RVW Le cardinal Tauran, nouveau président du Conseil pour le dialogue avec l’islam

ROME. Beno_t XVI a nomm_, lundi 25 juin, le cardinal fran_ais Jean-Louis Tauran comme pr_sident du conseil pontifical pour le dialogue interreligieux, sp_cialement charg_ de la relation avec l’islam. Le cardinal Tauran, 64 ans, est un diplomate qui a exerc_ au Liban avant de devenir secr_taire pour les rapports avec les Etats (1990-2003).

Tariq Ramadan Speaks Sunday in Rome

Tariq Ramadan will speak opposite playwright and producer British-Pakistani secular Hanif Kureishi in the final day of the Festival of the Philosophy. Critics see Ramadan’s presence at the conference as support for what they consider a radical position. Daniela Santanch_ (An) accused the Mayor Veltroni of Rome of having invited “a declared fundamentalist, a bandit from the university, and an accomplice to terrorism. Gabriella Carlucci (Fi), argued, “Tariq Ramadan cannot be granted a public forum to sow the seeds of his \wicked theories, and whoever does is his accomplice. Isabella Bertolini, accused Ramadan of anti-Semitism and called him an enemy of western civilization. Angelo Bonelli, President of the Federazione dei Verdi accuses the CDL of being blinded by Islamophobia and believes cross-cultural dialogue to be critical. Ramadan is a consultant of the English government, appointed by Tony Blair to help combating extremism and terrorism; in France he is involved with the Commission on Islam.

Bonelli of the Green Party accuses the CDL of Islamophobia

According to Angelo Bonelli of the Green Party, critics of Rome Mayor Veltroni’s decision to invite Tariq Ramadan to a recent conference in Rome on Islam have lost all sense of reason. Bonelli particularly condemned members of the center-right Casa delle Libert_ (CDL). “The CDL, he argued, is now blinded from a sort of Islamophobia and is critical of initiatives for dialogue. Bonelli defended the presence of Ramadan, who is a consultant for English Prime Minister Tony Blair and works officially with the Commission on Islam in France.

Muslim women don’t have to wear veils: Queen Rania

Islam does not require women to wear veils, Queen Rania al-Abdullah of Jordan has said in an interview, calling on Muslim moderates to “make their voices be heard.” “Islam neither requires one to be practising, nor to dress in one way or another,” the stylish 36-year-old queen told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera during a visit to Rome on Friday. “So imposing the veil on a woman is contrary to the principles of Islam,” said Queen Rania, who is in Rome for the launch of a Group of Seven (G7) programme to develop vaccines against diseases that are endemic in poor countries. “Unfortunately, after all the suspicion weighing on Islam, many people have begun to consider the veil as a political problem, but this is not the case,” she told Corriere. “Wearing the veil is a free personal choice.” Queen Rania urged “all moderates to stand up and let their voices be heard.” She added: “Many people are frustrated in the Arab world. Many give in to the anger because they are accused of violence. But instead we should get up, explain who we are and what we believe in. “Over the last three years, most victims of terrorism have been Muslim. So there’s not a war between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between extremists and moderates of all the religions,” the queen said. “What is important is not to live in fear. The most dangerous (thing to do) is to give up and lose hope. The main enemy is not terrorism or extremism, but ignorance,” she said.

Muslim students in Rome see learning as a two-way street: as they study Christianity, they find themselves ambassadors of Islam

