The Fallaci Affair
During the cold war, Italy’s—and perhaps the world’s—best-known journalist was Oriana Fallaci, famed for both her war-zone reporting and her pugnacious interviews with heads of state. Although her leftist bent frequently put her at odds with American foreign policy, particularly on Vietnam and the Middle East, she nonetheless adored the power and solidity of the United States and its culture. “In America everything expresses strength—from the skyscrapers to the waterfalls,” she wrote in her first novel, Penelope at War (1962). “Everything expresses security—from the money to the boastfulness.”
It is thus not surprising that Fallaci, now seventy-two, has spent the last two decades living in New York. What is surprising is that she has spent them in anonymity. Fallaci was once the most exhibitionistic of reporters, with only Norman Mailer, perhaps, to rival her in egotism. Her interviews were marked by a cockiness bordering on condescension, and she sought constantly to present herself as a mover-and-shaker in her own right—one, moreover, who always got the last word.
It was almost a shtick, and it made her famous. When she was wounded during a government massacre in Mexico City in 1968, her convalescence made headlines across Europe. Her three-year affair with the Greek poet and leftist guerrilla Alekos Panagoulis (dramatized in her 1979 novel, A Man) was the stuff not just of romance but of celebrity profiles. Yet, since Inshallah (1990), her weighty novel of late-cold-war Beirut, Fallaci had, until recently, neither written nor spoken publicly. Some attributed this reclusion to the cancer with which she was diagnosed in 1992; Fallaci herself pointed to another massive novel that she hoped would be her masterpiece.
Whatever the cause of her silence, it ended the day al Qaeda terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers. Fallaci, lover of the strength of New York’s skyscrapers and the security of American society, was asked by Ferruccio de Bortoli, director of Milan’s Corriere delta Sera newspaper, to describe her reactions to the attack. She agreed. Over the course of two weeks, she covered hundreds of typescript pages with a philippic against Islamist terrorism and the cowardly Western elites who had permitted it to blossom in their midst. The article, cut to half its length and squeezed into four-and-aquarter tightly printed newspaper pages, ran in Corriere on September 29 under the headline “La Rabbia e L’Orgoglio” (“The Rage and the Pride”). It turned into one of the great sensations in the history of European journalism. Newsstands sold out of a million copies in four hours.
Last December, the Italian publisher Rizzoli printed the uncut article in book form, under the same title. The addition of material excised by Corriere rendered the essay even more inflammatory. Fallaci described her angry and discursive book as a “sermon” to a corrupt and complacent Europe, which, she lamented in the manner of Patrick J. Buchanan, is on the verge of “suicide.” She praised American cohesiveness in the face of crisis. She sought to establish her credibility through extensive reminiscences of her reporting in the Arab and Muslim world—including an incident when she saw three women lynched in the main square of Kabul. She compared Islamist terrorists to Nazis and fascists, calling them “the new SS, the new blackshirts,” engaged in a “reverse crusade” against the West.
And then she reached a conclusion that sent the intellectual classes of Europe into a near-unanimous rage. Fallaci warned that Islamist terrorism was not, as we are so often told, the perversion of a great faith, and not the work of a disillusioned and obscurantist fringe. It was part and parcel of Islam itself, which she referred to as “this mountain that for 1,400 years has not moved, has not emerged from the abyss of its blindness, has not opened its doors to the conquest of civilization, and has wanted nothing to do with liberty and justice and democracy and progress.”
Putting an end to Western dominance, Fallaci said, is an ongoing project for the world’s Muslims—even the ones who live among us and may be best understood as an advance guard. “You do not understand, or you do not wish to understand,” she told her European readers, “that if we remain passive, if we do not fight, the jihad will triumph. And it will destroy the world that, for better or worse, we have succeeded in building, in changing, in making a little bit better.”
The book has sold a million copies in Italian. The French edition—La Rage et L’Orgueil, translated by Fallaci herself under the pseudonym Victor France—sold 140,000 copies within weeks and by late summer was number one on the nonfiction bestseller list of the national newsmagazine L’Express. The German edition (Die Wut und der Stolz, published in Munich by List Verlag) was in first place on the newsweekly Der Spiegel‘s bestseller list by the end of August. Translations into a dozen more languages, including Korean and Hebrew, are in the works, and Rizzoli is bringing out an American edition—The Rage and the Pride, also translated by Fallaci herself—in late September.
To the book as to the newspaper article, the reaction of Europe’s editorial writers and largely left-leaning public intellectuals was almost universally negative, the opposite of the book-buying public’s. Muslims in Europe and elsewhere also denounced the book. In the Saudi Arabian press, Fallaci was described as a Zionist agent. Two Italian Muslim organizations have published death threats against her, and one called for a Salman Rushdie-style fatwa.
