Magdi Allam

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Magdi Cristiano Allam
Magdi Allam 02.JPG
Born (1952-04-22) April 22, 1952 (age 62)
Cairo, Egypt
Occupation politician, journalist, author, columnist
Religion Christian (since 2008)
Spouse(s) Valentina Colombo
Children Sofia (27), Alessandro (23), Davide (1)
Website
www.magdiallam.it (Italian only)

Magdi Cristiano Allam[1] (Arabic: مجدي علام‎ Maǧdī ʿAllām; born April 22, 1952), is an Egyptian-born Italian journalist and politician, 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 Christianity during the Vatican's 2008 Easter vigil service presided over by Pope Benedict XVI.[2] He later abandoned the Catholic Church.[citation needed]

He also serves as a regional councillor in the Italian region of Basilicata after being elected in 2010 and a Member of the European Parliament for Italy since 2009.

Biography[edit]

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."[3] 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[edit]

Allam describes growing up in a vibrant and multicultural Cairo. 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." [4] 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." [4] However, an unpleasant incident occurred when he was detained and interrogated at age 15 by the Muhabarat, or political police, on suspicion of espionage 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[citation needed]. Allam's sympathy for the plight of the girl and her family might have displeased the authorities. He claims the trauma of that interrogation accompanied him until Christmas Eve 1972 when he left Egypt to continue his studies in Italy.

Immigration to Italy and wedding[edit]

In 1972 he moved to Italy and enrolled in La Sapienza University of Rome. He graduated from La Sapienza with a degree in sociology and in 1986 became an Italian citizen. Allam is married to a Catholic woman, Valentina Colombo, and has a young son from her, Davide (born 2008), and two adult children, Sofia (born 1981) and Alessandro (born 1985), from a previous marriage.[4]

Journalistic career[edit]

Allam began his journalistic career at the communist newspaper Il Manifesto. In 1978, 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. In 2003, following a radical shift in his views, Magdi Cristiano Allam joined the more conservative, Milan-based Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's oldest and largest daily newspaper, as vice-director ad personam.[2]

Conversion[edit]

On March 23, 2008, Magdi Cristiano Allam was offered the baptism during the Vatican's 2008 Easter Vigil service in St. Peter's Basilica 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." [3] 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.")[3] 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.""[3]

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.[3]

He added on Italian TV that he felt "great joy" after his conversion.[5]

Response to conversion[edit]

Magdi Cristiano Allam's conversion was criticized both by Muslim associations and by progressive Catholics.

The Holy See, despite the baptism of Allam, persisted in Christian-Muslim dialogue and distanced itself from several of Allam's political views: "On Thursday the Vatican tried to distance Pope Benedict from the baptized journalist's political views who was known for his sallies against Islam in Italy.[6]

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".[7] The group's spokesperson, Issedin El Zir, said:

He is an adult, free to make his personal choice.[7]

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.[7]

The Spanish daily El País criticized Allam's 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.[8]

Some criticized the publicity given to the conversion, thus questioning his sincerity and even suggesting a politically motivated apostasy.[9]

Abandonment of the Catholic Church[edit]

On the 25 March 2013, he publicly announced his abandonment of the Catholic Church to protest its "soft stance against Islam". Allam said he would remain a Christian but that he didn't "believe in the church anymore."[10][11]

Political career: MEP[edit]

He joined politics in 2009, being elected as a Member of the European Parliament (in June 2009) with the center-right Christian-democrat Italian party UDC.[12] He also founded a personal movement called "Io Amo L'Italia" (I love Italy).[13] However, as a Member of the European Parliament he is still a member of the UDC delegation in the EP (EPP party group).

Opinion and stances[edit]

Early progressive views (1978-2003)[edit]

During most of his journalistic career (roughly from 1978 to 2003), Allam worked at the center-left leaning and moderate 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.

On the compatibility between Islam and the West[edit]

For a long time, he maintained the position that Islam was compatible with Western civilization and values and he tried to build and believe in a progressive, moderate and liberal Islam. In a meeting with high school students broadcast on Italian public television RAI, 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.[14]

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.[14]

Against fears of immigration[edit]

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 problem [14] But 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.

Against the "Clash of civilizations" theory[edit]

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.[15]

Later conservative views (2003-Today)[edit]

Before converting to Christianity, Magdi Cristiano Allam was a Muslim by birth. He made the pilgrimage to Mecca, with his deeply religious mother in 1991.[2] In his autobiography Vincere la paura (Conquering Fear), Cristiano Allam acknowledges thinking about conversion to Christianity on moving to Italy.

Starting from the end of 2002, Allam gradually assumed virtually opposite opinions on most issues related to Islamic world and Middle-East. 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 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 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."[16]

Opposition to multiculturalism[edit]

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."[17] 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, 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.[17]

Previously having been a believer in multiculturalism, he now claimed that multiculturalism is dangerous and wrote against "submitting ourselves to different ideologies and faiths."[17]

Criticism of Islam[edit]

In his public letter to the editor of Corriere della Sera about his conversion, Allam stated that Islam was inseparable from Islamic extremism. Criticising 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 Qur'an. 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.[3]

Ban on mosque building[edit]

In 2005, Allam published an article calling for a ban on building mosques in Italy.[18] 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.

