women and men who dedicated their life to serve God in the womb of the Church." He pointed out that in his youth he had become familiar with Catholic writings ("Already then I read the Bible and the Gospels and I was especially fascinated by the human and divine figure of Jesus.") He credited the pope as the most influential person in his decision to convert, and, using Christian theological terminology, described his conversion as a mystical experience:
The miracle of Christ’s Resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness in which the preaching of hatred and intolerance in the face of the “different,” uncritically condemned as “enemy,” were privileged over love and respect of “neighbor.”"
Announcing his support for proselytizing among Muslims, he wrote:
Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.
He added on Italian TV that he felt "great joy" after his conversion.

Opinion and Stances

Original Stances (1978-2003)

During most of his journalistic career (roughly from 1978 to 2003), Allam worked at the communist newspaper Il Manifesto and later the center-left leaning La Repubblica. As he was often employed as a middle east envoy, most of his articles were reportage more than commentaries, characterized by a neutral tone and argumentative style, and his personal views were rarely reported.

His own stances were nevertheless made public via a forum on La Repubblica and in numerous interviews and appearances on talk shows. Thus, for most of his career, the public came to know him as a journalist with progressive opinions, who supports the integration of immigrants, especially North African immigrants, into Italian society, and praises the values and cultural identities of Muslim immigrants.

Defending Islamic Culture

For the longest time he maintained the position that Islam was perfectly compatible with Western civilization and values. In a meeting with high school students broadcast on Italianmarker public television RAImarker, he declared:
Islam itself is not a menace, it does not coincide with conservatism, as a religion is not incompatible with progress and freedom; absolutely not! Islam is a faith which, in a moderate interpretation, is absolutely compatible with the values shared by the Italian civil society and the Italian Constitution.


Furthermore, he scorned the idea that Muslims were somehow "invading" Italy:
There are many Islam (...). The largest majority of Muslims are moderate, many Muslims are secular (...) according to the numbers provided by the Muslim organizations in Italy, no more than 3 to 5% of muslims in Italy even go to the mosque (...) and then there is a fundamentalist Islam that believes in an Islamization of the society that would conjugate religion to politics, and then also a radical Islam, which believes that islam should be imposed via violent means. But this is an absolutely irrelevant fringe, quantified in Italy around circa 3 to 4 % of the Muslims, and - let's remember it - there are overall only 600,000 Muslims in Italy. 600,000 in a country of 57 millions. Clearly to talk of a risk of Muslim invasion or of a Muslim menace does not make any sense.


In Favor of Immigration

Similarly, he maintained for years that immigration was beneficial for Italy, offsetting population decline and correcting what he called "Italy's provincial identity":
Economically Italy needs immigrants. Socially Italy needs immigrants to offset the lowest fertility index of Europe (...). But (stopping immigration) would also be a catastrophe for Italy as a civilization, because the immigrant is a bridge that allows Italy to escape a very provincial sense of identity into a more global one(...). Immigration is a resource, not a problemBut he always underlines the fact that all hosting countries must demand respect for its rules and regulations. Allam firmly believes on an immigration based on "Non solo diritti, ma anche doveri"(not only right, but rules as well), reciprocal respect for a better society of social enrichment.


Denying Clash of Civilization after 9/11

After the 9/11 attacks he commented against the clash of civilizations theory, and denounced the idea of a monolithic Islam, intrinsically extremist at its core and naturally driven to expansionism and extremism (a thesis he would come to embrace a few months later):
There will be a clash of civilization? This thesis is based on the idea of Islam as a monolithic reality, with an integristic identity, and an inescapable inclination toward expansionism. In reality both Islam as a faith and Muslims as individuals are to be understood as a plurality. Yet there is a risk of a clash on ideological basis, should the Mulsilms perceived to be attacked indiscriminately by the West (...) It would be a big gift to Bin Laden.


Radical Change of Heart (2003-Today)

Starting from the end of 2002, Allam gradually assumed virtually opposite opinions on most issues related to Islamic world and Middle-East. The metamorphosis allowed him to be a staunch supporter of Israel, argue against the formula "territories for peace" which he had championed for more than 25 years.. He accused Italy and the West of ignoring the dangers of an imminent "Islamization" of the society, and a possible Jihad in Europe.

His themes and styles parallel those of another popular anti-immigration, anti-islamic activist of the time - the famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Both authors would extensively refer very positively to each other in their writings. For example, Allam refers many times to Fallaci in his I love Italy, but do Italians Love her? and fully agrees with her positions on these issues. His newfound explicit, inflammatory style has been described by his lifelong friend and noted Italian-Jewish intellectual Gad Lerner as "Pharaonic Sturm und Drang" and as having "fideistic emphasis."

Opposing Multiculturalism

In his writings since 2003, Allam has infuriated many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with his denunciations of multiculturalism, lashing out at what he calls "the Islamization of society." For example, reacting to a speech by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams which raised the suggestion that Muslims in Britain should be allowed to have their own courts in matters of family law, similar to the situation of Jews in Britain, Allam wrote that
By leaning on the 'politically correct' and by allowing Muslims to have their own courts, a mixture is installed that can unbalance the country and overthrow constitutional order.
Previously having been a believer in multiculturalism, he now claimed that multiculturalism is dangerous and wrote against "submitting ourselves to different ideologies and faiths."