The book’s French edition has led not just to an intellectual battle but to a legal one. First, the Brussels-based European Observatory on Racism attacked it on publication for its “violent and insulting tone.” Then, in June, four “anti-racist” groups, three in France and one in Switzerland, filed suit against Fallaci. In preliminary hearings in both countries, judges declined to issue an emergency restraining order to pull it from the shelves. But on October 9, a French court is scheduled to examine the book to determine whether it is to be permanently banned.
This battle will have enduring consequences for the way the West deals with Islam, both at home and abroad. For Europeans in particular, Fallaci’s book about the September 11 attacks—and, more particularly, the reactions provoked by it—have opened painful questions in a way that the September 11 attacks themselves did not. Among those questions are whether Islam—now the faith of between twelve and twenty million Europeans, and of tens of millions more immigrants expected in coming decades—will be at odds with European culture, no matter how liberal and “welcoming” that culture is made; whether there is something in Islam that places even its most mainstream practitioners in tacit sympathy with Islamist violence; whether the split between elite opinion and popular opinion is reaching dangerous levels in Europe; whether the widespread European tendency to criminalize racist attitudes is leading, under a different pretext, to a climate of censorship and state-enforced opinion; and whether the European regime of solicitude toward minorities leaves European societies defenseless against a genuine threat to their civilization.
Fallaci begins The Rage and the Pride by talking about herself, asking that the warning she is about to issue be understood as the cry of an Italian political exile in New York, one in a long line that includes heroes of the 19th-century Risorgimento and anti-fascists who fled the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. She describes her own experience in the fight against Italian Fascism, bragging that not a single blood relative on either side of her family followed Mussolini and alluding to her work as a fourteen-year-old courier alongside her father, a Resistance hero who was tortured by the Nazis. Fallaci grants that her own exile is a chosen and not a forced one, but for her this is a distinction without a difference, since her native country has become “an Italy where ideals lie in the garbage.”
Having established her own credentials as one who knows fascism when she sees it, Fallaci explains to the reader that, with Islamic fundamentalism, we are in the presence of a genuine totalitarianism fully capable of destroying the West. She takes the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden (“In its essence, our war is a war of religion”) at face value, and holds that the al Qaeda leader draws his inspiration from Hitler. She declares, with some hyperbole, that bin Laden and his followers constitute “enemies a thousand times worse than Stalin.”
And then she drops her rhetorical bomb. This Hitlerite/Stalinist tendency has captured—or perhaps has always been latent in—Islam itself. “Behind every terrorist is an imam,” she writes, making it clear that she also believes the reverse to be true: every imam is likely to be a terrorist sympathizer. Although, very early on, it is possible to view her strictures as applying solely to a fringe of Islam, her language grows more abusive as it grows less focused. Toward the end of the book, she warns, apropos of all Muslims: “The Sons of Allah are multiplying like rats.”
The phrase “Sons of Allah” is a leitmotif in The Rage and the Pride, opening the way to a stream of scatological invective against Arabs and Muslims in general. Fallaci insults their religion: “I have no intention of being punished for my atheism by the Sons of Allah. That is, by the gentlemen who, instead of contributing to the progress of humanity, pass the time with their rumps in the air, praying five times a day!” She insults the sexuality of Muslim women: “Have you all fallen in love with Osama bin Laden, with his big Torquemada eyes, with his fleshy lips, and with whatever is under his dirty tunic? Do you find him romantic? Do you think him a hero? Do you dream of being raped by him?” And (in a footnote) she insults the sexuality of Arab men: “Thank God I’ve never been involved with an Arab man. To my mind, there is something in Arab men that is revolting to women of taste.”
These are neither slips of the tongue nor lapses in an otherwise tightly marshaled prose. Fallaci believes without equivocation that there is no important difference between Islam and Islamism. Not only are Osama bin Laden and the Taliban “nothing but the most recent manifestation of a reality that has existed for 1,400 years,” but “the vast majority of Muslims in the world were happy with the attacks against the Twin Towers.” This majority decidedly includes most of the Muslims present in Western Europe; they are “pioneers,” and therefore “to treat them with indulgence or tolerance, or even hope, is suicide.”
The most graphic passages in the book use Fallaci’s native Florence as a backdrop to convey Muslim immigrants’ effrontery and predatory indifference to European civilization. Most bothersome to Fallaci are the hundreds of Somalis who recently camped out in tents in the Piazza del Duomo, seeking citizenship and residency papers, praying five times a day, and urinating both on public buildings and—Fallaci insists—inside the baptistery of the Brunelleschi-designed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Many of these campers were involved in drug trafficking—“a sin not condemned in the Qur’an, it would seem.” One night, Fallaci bawled out a Nigerian who tried to sell her drugs on the Ponte Vecchio, only to have him spit back at her, “I know my rights!”
