«We need an alliance with moderate Islam in order to defeat ISIS»
Italian MP Khalid Chaouki interviewed by Elisa Gianni 27 October 2014

“For the first time a solemn and greatly felt commitment was made by the Islamic community, bewildered when faced with the atrocities committed by ISIS, but firm in condemning not only the terrorist shift, but also the reasons and all possible justifications for this extremism, including a theological one,” as Reset was told by the Democrat MP Khalid Chaouki who organised this meeting.
An appeal was also made some days ago asking all cities to follow the example set by Rome, and previously by Milan, with clear condemnation of what is happening, in order for everyone, together,  to protect a shared heritage of coexistence acquired with great effort in Europe and Italy. This is a challenge for all Muslims, to prove openly their bond with the country, the cities and those that now their new communities.

Mr. Chaouki, is it this kind of initiative you refer to when underlining the need for Italy to form an alliance with moderate Muslims?

Yes, of course. It is right to demand that Muslims should condemn terrorism, but we need to embrace the idea that this is a shared battle against a deviation from civilisation, a violent one, whatever religion embraces such attitudes. The danger is one that concerns us all nowadays, and it is right we should fight this battle together. On Friday, Muslims held out a hand to the whole of Italian society and to all religious communities, calling for a combined struggle against the barbarity of ISIS.

“Italians must be able to distinguish” was the request made by Speaker of the House Laura Boldrini. How does one distinguish between terrorism and moderate Islam?

We must avoid prejudice and above all the idea that doubts should remain until there is a clear trend towards moderation. I believe the approach should involve the opposite. We must be very careful to isolate all radical elements. Muslims, above all, have the duty to expel all elements bringing theological confusion as well as  any attempts made to justify or find reasons for what is happening nowadays, as unfortunately instead has happened in the past.

It seems, however, that people find it hard to believe that moderate Islam exists. Why is that?

The vast majority of Muslims are invisible to most people. They risk being trapped and taken hostage by personalities and organisations exercising a hegemony that does not represent the plurality of Islam, also in Italy. This also happens because Islamic leadership and Muslims in the mosques have not yet achieved a normal and natural level of dialogue with local communities and other religious and social groups. There are some initiatives aimed at interreligious dialogue and shared work with other parts of Italian society, but they often fall short of expectations due to a delay in organisation and in the awareness of personal roles to be played and civic duty.”

Is the situation different in other European countries?

In Europe there is a situation involving far clearer differences. There are Muslim movements clearly open to society and committed to the creation of a pluralist future within the secular states. There are, instead, radical and extremely dangerous groups, often underestimated in past years and that in many cases effectively legitimise rebellion, separation and new ghettos. In Italy all this was luckily marginalised in the past and is no longer present. It is, however, a challenge we should be interested in, because in Italy too, there is the risk of legitimising a communitarian Islam that has not dealt with the duty of creating a shared citizenship. So the challenge today, especially for the young, is to very seriously address the manner in which we wish to interact with the Muslim minority and, above all, emphasise the braver experiences of those who believed, and continue to believe, in a civic dimension everyone belongs to whatever their religious beliefs may be.

There are many Westerners among the jihadists leaving to join al-Baghdadi’s army. Are there new moderate Muslims, or do those who convert do so mainly because they are attracted by extremism?

There are many different reasons, social groups and origins among those who convert. And they also belong to different schools of thought. There is, however, a very significant tendency to embrace the more mystical and Sufi aspects of this religion. Obviously, there have also been young Italians who wished to embrace Islam, identifying with the more radical fringes with what was effectively a political decision. We have young people who belonged to extreme right or left-wing political parties and approached Islam, because they were particularly inspired, for example, by the Iranian revolution. There are other young people who converted directly to Shia Islam, precisely in order to achieve a new and very politically marked identity as far as the West and the United States are concerned. Sadly, some then decided to embrace jihadi Salafism and this is an extremely serious problem that concerns the education of these young people, and also certain attitudes than continue to exist in Italy that legitimise a radical Islamist perspective.

We have seen  moderate Muslims’ reaction to ISIS. Are there differences between various groups within this reaction? For example, between Muslim men and women, between Muslims living in areas currently occupied by ISIS and between first and second generation immigrants?

I think it is very hard to identify differences between categories, however, more in general, one can observe that there are now two different kinds of condemnation by Muslims. One is made with no analysis of the situation, and the other instead is concerned with understanding first the causes, also asking oneself why such things are happening at a time in which there are some cases of individual collusions in the West and in neighbouring countries.

At a global level, condemnation of ISIS expressed by Muslims has obtained more media attention through the social media campaign #NotInMyName, rather than street protests. It seems that the entire Islamic community continuously feels the need to apologise or publicly distance itself from ISIS’ actions, as if their approval were taken for granted or as if they were all directly involved. In your opinion, why does this happen?

The central issue is one and it is shared by the Arab Muslim world and European and Western Islam. Unfortunately, even today we have not been capable of creating a civil society able to enter strong alliances with all the other elements in European society. Nor, above all, have we found a way of establishing a dialogue with these same elements and with the institutions in a credible, strong and innovative manner. There is then, the problem of terrorism’s media exposure and the capability these groups have to place themselves at the centre of the stage with the heinous massacres they are inflicting.

So Muslims should continue this form of condemnation…

Yes. Faced with this situation, Muslims should never tire of expressing condemnation, also because in this stage one must protect civilised coexistence in Europe and in Italy. It would be best, however, to do this in the format used on Friday at the Great Mosque in Rome, where representatives of many other communities joined Muslims, reiterating the idea that this is not a war between Muslims and the West, but a war between barbarism, terrorism, and the rest of the world.

Translated by Francesca Simmons