The Force of Reason
by Oriana Fallaci
Rizzoli. 290 pp. $19.95
Oriana fallaci is due to appear soon in an Italian court to answer a charge that her latest book vilifies Islam. Similar charges against her in France and Switzerland have come to nothing in the past, and the case in Italy may similarly fall by the way. Yet there is no getting around the disturbing sense that today’s Europe, which boasts of universal civil rights enshrined in law, is in practice willing to abridge the freedom of speech that is at the core of democracy. The European Union has gone so far as to pass a law against blasphemy, a regression to pre-Enlightenment custom if ever there was one. Voltaire, thou shouldst be living at this hour.
The challenge to Europe’s view of itself, and therefore to the values it lives by, comes from Muslim immigration. For the past three or four decades, Europeans have encouraged such immigration on economic and demographic grounds. At no point did anyone in authority pause to ask if this permissiveness was wise, or what would happen if the Muslim minority were to grow sizably in numbers and, for reasons of religious faith and differing values, fail or decline to integrate into European society. Instead, each country adopted a variant of multiculturalism, a generic term for the official hope that people, whoever they may be, have only to do their own thing and all will be well.
This policy has proved a victim of the political Islam promoted by Iran and Saudi Arabia. These two Muslim states sponsor imams all over Europe who preach that Muslims have religious endorsement to live in the West so long as they do not integrate. Above all, they owe it to themselves to have no other identity than Islam, and in its name are free to make whatever claims they like on their host societies. Many, indeed most, Muslims are wary of this militant and alienating world-view, but enough subscribe to it to precipitate a genuine cultural war, a Kulturkampf.
Unequipped to fight cultural wars, and eager to salvage multiculturalism, governments everywhere in Europe have undertaken every possible concession to Muslims. The rationale is this: to forbid customs and practices that are illegal in the West (including female circumcision and infibulation), or to interfere with such things as Muslim marriage laws safeguarding the husband’s sovereign rights, will risk creating even more recruits for political Islam.
This has been going on for quite some time by now. The cowardly response to the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses (1987) was an early indication that, where Muslim sensibilities were concerned, European governments were not prepared to pay much of a price for the defense of free speech. Similarly, both secular and Christian authorities responded to the recent Muslim outcry against a few Danish cartoons with apologies and a call for self-censorship. Last fall, youths rioting and burning cars in over 300 French towns and cities to cries of “Allahu akhbar” were described euphemistically as delinquents, vandals, social outcasts: anything but the Muslims they were.
Fear of Islamic violence induces appeasement, and the case of Oriana Fallaci is only another example.
Born in 1930 in Florence, Oriana Fallaci is old enough to have had first-hand experience of fascism under Mussolini. Her father, she has recorded, was active in the resistance, and at one point was held by fascist militiamen and tortured. As a young girl, she carried messages past wartime checkpoints.
Post-Fascist generations, however, have known nothing but the welfare state and its founding myth of peace, love, and brotherhood. At the outset of her career, Fallaci seems indeed to have subscribed to these simplicities, which captivated so many of her contemporaries. For her first book, The Egotists (1963), she interviewed figures of celebrity in that swinging period—playboys and playgirls, film stars and directors, even a bull-fighter—writing about them in a tone of surface disapproval that really signified admiration and perhaps even envy.
As the cold war persisted, casting a shadow over the early prospects of brotherhood, European intellectuals hurried to Vietnam in order to rejoice in America’s agony and the Communist victory. Fallaci covered Vietnam from a conventional leftwing slant. But thereafter she seems to have entertained second thoughts. Reverting to her specialty of interviewing personalities in the public eye, she became one of the first to appreciate that Yasir Arafat was an outstanding liar; that as compared with the shah of Iran (whom she depicted as a rather pathetic figure), Ayatollah Khomeini was a dangerous fanatic; and that Muammar Qaddafi was a sinister clown. Gaining access to men of power and reporting on them without being impressed, Fallaci seemed another Martha Gellhorn or Lillian Ross—and became more famous.
September 11, 2001 was a defining moment. Out of a clear sky, political Islam initiated war on a massive scale. Nevertheless, European intellectuals by and large took the view that here was a movement that might indeed challenge the worldwide hegemony of the despised United States, replacing the Soviet Union whose decline and fall had so confounded them. To this day, government officials and intellectuals in France, Germany, Scandinavia, and elsewhere do not conceal their belief—their hope—that the American campaign against political Islam will end in a well deserved, Vietnam-style agony.