Fallaci claims that most Italians see the problem of Muslim immigration as she does, but are too decadent to defend themselves; caring “only for vacations abroad and soccer matches,” and having no sense of liberty that goes beyond mere license, they lack “the balls to change.” But one class in particular is more emasculated than any other. These are Italy’s intellectuals and journalists, whom she addresses as vermin: “cicadas” (in that they drone in unison) and “frivolous leeches.” For her, the tolerance of which Western intellectuals boast is cowardice trying to pass itself off as principle. Paralyzed by political correctness, the denizens of Italy’s opinion-forming class have become, in their own inverted way, “as bigoted as any country priest.”
In the course of her book, Fallaci mounts a fully developed attack on press bias that will remind some American readers of Ann Coulter’s recent bestseller Slander. Complaints about Silvio Berlusconi’s having used his television empire to pave the way for his premiership are disingenuous, Fallaci says. “In Italy, as in the rest of Europe, [Berlusconi’s] adversaries have established such hegemony over television news and the press, they have so imposed their dishonest and seditious propaganda, in short they have influenced public opinion in such a scandalous way, that they would do better to shut their traps on the subject.” Neither Corriere della Sera, which published the original version of “The Rage and the Pride,” nor the man who commissioned it escapes Fallaci’s wrath in the book. Their sin was to run several pages of letters about her article under the headline, “Italy Divided in the Name of Oriana.” But Italy, Fallaci shot back, was in fact not divided, it was almost unanimously in her corner, and to pretend otherwise was to buckle to what she would later call the “pseudo-intellectual terrorism” of “red fascists.”
Early in The Rage and the Pride, Fallaci writes that she sought “to open the eyes of those who don’t want to see, unblock the ears of those who don’t want to listen, and make people think who don’t want to think.” If that was her goal, she largely failed. Few of the reactions to the book, from any quarter, could be considered surprising.
This was not only a matter of the Left lining up on one side and the Right on the other. True, several members of the conservative Italian cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi praised the book, as they had earlier praised the article. True, too, she was accused by the columnist Rana Kabbani, writing in Britain’s left-wing Guardian, of “veering violently [in her career] from Left to Right.” But the bulk of European commentary did not focus on alleged apostasy from left-wing beliefs, and with good reason.
Fallaci has always considered herself a woman of the Left, but two things have made her leftism idiosyncratic. First, she allows no pet victims: when Playboy journalist Robert Scheer raised the subject of public homosexuality in a 1981 interview, she replied, “I just can’t stand them. There is a form of fanaticism in them, of dogmatism, of Mafia sense, all of what I despise.”
Second, Fallaci has always been open to new evidence. Although she began the Vietnam war as a romanticizer of the Vietcong, and was invited to Hanoi as the guest of a grateful North Vietnamese government, she soon noticed that while American authorities let her come and go as she pleased, even ferrying her in and out of sensitive war zones, the North Vietnamese tortured the prisoners of war who were her interview subjects, blocked her transmission of candid dispatches, and distorted her words in propaganda communiqués, not to mention executing several of her Western journalist friends. Fallaci would never support the American side in Vietnam, but she would come to view the war more as a deadly tragedy than as an evil adventure. Similarly, in the Middle East, Fallaci began with a strong sympathy for the cause of the Palestinians, assimilating their struggle to that of Europeans under fascism, but developed a visceral antipathy to then-Fatah leader Yasir Arafat. By the time she wrote her Beirut novel Inshallah, she opposed the PLO with considerable outspokenness, and today she is Arafat’s most strident European foe.
But if Fallaci was spared attack from the traditional Left, she was attacked ferociously by spokesmen of a new political ideology that is allied with it. This is the ideology of “anti-racism,” which bases its claims to authority on such difficult-to-define concepts as tolerance, understanding, and love. “We have to understand whom we’re dealing with,” wrote Tiziano Terzani, an Asia correspondent for Der Spiegel and Corriere della Sera:
the terrorists’ reasons, the drama of the Muslim world in its confrontation with modernity, the role of Islam as an anti-globalization ideology, the need for the West to avoid a war of religion. And there is only one solution possible: nonviolence. Even more than a coalition against terrorism, what the world needs is a coalition against poverty, against exploitation, against intolerance.
In Foreign Policy, Marco Belpoliti took the same tack, but sought to define his terms with greater precision. Belpoliti accused Fallaci of “nationalism, xenophobia, and chauvinism,” and even—one of the rare reviewers to make it explicit—of fascism. “Fallaci’s fascism is a common cult of local identity,” he wrote, “which many Italians now consider to be set against the forces of globalization. And for millions of her fellow Italians, more or less consciously, Fallaci’s fascism is a shared value.”1
Several religious spokesmen commented on the book in the French daily Le Monde. They, too, attacked it on anti-racist grounds. Father Jean-Marie Gaudeul, of the Catholic Church secretariat for relations with Islam, assailed Fallaci for claiming that the Qur’an was only about hatred. (As it happens, this is one of the few claims that Fallaci does not make.) The Bible, too, has warlike passages, Gaudeul informed readers. The pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of France’s Protestant Foundation, found the book “sickening. Who is she carrying water for by publishing this kind of work in France today, when the basic goal is integration [of immigrants]?”
