By Ariadna Theokopoulos
When I read the news releases about Magdi Allam’s Easter baptism by the Pope I immediately thought of the decline of the American economy. Granted, these days if you show me a finger (any finger) I think about the US economy, but in this case the association is not without justification. Consider the facts:
Magdi Allam is the Egyptian born deputy editor of Corriere della Sera (a more stylish, as are most things Italian) version of, say, Washington Times or some such right-wing outlet. He has been writing for a long time now about the despicable and dangerous awfulness of Islam, has passionately defended Israel’s “right to exist,” strongly supported the Pope’s Regensburg University speech (citing an obscure Byzantine emperor about the inherent violence and inhumanity of Islam). He has vituperated in the pages of the Corriere against the appeal to boycott the Torino Book Fair (as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian plight) to which Israel’s participation was invited, an initiative he described as an “islamofascist” (“neonazisti islamici”) attempt to deny Israel its right to exist as a Jewish state. He stated (my personal favorite) that Israel is “the paradigm of the right to life.”
According to wikipedia: “He objects to allowing Muslims to have their own courts in matters of family law (a suggestion that was embraced by the Archbishhop of Canterbury…) uses incendiary language, warning that assimilation and acceptance of Muslims in Europe is a process that will "unbalance the country and overthrow constitutional order." He supports a ban on building Mosques.
Cited as opposing views: “According to his supporters, Allam is the perfect archetype of a moderate Muslim and Arab who has accepted Western ideals and culture… According to his opponents, Allam is an unreliable person who spreads suspicion and hatred against Islam and Muslim people by reporting undocumented, unverified or even utterly false news.” I cannot see the opposition or contradiction here since he seems to fulfill the official definition of “the perfect archtype of a moderate Muslim and Arab.” All perfect reasons, therefore, to be dubbed by the Italian press a “moderate Muslim.”
Magdi I-Never-Pray-I-Ignore-the-Five-Pillars-of-Islamic-Faith-and-I-Am-Married-to-a-Catholic Allam has tried to project himself, not as a Muslim, but as a man of the world, admirer of Western values who only had the accident of birth of being the son of Muslims and being raised as a Muslim. This accident of birth, he said, gave him “una trauma profunda.” On the plus side, his background gave him the Muslim insider’s knowledge that enables him to trade in the market of explaining Islam to the Western values shareholders.
The market, however, abhors shades, nuances and ambiguity. It demands clarity; hence he was to be sold as a “moderate Muslim.”
His labors have been amply rewarded starting with the position of deputy editor of the Corriere. In 2006 Israel honored him with the Dan David Prize, $1 million to be shared with two other journalist “friends of Israel.” After claiming he received death threats, he was provided by the Italian authorities with personal security, a hallmark of an adoptive Western values martyr.
When he decided to convert to Catholicism, the Pope himself baptized him (not his parish priest in a private ceremony, not even a bishop, but the Infallible himself in the traditional Easter ceremony), and then stated (or is it “bulled” cf Papal Bulla?): “Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation.” Faith obviously means only the Catholic faith. His Holiness also said that by faith “distances between people are overcome.” In Allam’s case the distance was tiny and symbolic: only the hydroritual separated him spiritually from the Pope. “Conversion is a private matter, a personal thing,” Cardinal Giovanni re told an Italian newspaper in reference to the baptism that was broadcast around the world, seemingly oblivious to the absurdity of his statement. Magdi Allam is now Christian Allam.
Spectacular but not a smart career move for Allam, in my opinion, since he has now lost his right to the “moderate Muslim” title. What will they call him now: “the Catholic formerly know as Muslim”? All he has left now in the way of authority as an Islam interpreter is his Arab name. But maybe things are different on the Italian market, which brings me back to my beef with the American economy and the American media markets.
I can only imagine the invidious bile with which Magdi is viewed by his “moderate Muslim” colleagues in the American media, toiling as hard, if not harder, to sell shares in the Islam Is evil doctrine and not reaping comparable rewards. They may even wonder with envy if Magdi got his Israeli prize in fat Euros instead of shrinking dollars.
I will not mention them by name, which might give their share value a bump, and wishing to avoid the effect of the observer influencing the phenomenon observed. As a “moderate Muslim” in America, whether you are a university professor or a rank-and-file professional ziopropagandist with no other means of support, no matter how hard you toil to justify the Bush-Chenney foreign policy and above all to defend Israel against “anti-Israel/anti-semitic” accusations (make that existential threats), to defend its sacred right to exist qua Israel as emblematic for our war on terror, do not expect to make out as well as Allam.
You will wear out your shoes and get laryngitis trudging from one TV channel to another, from AIPAC to B’nai Brith, to AEI meetings and all the other “friends of democracy,” “Americans for peace and democracy” (not exact names but close) neocon clubs, reciting your speech. They will never tire of hearing your insider’s testimony to the evil of Islam. They will never tire of your moving personal tale of suffering and mistreatment in a Lebanese hospital at the hands of fellow Arabs (Muslims, all), until the liberating Israeli soldiers came in and until the Israeli doctors dropped all the wounded Israeli soldiers to treat you, an Arab woman, first, because that’s how they are: noble, self-denying and imbued with Western values.
And what do you get in return? A per-speech stipend or a modest remuneration for being on the board of a non-profit “think tank.”
Why? It’s the law of supply and demand. Our market is glutted with “moderate Muslims” and “moderate Arab” pundits to the point where foreclosures are cropping up in this niche market as well. They are getting as hard to sell as real estate. I pity the young, aspiring zionism-loving American Muslims and Arabs trying to break into it now. No fat Israeli checks for them, no prominent positions in the national media. As for being baptized by the Pope, well that’s not such a hot idea here right now anyway. Not with the Catholic Church being called a “cult” and a ”whore” by Reverend Hagee, the friend and admired spiritual leader of presidential candidate John McCain. Hagee has strong credentials as a great friend of Israel and a huge following among the rapturists in America but he is not seen as Infallible by the majority of American people so any baptisms he performs would not be on television.
In a bad economy the niche markets suffer too and nothing kills commerce as much as a market glut.
My advice to aspiring (or recently unemployed) “Muslim moderates” in the US is: “Go east, young man. Go east! Go to Italy!”
-Ariadna Theokopoulos contributed this story to PalestineChronicle.com