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Oh my beloved Italy, please wake up!

First published in the Jerusalem Post

As the bloody events of Madrid, London and Paris suggest, Europe should refrain from ignoring or dealing superficially with the question of Muslim radicalization. Even Italy, a country that has historically been fairly immune to the phenomenon, is now starting to realize the real potential threat stemming from the radicalization of its Muslim community. Yet, this topic remains a taboo for most Italians. Sadly, a certain degree of indifference, ignorance, and even reluctance on the part of both the Italian public and the political elite have hindered a much needed debate on the issue.

But burying one’s head under the sand does not always turn out to be beneficial, especially when the wind starts blowing in the opposite direction.

And a 516-page report that I began as a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) on the radicalization of the Italian Muslim community – which will be published soon – shows that the wind is indeed changing.

The main point of the report is that certain segments of the Muslim community are undergoing a process of radicalization, unavoidably posing serious concerns for national security. Luckily, most of the time the radicalism remains at the mere rhetorical level, but in other instances it inevitably clashes with the democratic fabric of society, undermining prospects of successful integration and peaceful coexistence.

More precisely, for years various imams and religious authorities have preached anti-Western sentiment, religious intolerance and even support for violence and terrorism. For years a number of mosques have been engaged in proselytism, recruitment, and funding of Islamic terrorism. For years Italy has exported fighters to theaters of jihad – Syria is but the most recent example on a long list.

More shockingly, though, jihadists have attempted to strike the country 20 times since 2001, but only once, in 2009, was an attack successfully carried out (in Milan), although it caused no casualties.

A CLEAR sign that the times are changing is also the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism. In Italy, five out of the six main Shi’ite organizations have clearly and unabashedly showed their anti-Semitic ideology.

Luigi Ammar de Martino, one of the most influential Shi’ite leaders in the country, has even called for active struggle against Israel. In the Sunni world, two of the most important leaders – namely Hazma Piccardo and Adel Smith – two of the most renowned Koranic schools in Italy, and a number of imams have all promoted hatred against the Jews and Israel. Likewise, a terrorist organization gravitating around Andria’s Islamic center in southern Italy had its members teaching children admiration for Hitler because “if he had burned them all, the world would be a much better place.”

Although his real intentions are still the subject of debate, Khatib Shafiq, a Jordanian citizen who claimed to be Palestinian, detonated himself in front of the synagogue in Modena in 2003. Nine years later, Mohammed Jarmoune, a seemingly well-integrated young Moroccan man raised in Italy, was arrested for planning attacks on a synagogue in Milan. Finally, a year ago, a French-Tunisian citizen involved in a terrorist attack on a kosher market in Paris was arrested in Ancona, suspected to be seeking logistical help from local radicals.

Given such troubling evidence, passivity may be a risky tactic. Do we really need another Madrid, London or Paris in the streets of Rome and Milan to wake up? We just commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27; do we really need to see Italian Jews fleeing to Israel because they do not feel safe anymore, just like many French Jews are doing? Let us be clear, though. What I am suggesting is not by any means a radical approach triggered by futile alarmism or despicable hatred and prejudice toward Muslims. That would be the most outrageous and shameful course of action my country could undertake. What I am advocating for is the establishment of an internal debate on issues of Muslim radicalization and a frank but constructive dialogue with the Muslim community, in particular with those Muslims who want nothing more but peace and security for all.

Such a process is not going to be simple and flawless, but we must have the courage to come out of our shells and talk, especially now that we have the opportunity to do so in a relatively calm environment.

Instead, if we opt for the typical “let’s deal with that when we must” Italian way, then days, months or years from now we might realize missed opportunities have a price. Italy is destined to count more and more Muslims among its citizens; Rome cannot afford apathy or, as my good friend and mentor Dr. Boaz Ganor once warned me, it might be already too late when we “wake up in a nightmare.”

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).