Muslims and Islamic specialists were given a privileged position in judging the book. Reactions from the former were swift and almost univocally negative. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of Paris’s main mosque, called The Rage and the Pride a “provocation.” Also in France, Hakim El-Ghissassi, president of the Muslim Citizens’ Forum, faulted her for taking texts out of context. In an article for Le Figaro, the political scientist Dejla Mohsen Senoussi lamented that “no one has ever spoken to Mrs. Fallaci of Muslim civilization, Muslim music, . . . nor of Muslim science, nor of Granada, Cordoba, the Alhambra, Samarkand, Isfahan, Istanbul, nor of al-Farabi, Avicenna, Ibn Khaldun.”
Gilles Kepel, one of France’s best-known Islam specialists, arrogated to himself the role of gatekeeper, laying down rules for who was allowed to participate in the debate on Islam and who not. Kepel called The Rage and the Pride a “scandal,” lumping it together with Thierry Meyssan’s L’Effroyable Imposture (“The Awful Scam”), a crank bestseller asserting that rogue elements in the American government had faked the September 11 crash into the Pentagon. “That our era should regard people such as Fallaci and Meyssan as models of intelligence,” Kepel wrote, “is proof that intellectuals have failed in their duty, and represents a victory for fanatics.”
Surprising support for Fallaci came from certain female intellectuals—surprising because Fallaci has always shied away from sexual politics, and also because she does not dwell in her book on the status of women in Islam, even though this provides perhaps the strongest grounds for her assertion that there is something radical in Islam itself. An article in the Belgium-based daily De Standaard made that case for her. Its author, Mia Doornaert, cited politicians in the Low Countries who ignored or minimized Islamist excesses, and asserted that when social workers encounter genital mutilation among Muslim girls—i.e., the Belgian-born daughters of immigrants—they are enjoined not to publicize their findings lest they meddle in the cultural life of others.
In such a context, Fallaci’s language was apposite, Doornaert thought; and what is more, “anti-racists” were guilty of employing a double standard in attacking it. Fallaci’s comments about Muslims breeding like rats may have been excessive, but
every week far worse things are written about Jews, and about Christians, in Islamic publications in our countries, and far worse things are said in mosques in our countries. Should we prosecute all of them? If not, why the double standard?
In an editorial in Le Figaro, Elisabeth Schemla, the editor of a Middle East newsletter, also pointed to relations between the sexes as a central Islamic problem. In general, Schemla wrote, Fallaci’s unbridled invective does do a disservice to those who would like to lay out the dangers of “Muslim totalitarianism” in a dispassionate way. But in one area Schemla drew an exception:
If sexuality is at the very heart of the problem in most Muslim societies, and more so in fundamentalist circles, as every [Muslim] woman knows it is, then Oriana Fallaci has the right to respond in kind. To be sure, she is shocking. But is she wrong? Certainly not.
The unusually strong feelings of self-identified Muslims and Islam experts on the one hand, and of women writing as women on the other, suggests that the battle over The Rage and the Pride was a battle over who got to claim the mantle of tolerance. What gave this dispute a surreal quality was something none of the attacks on Fallaci mentioned: at precisely the moment Fallaci was being assailed for undermining Europe’s regime of tolerance, Western Europe—in particular, France—was witnessing its most sustained outbreak of racist violence since World War II.
The recent anti-Semitic wave in France has been authoritatively chronicled by the Paris-based writer and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel (“France’s Jewish Problem,” COMMENTARY, July-August 2002).2 Since October 2000, when the second intifada began in the Middle East, there have been close to 1,000 “incidents”—street assaults on Jews, burnings of synagogues, cemetery desecrations, and various vandalisms and threats—in France alone, and dozens more across Europe. Some of these have been “minor” incidents—primarily graffiti—but the majority have been more grave. The perpetrators of virtually all of these crimes have been Muslim males, using as a pretext Israeli conduct in Gaza and the West Bank. But a similarly implacable opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinians is shared by the vast majority of Europe’s intellectuals and its media.
Fallaci found this state of affairs—not just the violence against Jews but also the tendency of the media to remain silent about it—deplorable. In April, she published in Italy’s Panorama magazine her first article since “The Rage and the Pride.” At that point, the Israel Defense Force was battling for control of the West Bank town of Jenin, tens of thousands of people had marched in France and elsewhere against Israeli “genocide,” and beatings of Jews and burnings of Jewish sites were occurring at the rate of several per day. Fallaci began:
I find it shameful that in Italy there was a procession of individuals who, dressed as suicide bombers, uttered vile insults at Israel, held up photos of Israeli leaders on whose foreheads they had drawn a swastika, inciting the populace to hate the Jews. And in order to see the Jews again in the extermination camps, in the gas chambers, in the crematoria of Dachau, Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, etc., they would sell their own mothers to a harem.
