Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube/Diller distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. His bi-weekly column appears regularly in newspapers around the globe. His website, DanielPipes.org, is one of the most accessed internet sources of specialized information on the Middle East and Islam.
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."…
Regarding the question of the Islamization of Europe, Allam says, "Europe is already a bastion of Islamic extremism… 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."…
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."
Tariq Ramadan accuses me of lying, a charge I take seriously. But, as so often is the case with Islamists and other totalitarians, the accuser himself stands accused.
Ramadan sat in the audience during my debate with Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, on January 20, 2007, and heard me call on Westerners to help build a moderate Islam. Addressing the mayor, I suggested (as can be read in the transcript, “Radical Islam vs. Civilization”) that moderate Islam
can be achieved not via the get-along multiculturalism that you propose, but by standing firm with our civilized allies around the globe, and especially with liberal voices in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Iranian dissidents, and reformers in Afghanistan.
I also propose standing with their counterparts in the West, with such individuals as … Magdi Allam, an Egyptian who is now a leading Italian journalist; Naser Khader, a parliamentarian in Denmark; Salim Mansur, a professor and author in Canada, and Irfan Al-Alawi, an activist here in Britain.
At a subsequent panel that day titled “Is There an Islamic Threat?" which I did not attend but which two people told me about and Carol Gould wrote about, Ramadan attacked me for my mention of Magdi Allam. Mozammel Haque then confirmed these reports in an article titled “Professor Tariq Ramadan on Islamic Threat,” published in the February 9 issue of The Muslim Weekly, an Islamist publication. Here is the relevant section, complete with original typos:
Professor Daniel Pipes spoke about moderate Muslim and by the way, he mentioned this morning about an Egyptian Copt as moderate Muslim in his debate. Professor Ramadan said, “The fact he was mentioning was wrong. He was lying. By the way, he is a Copt. He is an Egyptian Christian. But he has an Arab name.”
Note two initial points here: (1) Ramadan does not say I was mistaken in identifying Allam as a Muslim, but that I “was lying.” He thus implies I know Allam to be Christian but deceptively called him a Muslim. Strong words on Ramadan’s part. (2) Strange words, actually, given that I did not, either in the above excerpt or anywhere else in my London talk, identify Allam as a Muslim, only as a one of several “civilized allies.” Ramadan gratuitously inserted me into an obscure argument over Allam’s religious adherence.
And Magdi Allam himself, a leading figure at the Corriere della Sera newspaper, what does he say about his faith? (I thank Lorenzo Vidino for help with the following information.) Allam published an autobiography Vincere la paura. La mia vita contro il terrorismo islamico e l'incoscienza dell'Occidente (“Winning Fear: My life against Muslim terrorism and Western innocence”) in 2005 in which he wrote at length (pp. 18-52) about his childhood in Egypt, where he was born to parents who both identified themselves as Muslims and was raised a Muslim. A few quotes make this point evident:
“The Islam that I have lived, the Islam in which I was born and raised...” (“L’islam che ho vissuto, l’islam in cui sono nato e cresciuto...”), p. 27.
“My mother, who has always been a practicing Muslim, ...” (“Mia madre, che e’ sempre stata una musulmana praticante, ...”), p. 32.
“My parents were both Muslims, they believed in the same God and shared the same set of values and culture” (“I miei genitori erano entambi musulmani, credevano nello stesso Dio e condividevano il medesimo sistema di valori e culturale”), p. 37.
Allam acknowledges thinking about conversion to Christianity on moving to Italy so as to fit in better, but he never took this step. He has no links to the Copts. The publisher’s blurb for Vincere la paura sums up Allam’s self-presentation: “Magdi Allam describes himself as a secular Muslim born and raised in Nasser’s Egypt” (”Magdi Allam racconta se stesso, musulmano laico nato e cresciuto nell’Egitto di Nasser).”
Whence, then, Ramadan’s calumny about Allam being a Copt? Because of bad blood between the two men, both Europeans of Egyptian origin. For example, Allam’s autobiography includes an “Open Letter to Tariq Ramadan” (“Lettera aperta a Tariq Ramadan”) that exposes Ramadan as an extremist and because Allam refused to appear with Ramadan, the latter was denied an award from the PEN American Center.
Ramadan has allies in this claim, such as the Unione delle Comunità ed Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia (“Union of the Communities and Organizations Muslims in Italy”) and one Miguel Martinez, a polemicist engaged in a sustained campaign to malign and discredit Allam.
At minimum, casting Allam as a Copt blunts his important anti-Islamist voice. Maximally, identifying him as an apostate from Islam endangers his life. It is no secret that Allam makes no move without his multiple, around-the-clock, state-supplied bodyguards by his side. Ramadan, to his permanent shame, is party to this endangerment of a brave and creative Muslim thinker.
So, to review: Magdi Allam was born a Muslim, grew up a Muslim, and identifies today as a Muslim. But Ramadan deems him a Christian. I called for standing by Allam. Ramadan says I “was lying.”
Dear Reader: Who do you consider the liar here?
A hint: This is not Ramadan’s first public entanglement with the truth. Two other cases include:
His justifying the murder of Israelis, pretending he had not done so, and getting caught out by a tape recording of his words;