By Enza Ferreri
Only a few days ago one of the best known figures of the Italian counter-jihad, Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Cristiano Allam, a former Muslim who converted to Catholicism, announced that, although he remains Christian, he has left the Catholic Church.
In his column in the daily paper Il Giornale he gave several reasons, prominent among which is “Because this Church is weak vis-à-vis Islam”:
What more than anything else drove me away from the Church is its religious relativism, in particular the legitimization of Islam as true religion, of Allah as true God, of Muhammad as true prophet, of the Koran as sacred text, of mosques as places of worship. It is genuine suicidal madness that John Paul II went so far as to kiss the Koran on May 14, 1999, Benedict XVI put his hand on the Koran praying toward Mecca in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on November 30, 2006, while Francis I began by extolling the Muslims “who worship one, living and merciful God.” On the contrary I am convinced that, while respecting Muslims who, like all people, possess the inalienable rights to life, dignity and freedom, Islam is an inherently violent ideology, as it has historically been conflictual inside and belligerent outside. Even more I am increasingly convinced that Europe will eventually be submitted to Islam, as has already happened from the seventh century to the other two sides of the Mediterranean, if it does not have the vision and the courage to denounce the incompatibility of Islam with our civilization and the fundamental rights of the person, if it does not ban the Koran for apology of hatred, violence and death against non-Muslims, if it does not condemn Sharia law as a crime against humanity in that it preaches and practices the violation of the sanctity of everyone’s life, the equal dignity of men and women, and religious freedom, and finally if it does not block the spread of mosques.
This news has attracted national and worldwide media attention, just as the announcement of his conversion from Islam to Catholicism on 22 March, Easter Eve night, 2008 did, when he “received Baptism, Confirmation and Communion in St Peter’s Basilica from Pope Benedict XVI”.
Allam’s position has several Italian (and international) counter-jihad blogs sympathetic to it, carrying articles with titles like Islamic Fundamentalism and the Impossible Dialogue.
But his new decision to leave the Church has also attracted many criticisms in Italy. Journalist Filippo Savarese: “I do not know what could be worse than repudiating one’s conversion for (alleged) issues which are in fact mostly ‘political’.” Politician Maurizio Lupi who was Allam’s godfather: “I am sorry, but Christianity taught me to love the freedom of every man and to respect it even when I do not agree with his choices. In this case not even with the reasons (we are Christian for love of truth not for aversion to Islam), but I notice that, unfortunately, this is the attitude of many who say they accept Christ but not the Church.”
Gabriele Satolli, candidate to the 2013 Italian general election for the party founded by Allam, Io Amo l’Italia, left the party, called Magdi’s motivations “raving, and therefore impossible to agree with.”
Still, although we may dispute whether they are a good enough reason to leave the Catholic Church, Allam’s arguments are grounded in reality.
“Having a dialogue” is by definition a reciprocal verb, as “being a sibling.” They mean something only if what is true of the subject of the verb is also true of the object, be it a quality, relationship or activity. When a call for dialogue is not met with a response, it is a monologue.
As Raymond Ibrahim points out, the Muslim countries with some of the worst records on their treatment of Christians are also the most interested in interfaith initiatives in the West:
Few things offer surreal experiences as when Islam and the West interact—when 7th century primordialism encounters 21st century relativism. Consider the issue of “interfaith dialogue.” In principle, it is a decent thing: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others trying to reach a common ground and professing mutual respect. But what does one make of the gross contradictions that emerge when a human-rights violating nation calls for “dialogue,” even as it enforces religious intolerance on its own turf?
Enter Saudi Arabia. Birthplace of Islam, the Arabian kingdom is also the one Muslim nation that regularly sponsors interfaith initiatives in the West—even as its official policy back home is to demonize and persecute the very faiths it claims to want to have an interfaith dialogue with.
There are different positions within the Catholic Church with regard to Islam, with a minority of voices, some of which are powerful, dissenting from the official stance.
The two positions at the extreme opposites are exemplified by the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who was Archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, Archbishop of Bologna.
The former is credited with having anticipated many bishops of Italy and Europe in stretching out an acquiescent hand towards Islam. As early as 1990 he dedicated his Saint Ambrose homely to “We and Islam.” In 2001, after 9/11, his Saint Ambrose homely had a title that substituted a clear stance with a list of concepts: “Terrorism, retaliation, self-defence, war and peace.”
