My friend Magdi Allam, the deputy editor of the Italian newspaper il Corriere della Sera, has converted from Islam to Catholicism and was baptized the night before Easter in a service conducted by the pope in St. Peter’s in Rome. It’s a courageous act, but then Magdi Allam is a brave man. His outspoken criticism of Italian Muslim radicals–especially their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and for Hamas–had already produced threats to his life several years ago, and, ever since, the Italian Government has protected him, his home, and his Italian wife Valentina. The increasingly sloppy Andrew Sullivan calls on his readers to pray for Magdi, who Sullivan says is NOW at risk, when in fact he is accompanied by carabinieri whenever he moves around Rome, and his house is under constant surveillance. So far as I know, no attempt on his life has been made. But, like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he is precisely the sort of elegant, sophisticated and thoughtful person that sets the Islamic fundamentalists’ teeth on edge.
He has long spoken on behalf of moderate Muslims, and greatly admires Pope Benedict XVI for his courage in simultaneously criticizing the lack of Muslim toleration and openness to human reason. And he incurred the wrath of both leftists and Muslims when he wrote a best-seller entitled “Viva Israele!” whose contents you can easily imagine. He had been a non-practicing Sunni Muslim, but anyone familiar with his writing can see that he had a religious vocation, and it is no surprise that he has found comfort in the Church.
I rather suspect that Magdi had been mulling this action for quite a while, but it also seems likely that he chose this moment in order to stick his thumb in al Qaeda’s eye. Just a few days ago, an al Qaeda video with a voice claiming to be Osama bin Laden’s denounced the pope for supporting a new “crusade” against Islam, and warned Europeans that there would be retribution (I think it’s a pony, of course; I think bin Laden’s dead and buried).
Theoretically, anyone who performs apostasy, as Magdi has, is subject to the death penalty, and no doubt there will be imams and ayatollahs who issue fatwas to this effect, even though some authoritative Muslim leaders have said that punishment for such sins is in the hands of the Almighty, not other men. So Magdi’s very public conversion, and his baptism by Benedict, is an act of defiance against those who have already forced him to live the life of a recluse.
Both Rushdie and Hirsi Ali come to America with some frequency, even though the government of the United States does not provide them with security. Ayaan has been forced to raise private money for her protection; I do not know Rushdie’s arrangements. Ayaan in Washington cannot carry a gun, because of the city’s virtually total ban on private weapons (let’s hope the Supreme Court puts a stop to that, in a current case). But is it not intolerable that several of the West’s most distinguished intellectuals are forced to distort their lives because of threats from fanatics who seek to silence them by any and all means?
To put it a bit differently: the Constitution guarantees us all freedom of speech. But there is no such freedom if you’re going to face death threats for speaking your mind. Some will be brave enough to face the threats and continue their criticism of the fanatics. But you can be sure that many others will just shut up.
If we are serious about our Constitutional freedoms, we’re going to have to find a way to defeat those who are now challenging them so brutally.
Those freedoms are most decidedly under fire in the Netherlands, a country once famous for its toleration and resistance to intimidation. Geert Wilders apparently can’t get his film on the Koran posted on line because his service provider is finding excuses not to.
I’m sure the powers-that-be at Pajamas Media would be pleased to give him some bandwidth, though…