Despite his earlier writings about the importance of inter-faith dialogue, Allam refused to endorse the famous A Common Word Between Us and You - a 29-page public letter sent in October 2007 from 138 Muslim leaders from 43 countries to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders urging peace and dialogue.

Ban on Building Mosques

In 2005, Allam published an article calling for a ban on building mosques in Italy. In a piece accusing mosques of fostering hate, he claimed Italy is suffering from "mosque-mania" and justified the extreme measure of a government ban on building mosques. Previously, he had voiced support for an economic involvement of the Italian government in building new mosques to satisfy the needs of a growing Muslim population.

Israel/Palestine Issues

For most of his life he had been a strong albeit argumentative supporter of the Palestinian cause, going to rallies and writing favorably of the Palestinian rights to statehood. However, since 2002, Allam has voiced support of Israel, together with a strong condemnation of Palestinian terrorism. He claims that his criticism of Palestinian terrorism prompted Hamas to allegedly single him out for elimination, although no Islamic group has ever claimed responsibility for such a threat. In 2003, following his claim of being threatened, the Italian government provided him with a sizable security detail. His unwavering support for Israel, he claims, is because the "origin of the ideology of hatred, violence and death is the discrimination against Israel."

Support for Israeli Military Action Against Iran

On the issue of Iran's nuclear quest, Allam has said Israel should do whatever it takes to stop Iran's nuclear program, indirectly suggesting that Israel should bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. Labeling the Iranian government "the Nazi-Islamic" regime, Allam claimed that Israel cannot rely on the United Nations and should not have any illusions about the Bush administration "which now wants only to leave Iraq without losing face."

Public feuds with other Muslim thinkers

Allam was involved in a public feud with leading Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan.

Criticism on Islam

In his public letter to the editor of Corriere della Sera about his conversion, Allam stated that Islam was inseparable from Islamic extremism. Critising Islam itself, rather than Islamic extremism, Allam argued:
I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a 'moderate Islam,' assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.


Criticisms

The spectrum of his detractors is considerably varied with respect to political and religious affiliations. Some of those dismiss him as a phony, who invented a new persona for career and economical gain . Vittorio Zucconi, deputy director of La Repubblica - the newspaper for which Allam had worked for more than 20 years - humorously compared his new pose of "defender of the West" to American actress Doris Day. Asked by a reader to comment on Allam's quite sudden change of opinions and recent controversial role, Zucconi answered:
I know Magdi all too well, and I love him too much (I swear) to break with him my resolution of never criticizing a fellow journalist. But your question Sir reminds me of a famous joke about Doris Day, the blond, chaste, dolled-up actress of the 60's: "I knew Doris before she was a virgin."
Similarly, Italian writer Valerio Evangelisti has nicknamed him "Pinocchio d'Egitto" (Egyptian Pinocchio). In a review of Allam's 2002 book on Saddam Hussein ("Saddam: Secret History of a Dictator"), he points to the absence of a real bibliography, and to the ridiculously-poor quality of the sources. He pokes fun at the fact that the only cited reference for the entire second chapter is an article from popular Italian tabloid Gente, titled "I slept with Saddam for thirty years":
Allam is the author of essays of relevant scientific value, no doubt. The last one is titled "Saddam, a dictator's secret history" (...) . The book reads with ever increasing bewilderment (...). Three chapters out of seven are based on a single tabloid article(...). Never had I seen the tabloid Gente been used as a source for a historical/sociological analysis. I guess we are witnessing a revolution in the methodology of social sciences.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Maurizio Blondet, a conservative Catholic and former commentator at Avvenire (the newspaper of the Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops) and at Lega Nord's political journal La Padania, dismisses him as somebody who "invented himself a new character" and "pretended to be Muslim in order to be baptized by the Pope."

Gad Lerner refused to endorse Allam's book "Long Live Israel" stating that "it expresses a total identification with Israel that makes me, as a Jew , uncomfortable." He criticizes the "emphatic tone" that "has the fake toll of forged coins." He reminds Allam that while to deny one's own roots has a sense of "breaking the ethnic cage," it should not be done just to "jump on the other side of the fence, but rather to build bridges, foster exchanges and reciprocal understanding, encourage self-criticism among your own people." Lerner encourages Allam to find a common ground not in the identification with an idealized Israel, alleged standard of "civilization against barbarism, life against death" but rather "in something antique, from which one cannot escape with proclaims and faked metamorphosis(...). We are, you and I, Levantine. Yes people from the Levant, from the Phoeniciansmarker to the maritime republics, from the traders to the Caravanserai, to the cosmopolitan cities scattered here and there, along the sea shores. Mixed blood we are. Cabibbi. Bastards, luckily for us. Both joined by a common levantinity that only the ignorant of Mediterranean history could possibly consider a fault." Lerner concludes:Indeed what upsets me the most, Magdi, in your "Long Live Israel" is the exaltation of an alleged metamorphosis of the Jews, which actually never took place. Warriors finally. Outpost of the West in defense of the saintity of life. For the Love of God, let us be what we are! Certain travesties are too dangerous in a time of war.



