This morning we all went to a presentation by John Waters of the Irish Times and Magdi Allam of the Corriere della Sera. I met Waters briefly at La Thuile; is a quiet type, with longish hair and a receding hairline, a typical Irish poet.
Allam is another type altogether, mercurial and forthright. Last year, he converted from Islam and was baptised personally by the Pope. Now a critic of Islam, he arrived with a security detail of about 10 armed guards.
Waters spoke about the pressure of modernity on genuine Christian belief, his past alcoholism, and his return from despair. He wrote an article in a recent Traces in which he described the death of one of his colleagues at the Irish Times, and her despair in the weeks before her death. Despite her recognition that beauty pointed to something Other, she could not believe that included her. In his article, he described her final interview as being like "the cry of an animal in the forest", a chilling phrase that I will never forget. An animal cries, but it expects no answer.
Allam's talk was about his experience of Islam and his final decision, in the wake of the Pope's Regensburg speech on faith and religion (and the Muslim violence that answered it), to abandon an Islam that he realised could never really be reconciled to human rights. He has said this before; and that is why he needs the guards.