Dialogue To Win Peace

Remain in order to build. A positive dialogue with moderate Islam. The alliance with moderate Arab nations and the involvement of international forces. But no half measures with the fundamentalists

by Renato Farina

Could there possibly be positivity even in this horrendous war? Nick Berg, Jewish and American, was beheaded in a religious ritual in the name of God. And then there are the American torturers. We don’t want to line them up against the Al Qaeda terrorists to see who is worse, for such a game would offend the victims. It is certain that those coalition soldiers were hiding from Christ when they committed such actions; none of them invoked God as an ideological shield.
Given these facts, now we have the choice about Iraq. What should we do? Remain? Go? How should we behave with our own Islamic communities? We spoke about all these things with Magdi Allam, a well-known figure by now, whose thought, though, is often relayed only in fragments on television. Allam, a journalist with Corriere della Sera, hired by the Director, Stefano Folli, as his Vice-Editor ad personam, is an Italian citizen, born in Egypt, a non-observant Muslim Arab. He has recently published Kamikaze made in Europe. Riuscirà l’Occidente a sconfiggere i terroristi islamici? (Kamikazes Made in Europe. Will the West Succeed in Defeating Islamic Terrorists?). With this article, we announce that he will be one of the speakers at the 2004 Meeting for Friendship Between Peoples, in Rimini, Italy, this summer.

No total confrontation
Let’s say it right away: Allam is not desperate. He does not believe in the inevitability of a full-scale armed conflict, the famous total war of civilizations between Christianity and Islam. He asserts that a positive dialogue with moderate Islam is both possible and necessary. But he holds back no punches against lukewarm treatment of fundamentalists.
He asserts, “The execution of Nick Berg was made even more atrocious by the fact that it was done in the name of God and the Prophet, in the conviction of being the interpreters and repository of true Islam, which is seen as the religion and culture of death! They totally reject the value of the life of the person, yet everyone clearly knows that the life of the individual has to be the fulcrum of any religion and civilization that hopes to call itself human. There can be no dialogue with this Islam. But this is not Islam! Judging this way would do a favor to Al Qaeda. Rather, I believe that the execution of that poor American actuates an ideology that explicitly wants to impose itself as the true Islam, without being such at all.”
Magdi Allam asserts that the majority of Muslims hold very different positions, even in Iraq. It is wrong to consider the Shiites of Al Sadr, who announced the will to kill Westerners, as representative of most Iraqi Shiites. Al Sistani, a figure of much greater authority and with a much larger following, holds very different positions, and recognizes “the value of the person, the sacredness of life.” Leaving would mean abandoning those lands to a civil war, where Al Qaeda would intervene heavily to establish supremacy in Mesopotamia and, from there, everywhere. This situation would be irresponsible in terms of the Iraqis and moderate Arab nations, but also highly dangerous for the security of the West.

The battle against nihilism
We attempt with Magdi Allam to understand the work necessary on the home front and in the land of the Tigris and Euphrates. He starts with a premise: “Muslims cannot be treated as a block, but must be considered each as a person. The West cannot possibly make its own the measurement standard of Islamic fundamentalism, by which there are no individuals, but only faceless collective entities to be subjugated or annihilated. Each man is free (except the kamikazes, who are reduced to robots).”
We go point by point. What is going to happen with this war on terrorism? He responds, “It depends on the West’s capacity to understand what it is dealing with and on its will. First of all, it needs to be convinced of the reality. The war unleashed by Bin Laden and his men is not a war of reaction, caused by a certain mistaken policy or by some supposed exploitation. It is an aggressive, frontal, and total war. To appear accommodating would only goad them to new incursions. The powerful weapons of this war are the kamikazes, something profoundly different from traditional arms, not only in war, but also in terrorism itself. The kamikazes, who proliferate most of all in Europe, are live weapons from the moment that they proclaim themselves available for martyrdom. They are robots of death, emptied of any will. It is clear that such a weapon demands different political, military, legal, and cultural responses from those traditionally used.” Here, a cultural battle against nihilism must be undertaken. Legally, the question is very delicate. In practice, today a martyr candidate cannot be stopped except in the instant before he explodes himself, something that is always impossible. We saw this in the case of the Moroccan kamikaze who killed himself in Brescia last March 28th. Should the exaltation of martyrdom and jihad be made a crime? Magdi intimates yes. In any case, it must no longer be possible for anyone to preach these things while the authorities stand by and do nothing.

Human and civil rights
From the political point of view, Magdi Allam suggests a strong alliance with moderate Arab nations and the involvement of international forces. A bit more intelligence wouldn’t hurt either. “I saw a check-point in Baghdad. A tribal dignitary was treated without any deference by the American soldiers, right in front of his men. These humiliations make an enemy out of someone who was well disposed. A bit more culture and esteem of the other is needed.”
In Italy? He responds that the true problem is the representation of the Muslims. We simply cannot expect it from mosque leaders. “Out of a million Muslims, mosque attendees are 5%. Among them, 70% is represented by UCOI. Its leaders want the mosque-ization of Islam so they can control Muslims politically.” They are related to the “brother Muslims” who think they can conquer society by exploiting the fragility of democracy. Allam proposes a dialogue not based on handshakes and generic discussions of peace and solidarity, but on the concreteness of human and civil rights–including the possibility of converting, for example. Mosques? “Yes, as long as they are glass houses. And if someone preaches jihad, out!” Unfortunately, the opposite occurs. Magdi laments that “the imam of the Great Mosque in Rome was sent back to Egypt because he was moderate.” So, the struggle against terrorism is a battle that concerns us. Allam says, “There needs to be a re-conquest, both on the part of the West, with its Christian culture, and on the part of moderate Muslims. Both are at war, and must realize they are on the same side, and that it is urgent to become active allies against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.”