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Fallaci is a little heavy on the rage
by George Jonas
National Post
November 7, 2002

After a silence of some 20 years, the enfant terrible of the 1960s erupted on the stage of political journalism again. Oriana Fallaci's The Rage and the Pride is a pamphlet of 187 pages, of which almost a third -- 53 pages -- is spent explaining why she wrote the other 134. No matter; the book that grew out of a tract commissioned by Milan's Corriere Della Sera shortly after the events of 9/11 sold a million copies in Italy, and has been number one on non-fiction bestseller lists in France and Germany. Last month, an English edition has been made available in Ms. Fallaci's own translation.

Younger people may not remember the cocky Italian reporter of striking looks who came from the New Left, but was headstrong enough to alienate powerful figures at both ends of the political spectrum. No Jane Fonda, in the end Ms. Fallaci became as unpopular in Hanoi as in Washington. She remained popular among book and newspaper publishers, though, who had no difficulty disposing of her copy.

Ms. Fallaci, now 72, appears to be a living illustration of Somerset Maugham's remark that human beings aren't cut of one cloth. Her pamphlet displays an ego that verges on the pathological, a terminal boastfulness, a surfeit of testosterone and a self-righteousness that rivals the Ayatollah Khomeini's -- but all this coupled with a child's ability to see that the emperor has no clothes and also a child's courage of saying so.

Christopher Caldwell describes The Rage and the Pride in Commentary magazine as "a philippic against Islamist terrorism and the cowardly Western elites who have permitted it to blossom in their midst." This is concise and accurate, but Ms. Fallaci also seems to posit a far more dubious equation: Islamism=Islam.

The suggestion that there's no difference between Islam and Islamist fundamentalism is probably untrue. Minimally, it's premature. Disputing values isn't an intelligent way to expose flaws. It's quite unnecessary to deny Islamic architecture or poetry to decry Islamist terrorism. Worse than unnecessary, actually: It diminishes rather than enhances the message.

Ms. Fallaci might reply that the "message" isn't heard at all unless she roars it. Anything less is drowned out by the chorus of what she calls the "cicadas" of political correctness and moral equivalence. But then again, Ms. Fallaci may not be aware that she's occasionally foaming at the mouth.

Some critics of The Rage and the Pride, such as Amir Taheri, say that Ms. Fallaci thinks and writes like Osama bin Laden. There's no doubt that Ms. Fallaci speaks with considerable venom about Muslim immigrants in Italy. In one sequence, talking of a group of Somali Muslims who pitched a tent in Florence's Cathedral Square to protest Italy's reluctance to accept family-class immigrants, she describes "the yellow streaks of urine that profaned the millenary marbles of the Baptistery," adding that "Good heavens! They really take long shots, these sons of Allah!"

Ms. Fallaci's critics point out that, apart from all other objections to what they see as her xenophobia, many countries in Europe face depopulation because of falling birth rates. "The truth is," Mr. Taheri writes, "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 problem with such arguments is that the Italian nation would disappear within the next few decades in any event if the country could only be saved from depopulation by a massive infusion of unassimilated immigrants. Whether Italy disappears because Cathedral Square is depopulated or because it's turned into a urinal would make scant difference for those who wish to see Italian identity and culture preserved, as Ms. Fallaci does.

Whatever one thinks of her views about "the sons of Allah," Ms. Fallaci is on solid ground when she talks about Western elites. It's hard to disagree with her, for instance, that the statist bureaucracy emerging from Brussels and calling itself the European Union "is not Europe. It is the suicide of Europe."

The educated classes of Europe have done a disservice to the very values they cherish by putting certain topics, such as immigration, beyond the pale. By stifling all discussions with blanket charges of xenophobia or racism, they ensured the creation of conditions William Butler Yeats noted so memorably in his 1922 poem, The Second Coming:

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity."

I wouldn't describe Ms. Fallaci as the worst, but in The Rage and the Pride she's trading intensity for intelligence. This is always a poor bargain, though not necessarily surprising. When temperate voices fall silent, the void is filled with intemperate voices. This happens not only in the outside world, but even inside one's own head. In a person predisposed to intemperance the transition comes rather easily.

George Orwell said about the painter Salvador Dali that "One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being." In a similar vein, one ought to be able to say that Ms. Fallaci's tract raises important points in inexcusable tones. As Mr. Caldwell puts it in his review, "for all her book's flaws, Fallaci is far more often right than wrong" and "there can be no question that Fallaci is correct to say that some of the most extreme Islamist figures live in the West."

Sweeping such and similar facts under the carpet for the sake of political correctness leads to a form of intellectual disarmament, a surrender to evil. One wishes Ms. Fallaci had the rectitude to raise the question of the intellectual disarmament of the West without descending into theatrical bombast and vituperation, but this may be too much to ask of a hyperactive child of the '60s. When people of good taste and good judgment are afraid to speak up, they abandon the field to people of greater courage, if less taste and judgment. Enter Ms. Fallaci.

 

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