ROME – When Zeinep Ozbek told her parents how she planned to pursue her education, they were shocked. Not only was the young Muslim woman about to leave her native Turkey, she was venturing into a strict traditional bastion of Christianity: Rome. Ozbek, 25, is now one of several Muslim students ensconced in the Vatican’s system of higher learning in and around the Italian capital. They attend pontifical universities, schools sanctioned by the Vatican, taking lessons from nuns and priests and sitting in classrooms decorated with crucifixes, in buildings adorned with larger-than-life statues and symbols of papal power. As Pope Benedict XVI travels to Turkey today, international attention is riveted on his attempts to improve troubled relations between Christians and Muslims. But here in Rome, at a more grass-roots level, a less-noticed experiment is taking place. Officially, the Muslim students attend the Jesuit-run Gregorian Pontifical University and other Vatican schools to learn about Christianity. In reality, they have become mediators navigating the suddenly very tricky world of interfaith dialogue and understanding. Some are meeting Christians for the first time, and they are often the first Muslims their Christian classmates have encountered. Several said they wanted to correct Western misconceptions about Islam. Interfaith dialogue was a favorite theme of the late Pope John Paul II, who became the first pontiff to enter a mosque. Benedict asks for an honest interaction that might ultimately lay bare mistrust and chafe historic sensitivities. His speech in September at the University of Regensburg in Germany was seen by many Muslims as an insult to their faith and its founder, the prophet Muhammad. In it, Benedict quoted a medieval emperor who branded Islam “evil and inhuman.” Ever since, in the face of Muslim anger, the pope has sought to explain that he was attempting to illustrate the incompatibility of faith and violence and that he has profound respect for Islam. In Turkey, crowds have been protesting the planned four-day visit. The Regensburg comments also proved problematic for Muslim students in Rome, and raised questions about the pope’s commitment to interfaith dialogue. “All the trouble of the recent months has been pushing people to think carefully about where dialogue is headed, and to realize how much more urgent it is,” said Father Daniel Madigan, head of the Gregorian’s Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures, where most of the Muslim students are based. The program at the Gregorian is facing some uncertainty because Madigan, a leading expert on Islam and interfaith relations at a time the Vatican needs such insight, is leaving Rome for a position at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. Ozbek, the Turkish woman working on a master’s degree, had never met a Christian before she came to Rome. The Christian communities in Turkey are tiny and generally linked to ethnic groups such as Greeks or Armenians that Ozbek did not find particularly embracing. Some of her friends and relatives were afraid her immersion in a Catholic world would cause her to lose her identity. But that is a fear of those insecure in their faith, she said; for her, learning about the “richness” of Christianity only expanded her own devotion and helped her see “the other” as a fellow human being. “Generally I’m the first Muslim person they have met and they ask lots of questions,” she said. Ozbek wears a head scarf. An irony of her experience here is that most Turkish universities, obeying a strictly enforced government policy of secularism, would not let her attend class with her head covered. Naser Dumarreh, 34, of Damascus, Syria, said the pious Catholic milieu that Rome provided was more comfortable than a secular Western environment. “I’m living in a Christian society, not a Western society, and there’s not such a big difference from an Islamic society,” said Dumarreh, one of the first Middle Easterners to join the program. The students said they felt a fair amount of pressure as representatives of Islam. “They expect me to know everything about Islam, to be able to quote all the verses of the Koran by heart,” said Mustafa Cenap Aydin, 28, a Turk who has been studying in Rome for three years. But he says there is a mutual learning curve. Until arriving at the Gregorian, he did not know of the many positive references to Christianity contained in the Koran. “I’m not the same Mustafa who came here,” he said. Several of the students said understanding Christianity had broadened their understanding of Islam, a later religion that incorporates some of the earlier Christian and Judaic traditions. “To study in Rome on Christianity means to me to discover the historical, literary and theological background of the Koran,” said Esra Gozeler, who is working here on her PhD and teaches theology at the University of Ankara in Turkey. Omar Sillah, a 30-year-old student from Gambia who is specializing in the three monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), has seen the traditions of his Muslim faith reflected in Catholicism. He knew Christians before coming to Rome; in fact, he studied at a missionary school in Gambia. But Rome was an eye-opener. After the pope’s Regensburg speech, Sillah said, he was bombarded with e-mails and questions from fellow students. He told them that a religion of violence and evil “is not the Islam that I follow.” His goal, he said, is to show Christians in Rome “by our actions” a different kind of Islam. But he doesn’t mind the endless queries. “That’s our goal – that’s dialogue,” he said.

