What are the two worst things that could happen to a civilization? The first is to have an adversary stronger than itself. The second is to become like that adversary. Could this double whammy be happening to Western civilization?
The question is not far-fetched. Many in the West now identify Islamic fundamentalism, under various appellations, as "the adversary." And there are those who want the West to use some of that adversary's methods — that is to become like it.
In a series of recent elections in Western Europe, radical parties and groups playing the anti-Muslim card have achieved spectacular successes. The ideas they preach have also found an echo in the media and in the broader culture. By my latest count, over 400 books and pamphlets that identify Islam as "the adversary" have appeared in Europe and the United States in the past six months alone.
Some of these books and pamphlets allege that Osama Bin Laden has already scored a double victory. He has succeeded in getting himself recognized as "the arch-enemy" of the Western civilization and, more importantly, forcing some elements in the West to think and write as he does — if not actually behave as he does at least for the time being. The essence of Bin Ladenism is simple: I am right and everybody else is wrong. Those who are wrong must either submit to us or be murdered.
This simple philosophy is the central theme of "La Rage et L'Orgeuil" (Rage and Pride), the new book — or pamphlet — by former Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. She says that she wrote it in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. It was originally an essay that gradually became a 200-page book. Fallaci's thesis is simple: There is a Muslim conspiracy to conquer Europe and destroy Western civilization. Almost all Muslims have a role in this conspiracy. The majority provide either silent support or the required manpower. Muslim governments provide the bases and the logistics. Islamic schools arrange for the necessary brainwashing. Both Muslim businessmen and the Muslim middle class give money.
How is this conspiracy unfolding? Fallaci says there is an organized invasion of the West by Muslim immigrants. She exaggerates the figures all around, for example, by suggesting that there are already 25 million Muslims in the United States. The Muslim immigrants try to Islamicize Western countries by setting up "halal" meat shops, kebab restaurants, mosques and other "ugly sites." Their women wear the "hijab" which, according to Fallaci, is designed to terrorize Western women. Muslim men grow bushy beards and wear clothes that resemble pyjamas or nightgowns in public. Muslims cut the throats of sheep on the balconies of their apartments and make a point of defecating or at least urinating in the most beautiful parts of Western cities. Unless something is done, Fallaci warns, Muslims will turn beautiful European and American cites into "casbahs" where life is dominated by "lies, calumnies and hypocrisy" in the name of religion. As part of their secret plan to destroy Western civilization, Muslims are also bringing a variety of diseases, including syphilis and AIDS, to Europe. Worse still, Muslims have instructions to produce large numbers of children at a time when most Western nations are in demographic decline. Fallaci puts it her way: "Muslims have orders to multiply like rats."
Fallaci says that all Muslims are Arabs, even when they belong to other nationalities. For her, being Muslim means abandoning one's true identity and adopting that of the Arabs. She goes further by suggesting that all Arabs are actual or potential Bin Ladens. In her view, Islam can produce only Bin Ladens. She even ridicules suggestions that Muslims ever contributed anything to science, art and philosophy. Addressing the West, she cries out: "You do not understand or do not want to understand that if we remain passive, if we do not fight back, the jihad will triumph."
Those who know Fallaci may not be surprised by the vehemence of her passion and the intensity of her hatred. Now in her mid-70s, Fallaci began her journalistic career as one of the fashionable leftist "truth-seekers" in the 1960s. Those were the days of the Vietnam War and "the adversary" was the United States, the arch-imperialist demonized by Soviet propaganda. Over 40 years later, Fallaci has been transformed into an America-lover of almost comic proportions. She now loves everything American and believes that only the United States can save humanity from falling under the control of "Muslim hordes of fanatics."
Fallaci is not alone among former anti-Americans who have suddenly become pro-US. Another example is Salman Rushdie, the British novelist who once described the United States as "the fountain of evil." In his book "The Jaguar Smile," a hymn in praise of Marxist terrorists in Nicaragua, Rushdie even called for the murder of Americans as a revolutionary act. Now, however, Rushdie lives in New York, a few blocks from Fallaci, and sings the same song in praise of America. Not surprisingly, both Rushdie and Fallaci achieved hero status in Iran. Fallaci was the only foreign woman journalist allowed to interview the late Ayatollah Khomeini. (She wore the "hijab" on that occasion!) Her praise of Khomeini, and her vicious attacks on the late Shah, are still part of the official literature of Iran. Rushdie won the Ayatollah Beheshti Prize for his anti-American novels. Both Fallaci and Rushdie have cured themselves of their hatred of the United States by replacing it with an even more illogical hatred of Muslims. They are people who cannot live without hating someone or something. The problem is that their hatred seems to be shared by many people in the West. Fallaci's work has sold almost a million copies in Italy, the biggest sales figures ever of the first edition of a book in Italy. The French publisher hopes to sell almost as many. Translations of the book are already under way in 10 other languages. Fallaci, like Rushdie before her, has always had a provocative streak. This is any writer's right and, in the cases of Fallaci and Rushdie, has often proved a selling gimmick for mediocre books. But there is a limit even to provocation. That limit is simple: The writer should not deliberately lie to his readers.
