Italy government labours to solve Islam conundrum

Rome, Italy - The Italian government was Wednesday accused of succumbing to Muslim fundamentalists after agreeing to extend a proposed charter on human rights to all foreign citizens who want to live in Italy. The "Charter of Values" proposed by Interior Minister Giuliano Amato was initially designed to bind Italian Muslims to principles of peace, equality and individual freedom.

But on Tuesday, a key member of the government-appointed Consultative Committee for Italian Islam, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), said such a charter was discriminatory towards Muslims and threatened not to sign it unless it was extended to foreign citizens of all religions.

UCOII's stance revealed a deep rift between UCOII and moderate members of the Consultative Committee, which had agreed to sign the charter.

Amato eventually gave in to UCOII's demands, saying during a meeting late Tuesday "it would be wrong to make only Muslims endorse the charter."

In an editorial published on Wednesday by leading daily Corriere della Sera, Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-born author and expert on Islam, accused Amato of giving in to extremists.

"Amato has once and for all buried the political weapon he had branded to fight Islamic extremism," Allam said.

Allam recalled that Amato had came up with the idea of a charter following the publication in August on a national daily of an advertisement in which UCOII likened Israel's bombing of Lebanon to the Nazi massacres of World War II and noted that UCOII leaders refuse to recognize Israel.

Speaking to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Wednesday, UCOII secretary Hamza Piccardo said his organization was now ready to engage in talks on the charter with the government.

"Now that the discriminatory clause has been removed, we are ready to discuss the charter," Piccardo said. "But nothing is decided yet, this is a very difficult issue the government has gotten itself in," he added.

According to reports, the charter would ask foreigners to defend the peaceful coexistence of nations, fight discrimination, respect religious freedom and equal rights within the family.

There are an estimated 700,000 Muslims living in Italy, making Islam the second-largest religion in predominantly Catholic Italy.