Italian Muslims Endorse Pope’s Criticism of West

ROME – The leaders of Muslim communities in Italy endorsed on Monday statements by pope Benedict XVI who warned that Africa and Asia feel threatened by the West’s materialism and secularism. “We agree with the pope,” said Roberto Piccardo, the spokesman of Italy’s largest Muslim group UCOII. “It is true that Muslims are puzzled by a West which is hostage to a materialistic system.” Mario Scialoja, the former president of the World Muslim League, also expressed support for the pope’s words, saying that the “West’s exclusion of God leads to the wrong life models.”

Un Populist Italian Jette De L’huile Sur Le Feu

ROME – Un dirigeant de la droite populiste italienne exacerbe depuis plusieurs jours les sentiments anti-fran_ais en Italie avec des commentaires racistes sur l’_quipe de France de soccer, “compos_e de noirs, d’islamistes et de communistes”. Vice-pr_sident du S_nat italien et dirigeant de la Ligue du Nord, parti de droite populiste au ton souvent x_nophobe, Roberto Calderoli avait salu_ dimanche le titre de champion du monde comme “une victoire de l’identit_ italienne, d’une _quipe qui a align_ des Lombards, des Napolitains, des V_nitiens et des Calabrais et qui a gagn_ contre une _quipe de France qui a sacrifi_ sa propre identit_ en alignant des noirs, des islamistes et des communistes pour obtenir des r_sultats”. L’ambassadeur de France en Italie, Yves Aubin de Messuzi_re, a d_nonc_ une “d_claration inacceptable et m_prisable destin_e _ fomenter la haine” et a adress_ une lettre de protestation au pr_sident du S_nat, Franco Marini. Roberto Calderoli a refus_ mardi de s’excuser et a d_nonc_ “une volont_ de d_clencher un scandale”. Internationale “Quand je dis que l’_quipe de France est compos_e de noirs, d’islamistes et de communistes, je dis une chose objective et _vidente”, a-t-il affirm_, cit_ par l’agence Ansa. “Qui se scandalise et r_clame des excuses ne se sent pas la conscience tranquille”, a-t-il ajout_. “La France est une nation multiethnique, vu son pass_ colonialiste, ce dont je ne serais pas fier. Mais ce n’est pas ma faute si certains sont rest_s perplexes devant une _quipe qui a align_ sept noirs sur onze joueurs, si Barthez (le gardien de but) chante l’Internationale au lieu de la Marseillaise et si certains pr_f_rent la Mecque _ Bethl_em”, a-t-il poursuivi. “Je ne crois pas devoir avoir honte de ce que j’ai dit, m_me si cela choque _ Paris o_ l’on donne du g_nie _ Zidane, confondant coup de g_nie et coup de t_te”, a-t-il conclu. Ancien ministre des R_formes institutionnelles, Roberto Calderoli est coutumier des d_clarations outranci_res et des actes provocateurs. Au plus fort de la crise des caricatures controvers_es du proph_te Mahomet, il avait scandalis_ le monde musulman en arborant un T-shirt avec une de ces caricatures sur la premi_re cha_ne de la t_l_vision publique RAI. Silvio Berlusconi avait _t_ contraint de le limoger.

Italian PM Condemns Danish Cartoons

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought on Wednesday to distance Italy from Muslim outrage over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) by condemning the images, after anti-Italian rallies in Libya left 11 dead. Satire must not be disrespectful, he told the Arabic satellite television channel Al-Jazeera in an interview to be broadcast later Wednesday.