Let me explain.
Fallaci could have written an even bigger book saying why she hates all Muslims. I also have no quarrel with her taste when she says: "Arab men have something in them that make women of good taste vomit." She should know. I don't. What Fallaci should not do is to build her premise on lies. For example, she claims that "millions and millions" of Muslims marched in support of Bin Laden throughout the Muslims world — from Afghanistan to Sudan and from Indonesia and Pakistan to Chad. This is simply not true. Using reports from news agencies and radio and TV networks, I can find a total of only 17 demonstrations that could be interpreted as pro-Bin Laden. Of these, 10 took place in two Pakistani cities: Peshawar and Quetta. There were also demonstrations in Amman, Cairo and Casablanca. None of these drew large crowds, the average being just a few hundred. There were also pro-American demonstrations in various parts of the Muslim world after Sept. 11. In Tehran, thousands of young men and women held a candle-lit vigil and prayed for the American dead. In Jakarta, large crowds called on the US Embassy to lay flowers. There were similar ceremonies in other Muslim cities including Tashkent, Baku, Ankara, Sarajevo and Tirana. There is no evidence that Bin Laden or his brand of terror have a substantial following anywhere in the Muslim world. Certainly, we have not seen or heard many expressions of such support from anywhere. Even the most radical, anti-American Islamic fundamentalists have not publicly endorsed the Sept. 11 attacks or praised Bin Laden. Of course, they may be dissimulating because so many of them have children at American universities. Some of them also live in Europe but the net result is that there is no sign of the massive support that Fallaci claims for Bin Laden and his terrorists.
Fallaci's claim that there is a centralized Muslim conspiracy is too ludicrous to merit a detailed rebuttal. There are 53 countries in which Muslims are a majority. These countries have minimal relationships with one another. Trade among them accounts for less than one percent of their total commercial exchanges. Muslims do not send their children to other Muslim countries for study. The No. 1 destination for study is the United States. There is also very little intra-Islamic tourism. Apart from Haj, hardly any Muslim tourist goes to another Muslim country. Muslims do not learn one another's languages.
Muslims do not even translate the works or one other's writers and scholars. None of the great contemporary Turkish poets and Iranian writers are known in the Arab world. And, leaving aside Naguib Mahfouz who was forced into Muslim markets thanks to his Nobel Prize, non-Arab Muslims know almost nothing of Arabic literature. When it comes to literature from Indonesia, for example, the situation is even worse. Indonesian literature is translated into English, Dutch and German but never into Arabic, Turkish or Persian.
No, Ms. Fallaci! The problem is that there is no Muslim world as such. There are, of course, a number of organizations with an Islamic label: the Organization of Islamic Conference is one of them. But these organizations have absolutely no influence on any aspect of life and/or politics in any Muslim country. Nor have they succeeded in promoting a coherent and united Muslim position on any world issues. Because there is no organized church, and certainly no pope, there is no authority which can decide and speak on behalf of all Muslims. Bin Laden and Khomeini, presented by Fallaci as the model Muslims of our time, must be regarded as ambitious politicians and judged as individuals. Just as it would be wrong to regard Al Capone and other Mafia chiefs as models of Italian manhood, it would be disingenuous to claim "all Muslims are Bin Ladens." It is, therefore, unfair to blame all Muslims for the deeds of isolated individuals or states.
A good part of Fallaci's pamphlet is devoted to attacking the European Union for supposedly being soft on Muslim immigrants. But the truth is that Europe in general, and Italy in particular, needs these immigrants. In fact, Italian government studies show that unless there is a mass injection of immigrants into Italy, the Italian nation will simply disappear within the next four decades. The reason? Falling birth rates. Italians do not produce enough children to compensate for normal death rates. The same is true in Germany and Spain. France and Britain have managed to keep their population levels constant thanks to immigration. Fallaci's anti-immigrant position is especially surprising because it comes from a former leftist and an Italian. Most leftist ideologies divide mankind on the basis of class rather than ethnic background or race. In any case, Italians are among the most mixed peoples in the world with the blood of countless ethnic groups and races in their veins. Italy has also been one of the leading sources of immigrants to other European countries and the American continent. Between 1830 and 1960, an estimated 12 million Italians immigrated to the United States alone. A further 15 million went to South America where they form important parts of the population in Argentina and Uruguay and Venezuela among others. From 1900 to the 1950s, an estimated five million Italians immigrated to France, Britain and the Benelux countries.
At their destinations, those Italian immigrants met people like Fallaci who loathed the newcomers and saw them as a threat to civilization. That someone like Fallaci can pose as a serious writer on the subject of Islam proves at least two things. The first is that Europe, especially Italy, remains largely ignorant of Islam both as a religion and as a civilization. The second is that the majority of Muslims, by remaining silent, have allowed a small handful of violent and largely ignorant individuals to pose as representatives of Islam. Efforts are needed on both sides — by Europe and by Muslims — to change the situation and thus give the millions who read Fallaci a better, fairer and more truthful account of what is a serious issue: the place of Islam in a global world dominated by Western powers.