I find it shameful that the Catholic Church permits a bishop [Hilarion Capucci], moreover one housed in the Vatican, a “saintly” bishop, who, in Jerusalem was found with an arsenal of weapons and explosives hidden in special compartments of his sacred Mercedes, to participate in that procession and to place himself in front of a microphone to thank, in the name of God, the suicide bombers who massacre the Jews in the pizzerias and supermarkets. He called them “martyrs who go to death as to a party.”
I find it shameful that in television discussions the scoundrels with the turban or kaffiyeh, who yesterday extolled the slaughter in New York and today praise the massacres in Jerusalem, Haifa, Netanya, and Tel Aviv, are received with such deference.3
Fallaci continued in this vein for 2,000 words, finally taking aim at Arafat as an opportunist who “keeps his people in the shit” and a fascist whose corruption is such that it serves to prove the corruption of those who follow and support him.
The article was a consolation to European Jews, found considerable support in the Italian government, and was applauded in the United States. Fallaci seems sincerely to have believed that this would be the general European reaction. But instead of establishing her anti-racist credentials, it appears to have infuriated her attackers, deepened the calls for censure, and served as another piece of evidence for her own “fascism.”
The novelist Dacia Maraini compared Fallaci’s article to the rantings of the fascist author Curzio Malaparte. The day after the article appeared, Italy’s Green party issued a statement against it. Former prime minister Giulio Andreotti declared: “Oriana was wrong, as anyone who takes an extremist position is wrong.” Liberazione, the newspaper of Italy’s refounded Communist party, ran an attack by its co-director entitled (in English), “Fuck You, Fallaci.”
Rather than spurring politicians and intellectuals to remedy their inaction on anti-Semitism, Fallaci’s attack spurred them to justify it. Said another former prime minister, Massimo d’Alema, “It seems to me more important to talk about the tragedy of Jenin than about Fallaci.” Writing in the Guardian weeks later, Rana Kabbani summed up Fallaci’s crime:
In contrast to [Fallaci’s] anti-Muslim hysteria is her equally hysterical fervor for Jews, as though to damn the former were somehow to help the latter. . . . The recent, well-orchestrated campaign alerting opinion to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe camouflages the fact that Jews are not the foremost victims in the carnival of hatred. That dubious honor goes to Muslims.
These invidious comparisons of who had suffered more, Jews or Arabs, arose again in May when Fallaci was sued for “provocation to discrimination, hate, and violence against a group of persons by reason of their religion.”
Of the three French groups that brought the suit, the most venerable was the League of the Rights of Man, founded during the Dreyfus affair. It and the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), founded in 1927, sought an injunction requiring that Fallaci’s book carry a warning label of the sort used for cigarettes and pornography. The third group was the Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among the Peoples (MRAP)—a newer, more cutting-edge organization that focuses on getting more minorities into the media, obtaining the right to vote for noncitizens, freeing the American convicted murderer Mumia Abu Jamal, ending Israeli “colonization” in the West Bank, and so forth; its president described Fallaci’s book as a work of “racist delirium,” and the group sought an outright ban on its sale.
While MRAP was not, like the other two organizations, founded to combat anti-Semitism, it is preoccupied with Jews, the Holocaust, and Israel. Even aside from its ideological investment in the Middle East, there may be an important juridical reason for this. France’s most stringent hate-speech regulation, with the greatest potential for generating criminal sanctions and civil damages, is the 1990 Gayssot law (named after the Communist parliamentarian who drafted it). The law was originally aimed at combating Holocaust denial, and was presented to the public as such. When MRAP’s lawyer Ahcene Taleb made a case for banning Fallaci’s book, some of the excerpts he chose merely showed that Fallaci was insulting or stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists. But, wherever possible, Taleb gave his criticisms a tie-in to the Holocaust. The “multiplying like rats” passage and the footnote about there being something in Arab men “revolting to women of taste” he compared to French anti-Semitic writings of the 1890’s and 1930’s. Taleb also cited a passage in which Fallaci apostrophized, “You want war? Fine. As far as I’m concerned, let it be war. Down to the last breath.” And he concluded:
This is practically a summons to physical elimination. I weigh my words carefully. If one day the regime should change in France, The Rage and the Pride will serve as the textbook for a new Final Solution against the Muslims.
As her own lawyer, Fallaci chose Gilles-William Goldnadel, who had himself just published a French-language book—The New Breviary of Hatred—on contemporary anti-Semitism, a pivotal chapter of which documents abuses of Holocaust memory by anti-Semites. Active in monitoring anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment in the press, Goldnadel had recently made news for winning a judgment against the left-wing Paris daily Libération. Now he sought not just to deny MRAP’s identification of Fallaci with the fascist side but to reverse it. Granting that her book could be “shocking,” he said:
[I]t is an important book, made to awaken consciences. A challenging book. And one line of reasoning is at the heart of it: the fight against Islamic terrorism is rendered more difficult by an intellectual terrorism that cloaks itself in anti-racism.
