“Peace has never been completely restored, one cannot however deny that we are no longer experiencing the dark days of the Nineties. As far modernisation of the economy is concerned, I believe that the objective has also not been achieved.” Benjamin Stora, Professor of History at the INALCO in Paris and a great expert on the history of the Maghreb, takes stock of contemporary Algeria. He is the author of numerous essays on the war in Algeria, among them Histoire de la guerre d'Algérie. An interview by Marco Cesario.
Dialogue of Cultures
In Egypt bloggers have created a Human Rights Observatory. In Turkey a group of intellectuals have launched a apology petition on the internet to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide, whcih goes against the national policies of their own country. In the Lebanon a group of 290 intellectuals signed an appeal for "peaceful civil resistance" to the war started by Hezbollah against Sunnis and Druzes. In the third millennium Muslim-Arab civil societies are moving at a speed that differs from that of the states, which act as spokespersons for a backward-looking vision of Islam resulting from post-colonial logic. Thanks to various forms of dissent, Muslim civil societies not only portray a different vision of Islam, but are also demolishing the political immobility of governments and causing profound transformations in their societies.
The democratic citizen, on whose vote the legitimacy of the entire political mechanism rests, is called upon to reason using his own brain (and to vote in solitude and as an individual), and associate with others to exchange information and opinions, to change his or her mind and then change it again, if necessary. Dissent is a constitutive virtue of democracy. Rather than corroding social ideals, as authoritarians and conservatives believe, it strengthens partiality and cooperation between citizens. Dissent reveals a fundamental loyalty to a country, a society or a community.
A lack of coherence among Western leaders, and the use of different standards in judging and then establishing relations with Arab countries on the basis of personal economic and geopolitical interests, has effectively weakened and delayed even more the emergence of an élite of really democratic Arab reformists. Compared to the past, Arab dissent appears to be more mature and ready to challenge regimes, no longer taking refuge in European capitals as happened in the past. Samir Kassir, as well as Tunisian Sihem Benzedrine and Egyptian Saad Eddine Ibrahim, are only few of the well-known Arab dissidents who have turned their backs on Western hypocrisy, to personally assume responsibility and run the risk of being tried in military courts and suffering detention without trial in order to pursue one ideal: freedom.
Is there a relationship between dissent and consensus? Is the quality of opposition decisive for it to then win and govern? According to Michael Kazin, professor at the History Department at Georgetown University, and an expert on the history of the Left and social movements in the United States, the answer to both these questions is yes. It is precisely the victory of Obama, who is capable of being popular without becoming populist, that proves it.
Now Imams may speak in Italian. One hopes the intention is not to control or to spy on them, but to ensure their message reaches those interested in Islam. Among these there may also be Italians or Chinese. Would it not be a good idea to take a second look at the proposals put forward by the Muslim Council so long ago? The Council suggested creating schools in which Imams could be educated, transparency of funding for mosques as well as control over the money’s origin. Above all, the Council requested the authorities to abandon their harsh opposition against the creation of new mosques. One priority should be the creation of a Foundation for Italian Islam, acknowledged by the Government and strengthened by mutual understanding. And, as is the case other faiths, the possibility to devolve a percentage of income tax to this religion.
Last February 8th almost 60% of Swiss citizens said ‘yes’ to the Agreement on Free Movement of Labour between the European Union and Switzerland. In spite of pessimistic surveys, raising the spectre of an uncertain result, the Swiss voted overwhelmingly for a ‘yes’. In an interview with ResetDOC, journalist Bernard Wuthrich, an expert on Swiss politics who writes for Le Temps – one of the Swiss Confederation’s most authoritative newspapers – explains the reasons for this rather surprising result.
“Friday prayers should be said in two languages, in Arabic and in the language of the country in which Muslims live. If the message is spread in an incomprehensible language the objective of the Friday sermon is not achieved.” This is the opinion expressed by forty-two year old Mohamed Béchari, President since 1992 of one of Islam’s most important organisations in France, the Fédération Nationale des Musulmans de France. Former Vice-President of the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and Secretary General of the European Islamic Conference, Bechari has also published a book entitled “L’image de l’islam dans les médias occidentaux” [Islam as seen by the Western Media].
The suggestion of Gianfranco Fini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, to ‘Italianise’ the Friday Sermon was only of media importance, and thus will have no effect on the political agenda. The proposal is concealing a wish to control mosques in Italy, so would it not be more useful to look thoroughly into the issues surrounding Muslim immigrants? Gianfranco Fini cannot continue acting like an ordinary citizen or an exponent of the opposition. He must apply his ideas on immigrants in general and on ‘Italy’s Islam’ in particular, within his political alignment.
“I ask this government to reinstate the organisation of the Council for Italian Islam, which is one of the fundamental means for establishing a dialogue between the State and the Muslim community.” Rachid Amaidia, the Imam for Salerno and Battipaglia, has always played an active role in interreligious dialogue. Of Algerian origin and a former member of the Council, in this interview he warns against xenophobia that is spreading in Italy (“If one sees a continuous demonization of immigrants on television one incites people against foreigners”), and on the subject of the proposal of the Italian language being used in mosques, he said “This will not make immigrants feel they are Italian citizens. When Muslims will feel totally integrated, they themselves will speak in Italian.”
In most Italian mosques the sermon is already translated into Italian. For this reason too, the proposal presented by Gianfranco Fini for all sermons to be preached in Italian in mosques is above all based on the false and dangerous assumption that sermons and preaching in mosques contain references and incitement to hatred, if not even pre-recruiting for terrorism of Islamic origin. Should this assumption be true, I would expect from the third most important representative of the state, not an appeal to Muslims, but one first of all to security forces. Do Muslims still have the right to pray freely, as sanctioned by the Constitution? Is Arabic a language authorised in our country or should it be banned?
The European Commission declared “2008: European Year of Intercultural Dialogue”. What to think about is the fact that the project, born to make the distinctive cultures of the 27 EU Member States known each others, showed very soon its bounds and the need to be partially redirected, in consideration of the complex reality to face. In primis the difficulty to clearly specify the meaning of “national culture” in terms of culture typical to the population living from long time on the territory of each Member State, since, as a matter of fact, those national cultures result today “contaminated” by the others, those of immigrants. Likewise, European Commission declared “2009: the Year of Creativity and Innovation”. The transition from the EYID to the EYCI is very interesting to analyse because culture and creativity play a focal role in promoting both European identity and European citizenship.