Ordinary Europeans, by contrast, may question American tactics, but, again by and large, do not share the glee or the expectations of those claiming to speak for them. By now, they have had enough experience of their own cultural war to suspect—fairly or unfairly—that the twenty million or so Muslim immigrants now in their midst stand in the same relation to political Islam as Communist-party members once did to the Soviet Union.
In 2002, with a polemic entitled The Rage and the Pride, Oriana Fallaci raced into this gap between what ordinary people are supposed to think about Muslims and what they actually do think. That book, random and idiosyncratic as a stream-of-consciousness novel, was written in a heterodox style perhaps more suited to Italian than to English. There was a central perception, however.
Fallaci’s first-hand knowledge of Muslim leaders and Muslim society had led her to conclude that political Islam was no momentary criminal wave, let alone the aberration of a few psychopaths. Rather, it was a force capable of appealing widely to the Muslim masses, expressing as it did the historic belief in the rightful supremacy of Islam over all the other peoples and faiths that have regularly frustrated that supremacy. In this scheme of things, she wrote, the idea of Muslim integration into Western society was by definition excluded. Therefore, the choice facing Westerners was to fight political Islam until it was defeated, or to surrender.
The Rage and the Pride sold millions of copies in a number of languages. But Fallaci herself became, and remains, a polarizing figure. To some, she is courageously leading the defense of the West. To others, she is a hysteric, guilty of Islamophobia and of sacrilege against the canonical European value of multiculturalist tolerance, and she must be stopped.
Her latest book, The Force of Reason, another rush of consciousness, is aimed at the latter group, from whose ranks have issued the lawsuits against her and, even, threats on her life. Such threats, she assures us, do not trouble her; in any case, she suffers from terminal cancer. What is insupportable is that so many commentators, journalists, and intellectuals, who ought to know better, have in effect committed treason, taking the side of the enemy in the great cultural war.
In The Force of Reason, peculiarly translated into English by Fallaci herself, she lambastes these critics with a will. Leftwing journalists who accuse her of bias and racism are, she writes, “cicadas”—invisible insects, humming in unison. She revels in contempt for all the “multimillionaire third-worlder Hollywood stars, the bastards dressed up as university professors, the wretches who support pro-Islamic obscenities of [the] pro-Islamic UN.” She singles out a few for special derision. One of them (Doudou Diène by name) wants to ban criticism of any aspect of Islam; another (Sigrid Hunke) neatly wove anti-Semitism into her two life roles as a former Nazi intellectual and latterly an apologist for Islam.
Fallaci’s brushstrokes are very broad, not only when it comes to her critics but when it comes to Muslims. These she lumps together indiscriminately. The only art in which Muslims have excelled, she charges, is “the art of invading and conquering and subjugating.” The difference today is that now they have “a design based on gradual penetration rather than brutal and sudden aggression.”
This weakens her argument. Muslim immigrants cannot be blamed for having responded to an open invitation to settle in Europe. Caught between the incompatible demands of political Islam and Western society, these millions find themselves in an invidious position. Where Fallaci is on much stronger ground is in blaming the multiculturalist Left for helping to trap Muslim immigrants in this bind, and in broadening her critique to note how the Left has been aided by Europe’s Christians, including the Catholic Church. The Church, she writes acidly, again giving chapter and verse, “seems to be incapable of defending Christianity,” and thereby to have become another collaborator in the ongoing Islamization of Europe.
Europe’s hordes of cicadas, university professors, religious spokesmen, and government officials may succeed in writing off all of this as another shrill and even racist tirade. But in Europe, sales of The Force of Reason are high. The huge majority of Europeans think as Oriana Fallaci does, however inhibited they may be by their code of manners, and increasingly by their laws, from speaking out as she does. Should they perceive themselves to be losing the cultural war, or in danger of being forced either by their governments or by the pressure of demography to submit to any sort of Islamized Europe, their own rage is likely to be fearful.
In this sense Fallaci’s books are an unmistakable call to action. Any continuation of the present pattern, in which aggressive demands for Islamic exception and privilege escalate in tandem with the submissiveness of legally constituted authority and the acquiescence of the privileged classes, is bound in the end to evoke a violent counter-response. They are a call not only to faltering or complicit Europeans but to Europe’s Muslims as well, who have everything to lose from political Islam and, if they fail to fight it, nothing to gain. Oriana Fallaci may be deaf to their plight, but her battle is theirs as well.