What MRAP sought, Goldnadel concluded, was censorship. “Today the real danger is green [Islamic] fascism. And you want to forbid us to denounce it!”
Noting that Fallaci’s book had already been distributed, the court rejected MRAP’s call that it be banned on an emergency basis. In October, Fallaci’s lawyers will return to court for the trial that will determine whether the book is to be suppressed.
Goldnadel and Fallaci are right. At stake is whether an international terrorist movement that has declared war on the West will be able to provoke the West to disarm itself, whether through the maleficence of its agents and their sympathizers or through the naiveté and kindliness of Westerners themselves. The Fallaci case is an episode—the most important one so far—in this agitation for intellectual disarmament.
The Rage and the Pride is an important, and largely accurate, attack on a very real crisis. Nonetheless, before dealing with the book’s mighty virtues, it is best to deal with some of its flaws. For these are grave, and even readers who fully share Fallaci’s alarm over the spread of Islamism, her skepticism that it can be easily quarantined from Islam, and her dismay over the cravenness of Western intellectuals will wish her book were a better one.
Both the problems with Fallaci’s book and the problems raised by it can perhaps best be understood by reference to Emile Zola’s intervention in the Dreyfus affair with his 1898 pamphlet J’Accuse. Zola has served as a model, often a conscious one, for both Fallaci and her detractors. The florid self-aggrandizement to which Zola often fell prey can be found from one end of his pamphlet to the other: “I have but one passion,” he wrote, “one for seeing the light, in the name of humanity which has so suffered and which is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is but the cry of my soul.”
Such passages allowed anti-Dreyfusards to dismiss the book altogether, and probably won Zola few converts. As the anti-Dreyfusard Ferdinand Brunetière wrote, “The J’ Accuse letter is a monument of stupidity, presumptuousness, and incongruity.” Even Joseph Reinach, the most dogged of Dreyfus’s defenders and in general an admirer of Zola, was frustrated by J’Accuse: “The further he advances in his discourse,” Reinach wrote, “the less he tells; he exclaims and vituperates. . . . His anger provokes mistrust. A naked crime is a hundred times more horrible than a crime clothed in adjectives.”
Fallaci’s bombastic style, like Zola’s, will in places frustrate her allies as much as her detractors. She has a winning argument, but regrettably squanders much of her moral capital on malice. Her dismissals of Islamic culture weaken her case considerably, primarily because it is improbable that she herself believes them. “Behind the other culture,” Fallaci writes, “the culture of the bearded ones with their tunics and turbans, what do you find? Search as I might, all I find is Muhammad with his Qur’an, Averroes with his scholarly virtues (his commentaries on Aristotle, etc.), and the poet Omar Khayyam.” This is the voice of an ignoramus, which Fallaci decidedly is not. Her invective against Muslims—making fun of people bowing down in prayer, wondering whether Muslim women all hope to be raped by Osama Bin Laden—is dehumanizing and gratuitous. The rise of political correctness, simultaneously sinister and absurd, has permitted the nonpolitically correct to excuse themselves for a good deal of bad writing, sloppy thinking, and loutish literary comportment that would have been deplored in any age, even before the rise of political correctness. Fallaci’s expressions frequently fall under this rubric.
Many of the unintentional problems with the book derive from the haste with which Fallaci composed it. Given the desperate urgency of the situation it describes, this is a failing for which Fallaci deserves no blame. But it does introduce plentiful errors, of both fact and interpretation. Fallaci says on more than one occasion that there are 24 million Muslims in the United States—a figure that is at the crux of her argument and that she sloppily overstates by a factor of at least six. And while she backs down from an estimate in her original article that between 40,000 and 45,000 people died on September 11, she maintains, in conspiracy-theorist fashion, that “whatever the final number may be, I am convinced that we’ll never be told the real truth.”
Still, if Fallaci’s methods are those of Zola, her goal, also like his, is not to bring intransigent opponents to the light of reason through punctilious argument. It is to activate for her viewpoint a popular sympathy that has heretofore been passive. There can be no doubt that a vast number of Europeans face the gradual Islamicization of their continent with alarm. If the sales of Fallaci’s book are anything to go by, she has scored an extraordinary success in shaking them from their passivity.
That is because, for all her book’s flaws, Fallaci is far more often right than wrong. Let us start with one of the sentences in The Rage and the Pride that were introduced by MRAP’s lawyer in his effort to get the book banned: “Any theologian of Islam will explain that to defend the faith the Qur’an authorizes lies, calumny, and hypocrisy.” In saying this, Ahcene Taleb asserted, Fallaci attacks all Muslims, not just Islamists. Fine. But is Fallaci’s claim untrue? Or is it merely something that, according to Western ideas of interracial harmony, should not be true? It happens to be the case that a majority of Islamic theologians do think as Fallaci says.
