Pope baptizes prominent Muslim

Allam told 'Post' Israel shouldn't be fooled by Hamas, and that Iran's 'mad regime' must be stopped.

allam 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
allam 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A prominent Italian Muslim - an iconoclastic writer who has condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel - converted to Catholicism this weekend, in a baptism by the pope at the Vatican Easter service. Egyptian-born Magdi Allam, who is married to a Roman Catholic, has infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, where he is a deputy editor. Allam titled one book Long Live Israel. In a 2006 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Allam described Iran as "a main threat to stability and security in the world" and said its "mad regime" had to be stopped. He also spoke of a "global war between those who deny the others' right to exist and those who carry the ideology of violence and terrorism. It's a struggle between civilization and radical Islam and terrorism... The civilized world must not give up on the right to live for all." "If we exclude Israel, we will open the door wide open for terrorism against all of us," he said. As a choir sang on Saturday night, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam's head and said a brief prayer in Latin. "We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another," Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. "Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close." Allam, 55, told the newspaper Il Giornale in December that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombings had provoked threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a security detail. Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, a group of observant Muslims in Italy, said he respected Allam's choice but was "perplexed" by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert. "If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately," Pallavicini said, according to the ANSA news agency. Allam, who has a young son with his Catholic wife and two adult children from a previous relationship, had indicated to Il Giornale that he would have no problem converting to Christianity. He did not speak to the press on Saturday, and his newspaper said it had no information about his conversion. Allam explained his decision to title a recent book Viva Israele (Long Live Israel) by saying he wrote it after he received death threats from Hamas. "Having been condemned to death, I have reflected a long time on the value of life. And I discovered that behind the origin of the ideology of hatred, violence and death is the discrimination against Israel. Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants," he said. "Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life." In 2006, Allam was a co-winner, with three other journalists, of the $1 million Dan David Prize, named for an Israeli entrepreneur. The award committee cited Allam for "his ceaseless work in fostering understanding and tolerance between cultures." In his 2006 interview with the Post, Allam expressed deep concern over the emerging alliance between Muslim fundamentalists and extremists living in Europe. He also warned Israel against believing that Hamas would one day change its radical and dangerous ideology. Hamas's terrorism against Israel, he said, was ideological terrorism. "They simply want to destroy Israel and that's all," he said. "That's why there's no point in talking to them." When Hamas talks of a hudna (cease-fire) with Israel, he said, "it is actually saying that it doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist. It is not talking at all about peace and a just and permanent solution, as we all want for the sake of the two peoples." Such a hudna, he said, "does not mean recognition of the other side and its right to exist. It only means winning some time to prepare for achieving what they really want. When we examine Hamas's ambitions, we see that its constitution calls for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state based on the Shari'a law. I don't believe we can allow Hamas to reach its goal, because this means the destruction of Israel. And it would also harm the Palestinians themselves. Hamas's strategy won't lead the Palestinians to statehood and peace based on coexistence alongside Israel." "There is no alternative to peace between Israel and the Palestinians - one that is based on a two-state solution where both people live next to one another peacefully. The solution begins by recognizing Israel's right to exist. There's a majority on both sides that believes in the two-state solution. The biggest obstacle to peace and coexistence is Palestinian terrorism that seeks to destroy Israel. Terrorism harms not only Israel, but the Palestinians as well." he said. In the interview, Allam described Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad as "the new Adolf Hitler and the head of a Nazi Islamic regime. He is a threat not only to Israel, but to Arab countries, especially in the Gulf. Iran is a real threat that should be dealt with instantly. We must stop this mad regime. If all the diplomatic initiatives fail to convince Iran to abandon its efforts to obtain the nuclear bomb, there will be no other choice but to launch a military strike." Overall, in the face of Islamic fundamentalism and terror, Allam urged "the modern world" to "stick to the principle of the right to live and liberty for all. This is what human civilization is about. We cannot accept any compromise on this principle." Israel, in particular, he said, "must stick to its principles, because this is the only way to guarantee your right to exist."