Support of Israel[edit]

The change allowed him to become a staunch supporter of Israel, argue against the formula "territories for peace" which he had championed for more than 25 years.[4] His unwavering support for Israel, he claims, is because the "origin of the ideology of hatred, violence and death is the discrimination against Israel."[7]

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.[4] 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. According to Italian and Egyptian secret services, Hamas and Egyptian terrorists Islamist groups has claimed responsibility for such a threat. That fore, in 2003, the Italian government provided him with a sizable security detail.[2]

Support for Israeli military action against Iran[edit]

On the issue of Iran's nuclear quest, Magdi Cristiano Allam has said Israel should do whatever it takes to stop Iran's nuclear program, indirectly suggesting that Israel should bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.[4] 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."[4]

Unauthorized email controversy[edit]

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,[19] 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.[20]

Criticism[edit]

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. [21]

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."[9]

Other Commentators warn that his pro-Israeli and anti-Islam 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 among the Catholic side of leading Italian party Forza Italia and its electorate: indeed his Godfather was Maurizio Lupi, an elected representative of Forza Italia with well-known connections in the Vatican establishment.[22]

Italian-Jewish journalist 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 Phoenicians 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 sanctity of life. For the Love of God, let us be what we are! Certain travesties are too dangerous in a time of war. [16]

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." [23]

Published works[edit]

  • (Italian) Viva Israele (Long Live Israel), Mondadori, 2007, ISBN 978-88-04-56777-6
  • (Italian) 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
  • (Italian) 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
  • (Italian) 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
  • (Italian) Diario dall'Islam (A diary from Islam), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 88-04-50478-1
  • (Italian) Bin Laden in Italia. Viaggio nell'Islam Radicale (Bin Laden in Italy. A journey through radical Islam), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 88-04-51416-7
  • (Italian) Jihad in Italia. Viaggio nell'Islam Radicale (Jihad in Italy. A journey through radical Islam), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 88-04-52421-9
  • (Italian) Saddam. Storia Segreta di un Dittatore (Saddam. A dictator's secret history), Mondadori, 2002, ISBN 978-88-04-51633-0

Awards[edit]

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."[24]

On May 4, 2007, Allam was presented with the American Jewish Committee's Mass Media Award at its 101st Annual Meeting.[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ At his baptism he chose Cristiano to be his middle name (see "Buona Pasqua a tutti: ricevere il Battesimo dal Papa nel Giorno della Risurrezione è il dono più grande della vita!" (in Italian). Personal Website of Magdi Allam. Retrieved 2008-03-23. )
  2. ^ a b c d "Pope baptizes prominent Muslim editor". Associated Press. 2008-03-22. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion". ZENIT. 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Man, Saviona (2007-07-02). "Muslim, Italian and Zionist". Haaretz. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  5. ^ D'emilio, Francis (2008-03-24). "Muslim Baptized by Pope Sought Dialogue". townhall.com. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  6. ^ "Mentegetőzik a Vatikán - semmi közük a megkeresztelt muzulmán nézeteihez". Stop (in Hungarian). 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2012-08-08. 
  7. ^ a b c d Winfield, Nicole (2008-03-22). "Pope baptizes prominent Italian Muslim". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  8. ^ "Conversión bajo los focos". El País (in Spanish). 2008-03-25. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  9. ^ a b "Meno male é solo Magdi Allam" (in Italian). effedieffe.com. 2008-03-23. 
  10. ^ (Italian) Allam, Magdi Cristiano (25 March 2013). "Perché me ne vado da questa Chiesa debole con l'islam". Il Giornale. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  11. ^ "Magdi Allam, Muslim Convert, Leaves Catholic Church, Says It's Too Weak Against Islam". The Huffington Post. 25 March 2013. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  12. ^ http://www.udc-italia.it/?h_dx=1280
  13. ^ www.magdiallam.it. www.magdiallam.it. Retrieved on 2013-09-07.
  14. ^ a b c Allam, Magdi (2001-04-02). "Al bahr al abian al mutawassit = Mediterraneo" (in Italian). RAI. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  15. ^ Allam, Magdi (2001-09-23). "E adesso cosa succederà" (in Italian). Repubblica. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  16. ^ a b Lerner, Gad. "La Differenza tra Traditori e Transfughi." (in Italian). Vanity Italia. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  17. ^ a b c Allam, Magdi (2008-02-26). "Magdi Allam denounces the pitfalls of multiculturalism". Corriere della Sera. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  18. ^ Moschee-mania, serve uno stop ("Mosque-mania needs stopped"), Corriere della Sera, September 29, 2005
  19. ^ See the links to reactions about Magdi Allam's article collected in Dalla parte di Lia 7 on the blog Gattostanco on January 20, 2007 and for instance Luca Conti's Pubblicare email private e l'etica del giornalismo on Pandemia, January 16, 2007
  20. ^ See the Sentence of the Guarantor and its announcement in the Guarantor's Newsletter N. 293 dated July 26, 2007
  21. ^ Evangelisti, Valerio (2003-04-07). "Egyptian Pinocchio" (in Italian). Carmilla online. 
  22. ^ "PAPA/ MAGDI ALLAM RICEVE BATTESIMO DA BENEDETTO XVI" (in Italian). APCOM. 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  23. ^ Zucconi, Vittorio (2006-02-25). "Neo-Virgins". La Repubblica Online. 
  24. ^ Official announcement for the 2006 Laureates
  25. ^ "Magdi Allam Accepts Mass Media Award". israelenews.com. 2007-08-12. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 

External links[edit]