Taleb also assailed Fallaci for stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists in a passage that runs: “The Osama bin Ladens aren’t just in the Muslim countries. They’re everywhere, and the most hardened of them are living among us.” Again we may ask whether this is untrue or whether Taleb simply wants it to be untrue. The Syrian-born Sheikh Omar Bakri, long resident in England, recently gave an interview in the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat, in which he said:
Allah willing, we will transform the West into [the realm of Islam] by means of invasion from without. If an Islamic state arises and invades, we will be its army and its soldiers from within. . . . They [the West] have imposed man-made law on us, and the Islamic regime will impose Islamic religious rulings on them.
One can argue about whether Bakri is typical, but there can be no question that Fallaci is correct to say that some of the most extreme Islamist figures live in the West. For certain purposes and at certain times, these figures represent a majority of the Muslim community, even a consensus—as in 1991, when the British Muslim Conference in Bradford (the community that goaded Ayatollah Khomeini into issuing his fatwa against Salman Rushdie) voted unanimously to support Iraq, not Britain, in the Gulf war.
More importantly, having shown Fallaci’s opinion to have been well-grounded, let us also not lose sight of the context in which her opinion was attacked. Taleb was not cross-examining Fallaci in a friendly argument or an academic disputation; he was attacking her in a court of law. And, mindful of this context, let us return to a forest that we risk missing for the trees.
Nothing anyone has said in this entire debate, in newspapers, in universities, in courtrooms, has directly challenged Fallaci’s point that Islam itself is, if not identical to Islamism, at least its reliable ally. The columnist Marc Semo even granted as much in an article in Libération. While he described the book as “sickening,” and made obligatory mention of its “Célinian accents” (after the 1930’s anti-Semitic writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline), he offered an amazing admission: “It is true that few voices in the Muslim world have spoken out clearly against these excesses.”
That is an understatement. The reaction of mainstream Western Muslims to the al Qaeda attacks has been an alarming, even despair-inducing, silence and neutrality. Where are the Muslim equivalents of the German-Americans who in 1941 flocked to army recruitment offices to liberate the world from their first cousins? One cannot say: oh, they’re out there and the press just doesn’t cover them. The press—as the reaction to Fallaci’s article and book shows—is ravenous for such tales, avid to show the Muslim presence in the West as nonproblematic. If such voices existed in appreciable number, they would be broadcast on every news show and bannered across every front page. Alas, ethnic solidarity among Western Muslims appears to be formidably, puzzlingly strong. In this, which is perhaps the central point of her book, Fallaci has never been refuted. She has just been instructed in a tone of ever-increasing stridency that one must never say such things.
No less disturbing than the lack of Muslim self-examination over the World Trade Center attacks is the outraged sense of entitlement that accompanies it. Typical was the review of Fallaci’s book by the French novelist Tahar ben Jelloun, a reliably moderate voice who often plays the role of “ambassador” to France’s non-Islamic majority. Ben Jelloun expressed a muted, pro-forma condemnation of the attacks, followed by stern warnings to the West lest it succumb to the temptation of anti-Arab racism. The lesson we should draw from September 11 was: watch out you don’t overreact.
Typical, too, was Dejla Mohsen Senoussi’s article in Le Figaro. Senoussi tried to make the moral crisis of contemporary Islam disappear by mixing it into a stew of other religious excesses, juxtaposing “Taliban hysteria” to “Filipino Catholics who have themselves crucified to mark the ascension of Christ, . . . the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, or . . . the electoral skullduggery of [the Israeli fundamentalist movement] Gush Emunim.” Well, Rabin’s assassin was a fanatic, the Philippine Christians are zealots, and Gush Emunim is messianist—but in none of these cases was the aim that of the Taliban: the annihilation of another civilization. Rather than refuting Fallaci’s propositions, Senoussi wound up giving evidence for them.
Fallaci’s book has revealed, as she intended it to, that the European moral order that was built in the wreckage of World War II is in profound crisis. For the past half-century, two factors have worked to place “anti-racism” at the heart of this moral order.
First, the Americanization of Europe—to which the Continent’s elites, for all their anti-Americanism, are more subject than most—brought both a sense of the centrality of race problems and, after the civil-rights era, a model for the (mostly) successful resolution of them. Second, the first generation that could contemplate the war without shuddering at questions about its own involvement placed the Holocaust at the very center of European morality. So calamitous was the moral catastrophe of the mid-century tyrannies that any belief system promising to keep hatred out of Europe would seem to deserve undivided loyalty.
But custody of that belief system has, for a variety of reasons, been captured by the Left, which has put it to the service of a vast and extraneous agenda. It is now clear that the ideology of anti-racism cannot—and does not wish to—protect Europe from its demons, and the Fallaci affair showed why.
On its own terms, anti-racism is riddled with intellectual corruption. A characteristic exemplar is Tiziano Terzani, the Spiegel correspondent who believes that vague bromides—“what the world needs is a coalition against poverty, against exploitation, against intolerance”—are sufficient to confront specific, genuine complaints. This very vagueness can be used to define dissenters from the ideology in any way the anti-racists wish—as “fascists,” for instance.
