TCS Daily

A Farewell to Imams

By Stefania Lapenna - September 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Italy's recent crackdown on suspected terrorists led some analysts to wonder if the country is toughening its anti-terror policies, after years of lacking a serious strategy to deal effectively with the problem. It seems that at least this time the analysts are correct.

After the London bombings, most of Europe has begun to wake up to the nature of the enemy and many concede that nobody is immune to it. Over the last few weeks, the Italian interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, has toughened anti-terror laws and made hate speech punishable with jail or forced expulsion.

In the first application of the newly-approved law, a fundamentalist imam, the Moroccan Bouriki Bouchta, has been expelled and sent back to Morocco. Bouchta, a self-proclaimed imam of the Turin mosque, was accused of expressing public admiration for Osama Bin Laden and praising Al Qaeda's actions during Friday sermons. He was the owner of a Halal butcher shop in Turin and was regarded as a figure of controversy. Yet, he was often interviewed by Italian TV channels and even invited to participate to terrorism-related talk shows. He has now been declared persona non grata.

Similarly, another terror-enabling imam, the Senegalese Abdoul Mamour, was expelled for referring to Bin Laden as "our brother in Islam, May Allah Bless him" and "a true Islamic freedom fighter". The interior minister has announced that other expulsions are possible in the coming days and weeks.

Currently, the Italian government is considering adopting special legislation modeled in part on the US Patriot Act. If so, Italy would be the first European country to adopt a special legislation with respect to Islamic terrorism.

But until now, some other worrying phenomena have been widely ignored. The Egyptian-born Magdi Allam, a very well-informed investigative journalist of Il Corriere della Sera, has recently written an editorial warning the education minister to reject the call for legalizing a Milan-based Islamic school. The school belongs to a controversial mosque and is suspected of teaching an extremist version of Islam.

Recently, some 44 US Senators have asked Italy to investigate the activities of the "Anti-Imperialist Camp" and groups like "Iraq Libero" (Free Iraq). Both are Marxist and extreme leftist organizations that have been collecting money to send to the "Iraqi resistance".

Whether Italy intends to open an inquiry into these groups is not yet known. But one major step has been taken in the last few days, when Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini denied entry visas to two Iraqi Baathists who were to attend a controversial meeting in northern Italy.

But it is not over. Italian news agencies reported that a terrorist formerly detained in the Abu Ghraib prison has been invited to Italy by the very same "Free Iraq" group that collects euros for Islamic terrorism against Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. It's not clear whether he will be granted an entry visa.

What is certain is that a network of controversial groups organizes illegal actions, and thus violates the Italian law. One of these is the so-called "Islamic Anti-Defamation League" (IADL) established by a minority of Muslims whose goal is "monitoring anti-Islamist writings and defeating racism". In truth, it is nothing but an anti-constitutional group willing to limit free speech, mainly criticism of Islam and certain aspects of it.

Some IADL members have been monitoring several blogs, threatening the owners with lawsuits defaming and publishing personal info of those who "dare" to criticize fundamentalism. Among the victims of this intimidation is a columnist for liberal newspapers such as Il Riformista and L'Opinione. The owner of a self-titled blog is "guilty" of posting about the "anti-imperialist camp's" secret ties to terrorist organizations. A member of the "monitoring group" has commented on his blog warning him to "rest assured that, from today, you have new visitors". But the blogger has responded by informing the investigative authorities, who have opened an inquiry into this secret organization.

The intimidation, however, targets even Magdi Allam, who writes editorials exposing such groups and warning the Italian government to take decisive and effective action. Similarly, articles on these cases have been published by some known newspapers such as Libero, which wrote about the reactions by some government officials and ministers. Both vowed to help the investigative authorities into discovering what is behind the monitoring groups like IADL.

As Allam often affirms, anti-terror policies must include monitoring mosques and Islamic centers and deporting the preachers of hate. The crackdown on terror cells and the forced expulsion of the Turin imam are but a first step in the right direction. The next move will tell us whether Italy has once and for all realized that tolerance toward intolerance has failed.

Stefania Lapenna is an Italian activist. She is author of the weblog Free Thoughts.


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