On Islam, the most difficult issue of the decade, as well as on many other questions, Martini’s position has always been the search for a grey area, a balancing act: “We have to prevent the dramatic scenario of a clash of civilizations,” qualified by “We must not delegitimize the right to self-defence from terrorism and the need to extinguish its hotbeds.”
It is interesting how, replicating the ideological and political alliance between Islam and the Left in the Western lay world, Cardinal Martini, considered a progressive and constantly praised by the mainstream liberal media, was after his death eulogized by the leftist newspaper La Repubblica for having approved of policies ranging “from dialogue with Islam to yes to condoms” and because “he had never condemned euthanasia.”
Writer and blogger Antonio Socci thus sums him up rather unfavourably: “Everything imposed by ideological fashions found Martini open to dialogue and to all possibilities: ‘there is nothing wrong in two people, even homosexuals, having a stable relationship and in the State favouring them,’ he had said.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Cardinal Giacomo Biffi. As early as 30 September 2000, before 9/11, when not many people in the West worried about Islam at all, he delivered a speech at the Fondazione Migrantes seminar, “On Immigration”. The following [translated from Italian by the author] is what he said on Muslim immigration to Italy and Islam:
The case of Muslims
If we do not want to evade or censor realistic attention, it is apparent that the case of Muslims should be treated separately. And it is hoped that political leaders will not be afraid to face it with open eyes and without illusions.
Muslims – in their vast majority and with few exceptions – come here determined to remain alien to our “humanity”, individual and social, in its most essential, valuable, “secularly” non-renounceable aspects: more or less openly, they come here determined to remain substantially “different”, waiting for us all to become substantially like them.
They have different eating habits (not in itself a big problem), a different holiday in the week, a family law incompatible with our own, a concept of women very far removed from ours (going as far as practicing polygamy). Above all, they have a strictly fundamentalist view of public life, so much so that the perfect identification between religion and politics is part of their unquestionable and inalienable faith, although they prudently wait to become predominant before imposing it. It is therefore not the Church, but modern Western states that must think carefully about this.
I shall say more than that: if our state seriously believes in the importance of civil liberties (including religious) and democratic principles, it should work to make them more widespread, accepted and practiced at all latitudes. A small tool to achieve this goal is the request of being given a not purely verbal “reciprocity” by the immigrants’ countries of origin.
In this respect the Italian Bishops Conference wrote in 1993: “In many Islamic countries it is almost impossible to adhere to and freely practice Christianity. There are no places of worship, non-Islamic religious events are not allowed, not even minimal ecclesiastical organizations exist. That raises the difficult problem of reciprocity. And this is a problem that affects not only the Church, but also civil society and politics, the world of culture and even international relations. For his part, the Pope is tireless in asking everyone to respect the fundamental right to religious freedom” (n. 34). But – we say – asking does not help very much, even if the pope cannot do any more.
Although it may seem alien to our mentality and even paradoxical, the only effective and not unrealistic way to promote the “principle of reciprocity” by a really “secular” state, truly interested in propagating human freedoms, would be to allow for Muslims in Italy only the authorization of institutions which Muslim countries actually allow for others. […]
In an interview ten years ago, I was asked with great candor and with enviable optimism: “Are You among those who believe that Europe will either be Christian or cease to exist?” I think my answer then may well serve to conclude my speech today.
I think – I said – that either Europe will become Christian again or it will become Muslim. What I see without future is the “culture of nothing”, of freedom without limits and without content, of skepticism boasted as intellectual achievement, which seems to be the attitude largely dominant among European peoples, all more or less rich of means and poor of truths. This “culture of nothingness” (sustained by hedonism and libertarian insatiability) will not be able to withstand the ideological onslaught of Islam, which will not be missing: only the rediscovery of the Christian event as the only salvation for man – and therefore only a strong resurrection of the ancient soul of Europe – will offer a different outcome to this inevitable confrontation.
Unfortunately, neither “secularists” nor “Catholics” seem to have so far realized the tragedy that is looming. “Secularists”, opposing the Church in every way, do not realize that they are fighting against the strongest inspiration and the most effective defence of Western civilization and its values of rationality and freedom: they might realize it too late. “Catholics”, letting the knowledge of the truth they possessed fade in themselves and replacing apostolic anxiety with pure and simple dialogue at all costs, unconsciously pave the way (humanly speaking) to their own extinction. The only hope is that the seriousness of the situation may at some point lead to an effective awakening both of reason and of the ancient faith.
It is our hope, our commitment, our prayer.
Written in 2000. All predictions confirmed. Truer, if possible, now than it was even then.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, author and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica.She blogs at www.enzaferreri.blogspot.co.uk