Anti-Muslim Writer, Pope Meet In Secret

By John Hooper in Rome Oriana Fallaci, the controversial Italian journalist and author who is awaiting trial on charges of vilifying Islam, has been granted a secret audience with Pope Benedict. Fallaci’s diatribes against Muslims’ persuasions have turned her into a hate figure for the Italian left and a heroine for the anti-immigrant right. The Pope’s decision to grant her the privilege of a private meeting came after he appeared to reach out to Muslims on his first trip abroad as pontiff. Benedict’s discussions with Fallaci are bound to fuel concern among liberal Catholics, already dismayed by discussions on Monday between the Pope and leaders of an ultra-conservative group of breakaway Catholics. The Society of St Pius X, whose founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated in 1988, rejects many of the progressive initiatives taken by the Second Vatican Council. One of the society’s main objections is that the council opened a dialogue with other religions. Vatican sources were embarrassed by disclosure of the meeting with Fallaci. The Italian news agency APcom reported that the Pope had received Fallaci on Saturday at his summer residence near Rome. No announcement was made before or after their encounter and not even Fallaci’s family was aware that the writer, who lives in the US, had been in Italy. The newspaper La Repubblica said the writer, who is being treated for cancer, had driven herself to and from Castelgandolfo. Vatican sources said the audience had been brief and had been held at her request. Fallaci repeatedly berated the Pope’s predecessor for pursuing talks with Muslims. But she has been more positive about the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. However, after the London bombings, she said she had been astonished by his insistence on the need for dialogue. “Do you really think that they can change, mend their ways and give up planting bombs?” In June, a judge in the northern Italian city of Bergamo ordered that the 76-year-old Fallaci should stand trial next year on charges of slandering Islam in her book The Strength of Reason, one of three polemical works published since the September 11 attacks on the US. On his first visit to his native Germany since his election, the Pope last month made a point of meeting Muslim officials, addressing them as “my dear Muslim friends”.