Other commentators see him as a dangerous fear-monger who can polarize the relationship between Christians and Muslims in Italy. They warn that his positions will increasingly drive the country to adopt pro-Israeli government positions, which - they argue - would be against the national interest.In particular, following the publication of Allam's "Long Live israel!", more than 200 scholars, teachers and writers published an open letter in the magazine RESET against Allam's publication of "proscription lists" of alleged "haters of Israel." Allam's blacklists included several famous scholars of the Arab world, such as Professor Massimo Campanini, of the prestigious Naples Eastern University. The signatories protested and criticized Allam's statements that the Italian academe is poisoned by a leftist and atheistic "culture of death." Most of the signatories of the petition against Allam are Christians, and many are well-known conservatives, such as the prominent medieval history scholar Franco Cardini.

Allam has many enthusiastic supporters among his newly found readership, and politically in the anti-immigration party he once detested - the Lega Nord, and especially among Forza Italia and his electorate: indeed his Godfather was Maurizio Lupi, an elected representative of Forza Italia with well known connections in the Vatican establishment. Since his public conversion he has received support from the pro-life movement with his recent statements against abortion and on the sanctity of life.

Response to Conversion

Despite Allam's claims that his conversion will likely be met with violence from Islamic groups, the reaction of various Islamic groups was largely ignored and passed over. The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy — which Allam has frequently criticized as an organization that incites violence — slighted his baptism as "his own decision". The group's spokesperson, Issedin El Zir, said:
He is an adult, free to make his personal choice.


Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice president of the Italian-Islamic Religious Community (Comunità Religiosa Islamica Italiana, Co.Re.Is.), said he acknowledged Allam's choice but said he was amusingly "perplexed" by the symbolic and high-profile way in which Allam chose to convert.Imam Pallavicini explained:
If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives.


The Spanish daily El Pais criticized Allam's extreme opinions and wondered whether Allam's conversion deserves so much attention:
This intellectual doesn't mince his words when it comes to flaying Islam. And he is not entirely wrong when he refers to terrorist fanaticism and the lack of freedom in countries where Islam is professed. He is probably however going a bit far when he says that the 'root of evil is an inherent part of Islam, which is physiologically violent'. It is not the Muslim world as a whole that defends violence or seeks to impose its religion by force. We shouldn't however play down the courage that Magdi Allam has shown by daring to say such things that way and we also have to recognise his right to convert to Christianity. We can nonetheless ask whether it was necessary for his baptism to have been carried out by the Pope himself in the Vatican.


Some criticized the publicity given to the conversion, thus questioning his sincerity and even suggesting a politically-motivated apostasy.

The unauthorized email controversy

On January 16, 2007, in an article entitled Poligamia, la moglie che accusa il capo UCOII (literally: "Polygamy, the wife who accuses UCOII's leader") on Corriere della Sera, Magdi Allam published an e-mail — obtained from a third party — sent to Hamza Roberto Piccardo, spokesman of the Unione delle Comunità ed Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia, by Piccardo's recently divorced wife, without asking for the authorization of either ex-spouse. In spite of the uproar that followed, RCS Quotidiani S.p.A, the publisher of Corriere della Sera, chose to keep the article online until the "Garante per la protezione dei dati personali" (Guarantor for the protection of personal data) ordered RCS to take it down on May 24, 2007.

Published works

  • Viva Israele (Long Live Israel), Mondadori, 2007, ISBN 9788804567776
  • Io amo l'Italia. Ma gli italiani la amano? (I love Italy. But do the Italians love her?), Mondadori, 2006, ISBN 88-04-55655-2
  • Vincere la paura: La mia vita contro il terrorismo islamico e l'incoscienza dell'Occidente (Conquering Fear: My life against Muslim terrorism and Western unconsciousness), Mondandori, 2005, ISBN 88-04-55605-6
  • Kamikaze made in Europe. Riuscirà l'Occidente a sconfiggere i terroristi islamici? (Kamikaze made in Europe. Will the West defeat Islamic terrorists?), Mondadori, 2004, ISBN
  • Diario dall'Islam (A diary from Islam), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 88-04-50478-1
  • Bin Laden in Italia. Viaggio nell'Islam Radicale (Bin Laden in Italy. A journey through radical Islam), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 88-04-51416-7
  • Jihad in Italia. Viaggio nell'Islam Radicale (Jihad in Italy. A journey through radical Islam), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 88-04-52421-9
  • Saddam. Storia Segreta di un Dittatore (Saddam. A dictator's secret history), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 978-8804516330


Awards

In 2006, Allam was a co-winner, with three other journalists, of the $1 million Dan David prize, named for an Israeli entrepreneur. Allam was cited for "his ceaseless work in fostering understanding and tolerance between cultures."

On May 4, 2007, Allam was presented with the American Jewish Committee's Mass Media Award at its 101st Annual Meeting. His acceptance speech can be read and listened to here.

Notes

References

External links




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