Allied with this is the tendency of credentialed partisans to use their expert status to define the limits of acceptable discussion, as Gilles Kepel did in comparing Fallaci’s argument to that of the loony Thierry Meyssan. Fallaci does not hold a chair in Islamic studies, but she knows considerably more about totalitarian movements than Kepel does, and wrote her book from a city in which several thousand of her neighbors had been incinerated by homicidal psychopaths just days before. Were only Kremlinologists and Russian exiles permitted a say in the West’s conduct of the cold war? Must one be an Arab to pass judgment on whether the Arab world endangers the West?
The predations on free thought by Europe’s anti-racist establishment are not just a matter of intellectual bullying. They are a matter of real police power. European leftists have used the “rights of man” as a tool to corrupt their countries’ judicial systems. Here is an indignant Otto Kallscheuer of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, writing in late June:
In a free Europe, should such books [as Fallaci’s] be allowed to circulate freely? Of course they should! What is the alternative? An Anti-Racism Court that forbids us to trouble the sensibilities of Muslims by giving wrong answers to right questions?
Was Kallscheuer joking? Such courts already sit in judgment across Europe. The court in which Fallaci was tried in June and will be tried again in October is such a court.
These courts put the power of the state behind a conformism-enforcing pressure that is already inherent in the larger dynamic of public opinion. The pressure is asymmetrical, working to shift opinion in one direction only, and its dangers are well articulated by the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who incidentally was not overly impressed by Fallaci’s book. She “goes too far,” Finkielkraut said; she “succumbs to the racist temptation.” But, he added, “a book cannot be reduced to its unacceptable formulations. Today in France, you’re not allowed to say anything bad about Islamism unless you automatically sing the praises of Islam.”
If President Bush’s hymns to Islam are any indication, this problem is general throughout the West. Political correctness no longer imposes mere silence on its victims, it imposes ready-made opinions—the “progressive” equivalent of a loyalty oath.
So why does no one complain that the anti-racists are behaving tyrannically? Because the censorship they seek to practice comes in the name not of repression but of liberation. As the writer Anthony Palou explained in Le Figaro, “It is the nature of pamphlets to be excessive, but in troubled times, this book risks sowing confusion in people’s minds.” In other words, censorship should be imposed not to squelch dissent but to protect people—from hurt feelings in the case of those who might not like the book, and from mental confusion in the case of those who might. Palou’s own confusion illustrates why the intellectual classes of Europe can agitate stridently for censorship while never for a moment feeling themselves the heirs to Torquemada or the brown-shirts. Books will be banned not because the government despises or fears the people who might read them, but because it loves them so.
Finally, and most bizarrely, anti-racist ideology has extended its purview so far as to claim a role in all social movements—even racist ones. This was made manifest when Fallaci sought to grapple in print with the worst wave of anti-Semitism to hit Europe in six decades. For her pains, she was pilloried as a fascist by an anti-racist establishment that had ignored the anti-Jewish violence almost entirely, and as an extremist by an Italian ex-prime minister who had ignored it altogether. The following month, she was targeted as a perpetrator of hate crimes by an organization that offers tacit encouragement to terrorism in the name of “friendship among the peoples.” Europe’s anti-racist consensus has not only outlived its usefulness. It has outlived its anti-racism.
Fallaci’s method of addressing the problems of radical Islam will not impress everybody. But the intellectuals who have assailed her in the name of Europe’s “values” have failed spectacularly to demonstrate how those values can protect Europe against a movement that would sweep its civilization away, values and all. There are people who know more about Islam than Oriana Fallaci does, but, for whatever reason, precious few of them have thus far written frankly on the subject. One is reminded of A.J. Liebling’s remark that he could write faster than anyone who could write as well, and write better than anyone who could write as fast. This is not a dubious distinction, and a version of it applies to Fallaci. She has more courage than anyone who knows as much as she does about Islam, and she knows more about Islam than anyone who has as much courage.
1 The vagueness with which the epithet “fascism” has been invoked bedevils the entire Fallaci debate. Fallaci herself uses the term to mean, mostly, specific ideologies of the 1920’s and 30’s that relied on charismatic leadership and violence to forge a society-wide conformism (although occasionally she also uses it metaphorically to describe any conformity-enforcing intimidation, as in “red fascism” for French political correctness). Fallaci’s opponents, by contrast, most often employ “fascist” as a synonym for “racist,” or, less rigorously, to describe anyone who draws distinctions, particularly distinctions of value, among races and cultures.
2 See also my articles in the Weekly Standard, “Liberté, Egalité, Judéophobie” (May 6) and “Allah Mode: France’s Islam Problem” (July 15).
3 This translation is by David Harris for the American Jewish Committee. All other translations in this article are my own.