Pressure Is Growing On Muslims In Italy

By Elisabeth Rosenthal ROME As a second wave of London bomb attacks hit the news Thursday, Imam Khaldi Samir clicked nervously at his office computer, next to the prayer hall at the Alhuda Islamic Cultural Association on the outskirts of Rome. Bombs in London, he has seen, produce fallout for him. Just two days earlier, with Italy stepping up surveillance after the first round of London attacks, 10 plainclothes police officers with a search warrant turned up at 7 a.m. at the imam’s home in Latina, 70 kilometers, or 40 miles, south of Rome. During a three-hour raid, while his children slept, they scoured the home he shares with his Italian wife, and then downloaded numbers from his cellphone. The police explained that they were looking for clues related to the London bombings, although they found nothing, said the imam, who preaches to up to 800 mostly poor immigrant worshipers each week. The search warrant did not indicate that the imam himself was suspected of a crime. Instead, the police politely explained, the search was “preventive” – the warrant stating he might have “unknowingly” had contact with people connected to terrorism. Five other leaders of the Italy’s Muslims were searched the same day, he said. “The state is punishing its best links to the Muslim community – we never expected that the Italian state would do something like this,” said Samir, a soft-spoken man in a shirt and slacks, clearly shaken by the course of events. “Every day I stress the need for moderation and integration,” Samir said, “but these searches bring into question my credibility in our community. People will say, ‘This is your payback for your moderation.'” He said such events served to radicalize young people. As antiterrorism officials across Europe are intensifying their hunt to root out sleeper cells, they walk a delicate line between thwarting terrorists and radicalizing innocent Muslims who are already largely isolated and marginalized in many European nations. The challenge of controlling terrorism without creating new terrorists, is particularly acute in countries like France and Italy. In those two countries, large and growing Muslim populations are kept by law and by custom on the fringes of mainstream society. There are an estimated 1.5 million Muslims in Italy, a country of about 58 million people. The vast majority of the Muslims are immigrants, who have little chance of getting citizenship. Less than 10 percent have an Italian passport. An official at Italy’s law enforcement agency, the Ministry of the Interior, said that he did not know specifics of recent raids, but that he was “not surprised” that such searches were occurring. “This is an ongoing process,” he said. On Friday, Italy’s Council of Ministers adopted a series of new antiterrorism provisions, which are likely to take effect soon. These include new registration requirements for Internet caf_s and cellphone users, new limits on pilots licenses, and quick expulsions for foreigners considered a danger to national security or who assist in terrorist activities. But the search on the imam’s house occurred legally under the current rules, which give judges wide leeway in issuing warrants. “What if I had reason to believe that a terrorist had gone to your house and was worried he left something – some documents or even a suitcase?” said a senior Italian antiterrorism official, explaining the search. In 2001, the police searched the Alhuda center, which includes a prayer hall and a cultural center and where Arabic and Islamic culture are taught to children. Last year, they searched the home of Ben Mohamed Mohamed, the center’s president. But since the attacks in London, the Italian government has beefed up security measures and has also attempted to reach out to Muslims. In Michelangelo’s beautiful Campidoglio, on the afternoon of the second London bombings, the city of Rome invited prominent Muslims to convey a message of coexistence. “Rome is a city that it open to everybody,” said Giuseppe Mannino, chairman of the City Council. “You are our brothers.” He shared the podium with Mahmoud Hammad Sheweita, imam of Rome’s only official mosque, the Grand Mosque – an architectural masterpiece filled with light and soaring arches, which operates with the permission and cooperation of the Ministry of the Interior. Samir and Mohamed listened from the back row. Unlike the Alhuda center, a subterranean former warehouse where young men wander in and out all day, the luxurious official mosque is open to worshipers only on Friday. For the rest of the week, its primary function is to serve as a sort of liaison between Islam and the Italian government. From here, Mario Scialoja, a former Italian diplomat and convert to Islam, who is head of the Italian branch of the World Muslim League, meets with Islamic ambassadors and lobbies Italian politicians, pushing them to allow Muslims better access to citizenship, and religious education for Muslim children. Scialoja said that the worshipers in his mosque, filled on Fridays, were typical Italian Muslims – poor immigrants who come to Italy for a better existence. He said that “99.7 percent of them couldn’t care less about fundamentalism” and that only 4 percent of Italy’s Muslims attend mosque on a regular basis. While he has noted some acts of intolerance since the London bombings, he praised Giuseppe Pisanu, the interior minister, whom he meets with regularly, and he called Italy’s new antiterrorism proposals “very responsible.” And though he blames the U.S. invasion of Iraq for creating terrorism, he does not support an immediate withdrawal. Italy has troops in Iraq in support of the U.S.-led invasion. “To stay is to feed this anger, but to leave now would create a mess,” he said. But his official version of Islam seems to have little resonance or even connection with Samir’s prayer hall, where many worshipers speak halting Italian and the lingua franca is Arabic. When Scialoja tried to form a national association of Muslim groups five years ago, “the experiment was a failure,” he said, “since some groups had views I couldn’t support.” In 2003, when the Grand Mosque expelled its new Imam for a fiery sermon that justified Palestinian bombings in Israel (though not in Italy), Alhuda’s Web site posted an article defending his right to free speech. In part because Italy does not recognize Islam as a religion, Samir’s flock does not have a real mosque. Italian Muslims must work on their religion’s holy days. As aliens, the vast majority have no right to vote. “Now, with the increasing security, they search our houses – this is a very bad sign,” Samir said. “We hear all about the policies on integration, but we never seen any concrete measures.” They remain largely outsiders and, especially now, visitors to the Alhuda center and the surrounding Islamic shops were greeted with intense suspicion. Requests to interview the Imam were met with deflections and questions: Where are you from? Why do you want him? Samir, a Tunisian who has lived in Italy for 15 years, insists that he would report suspicious activity to the police. Asked if anyone from the Alhuda had attended the religious schools in Pakistan that have been a breeding ground for terrorists, he said: “Not that I know of, but they certainly wouldn’t tell me if they had.”