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Fallaci's 'Rage and Pride'

By GEORGE JONAS   |   Nov. 12, 2002 at 9:51 PM   |   Comments

TORONTO, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- 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 dela 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.

She translated the French version herself under a pseudonym. This September an English edition has been made available by Rizzoli, New York, also in Ms. Fallaci's own translation.

"The translation is mine and I choose to offer it as it is," she explains in a note to her American readers, "because, given the importance of what I tell, given the gravity of what I maintain, I want to have total responsibility for every word and comma I publish."

The reader is warned before he reaches page one that Ms. Fallaci doesn't take herself or her mission lightly. 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 -- she calls it "a sermon" -- displays an ego that verges on the pathological. Her writing exhibits 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 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. In her foreword she quotes her uncle, Bruno Fallaci, whom she describes as a "great journalist," as he lists the rules of journalism for the benefit of his niece: "First rule, do not bore the readers." Possibly Ms. Fallaci is only obeying Uncle Bruno in her tract, but then again, she 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," 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 wish to see Italian identity and culture preserved, as Ms. Fallaci does.

Some of Ms. Fallaci's critics, by the way, haven't been more moderate than she herself. As she notes in her foreword to the English edition: "Every day an attack or a smear that reminded me the Salem trial. (sic) Hang-the-witch, hang-the-witch. They even mangled and offended my name: they nicknamed me Orhyena in their articles." Needless to say, Ms. Fallaci often describes her opponents or Arabs and Muslims in general in terms that are at least as unparliamentary. "Multiply like rats" is one of her milder expressions. Still, her pained tone in the foreword indicates that while she can certainly dish it out, taking it isn't necessarily her strong suit.

Whatever one thinks of Ms. Fallaci's views about "the sons of Allah," she is on solid grounds 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." It's also hard to disagree that those Westerners who keep finding excuses for Islamist terrorism today are all too often (Fallaci writes "almost always") descended from previous totalitarian traditions. They're "grandchildren of the communists who denied or approved Stalin's massacres."

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 intelligence for intensity. 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's 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 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.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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