Saturday, August 28, 2010

And the Rage has it ...

Non ti curar di lor ma guarda e passa ...
Take no notice of them but look and pass.
Inferno, Dante Alighieri

The Rage and the Pride by Oriana Fallaci (Rizzoli International Publications Inc., 2001) 187 pages

Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist who died in 2006, is a personal hero of mine. She was as valiant in print as she was in action. During World War II, as a teenager, she joined the resistance against the Nazis carrying explosives and delivering messages. In the 1960s and 70s she worked as a war correspondent in Vietnam, the Middle East and South America. She was once shot three times, dumped in a morgue and left for dead.

She interviewed the Ayatollah Khomeini and disrobed from the hated chador she was forced to wear in his presence calling it a "stupid, medieval rag" and forcing him to flee during the interview. She got Kissinger to admit that Vietnam was a "useless war". She has challenged everyone from Silvio Berlusconi to Yassir Arafat to Qaddafi to the Shah of Iran and the Pope on various issues. God, did this woman have parts. She was absolutely ferocious.

I can't do justice to her career here but there is an excellent article published in The New Yorker just prior to her death in 2006 which gives a great overview of her journalistic life.

Fallaci, the brave, the intelligent, the Cassandra of our time, descends into a howl of rage and ugly racism in this post 9-11 screed, the first of three books she published on the Islamic "threat" in 2002. Living in New York during the 9-11 attacks, she had a very passionate and somewhat understandable response to the event. If only, if only ... she had not let her passion and anger totally distort her considerable intellect in writing this "sermon" as she describes it. As Margaret Talbot's New Yorker article points out, where she fails so disastrously is in describing the worst practices of Islamic fundamentalists (which are undemocratic, violent, dangerous) as representing all of Islam.

This book was written in a complete fury in the unsettled days following 9-11 and, seemingly, it is unedited by anyone other than herself. She herself translated the work from the Italian which was, in my estimation, an enormous mistake. Had a competent English speaking editor been able to do so, they would have eliminated not only the many grammatical errors and adjust the syntax but perhaps challenge factual exaggerations and distortions that she so brazenly spouts.

It devolves from a shocked, angry response to 9-11 (she vividly recalls the smell of "death" in the air just after the attacks) into an ugly diatribe against all Muslims ("the sons of Allah" as she refers to them) and Islam. She moves from the obvious criticisms (religious intolerance, the abrogation of the rights of women and non-Muslims, the undemocratic nature of virtually all Islamic countries) to ugly stereotypes.

Oriana Fallaci before the Twin Towers

She complains how Muslims have turned the "exquisite" cities of Italy into "filthy kasbahs" with their mosques, businesses, food and culture. I shudder to think of people leveling that ridiculous accusation against the Italian-Canadian immigrants of St. Clair Avenue in Toronto or James Street in Hamilton, where many of us have built businesses and created homes for ourselves.

She accuses the Muslims of everything from overbreeding to spreading AIDS to prostitution to drug dealing to general criminality on the streets of Italian cities. It is truly disturbing to read. Capitalizing on the anti-Muslim mood it was a tremendous success in Italy. She warns that Europe will soon “end up with minarets in place of the bell-towers, with the burka in place of the mini-skirt.” She complains that Italy "cannot bear a migratory wave of people who have nothing to do with us . . . who, on the contrary, aim to absorb us.” She complains about Somali Muslims leaving “yellow streaks of urine that profaned the millenary marbles of the Baptistery” in Florence and urine streaks in the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

The linguistic errors are too numerous to recount but here are some:  "I don't swim into an ocean of good health"; "Let me stress you why."; "Everyday an attack or a smear reminds me the Salem trial"; the word "teached" rather than "taught"; a reference to the historic ship she names "Mayfair" rather than the "Mayflower".

However, on one point I adamantly agree: we should vociferously decry practices which violate human rights, deprive women of equality, practice barbaric acts of retribution against those who violate Islamic law, force women to don burkas and chadors. She is in correct that a perverse sense of political correctness compels Western liberals and leftists to defend certain practices. We should condemn the repressive aspects of sharia law and all instances where people are deprived of their rights but we shy away from this because we don't want to be perceived as racist.

Fallaci said in this book that she refused to read her detractors, of which there were many, because she did not want to engage in "futile discussions" and because they were "invariably persons without ideas and without qualities". She cites a quote from Dante's Inferno: Non ti curar di lor ma guarda e passa ... A little less rage Ms. Oriana and a little more pride would have been in order because with this missive you damaged the reputation of an amazing journalistic career.


Cheryl said...

I understand her rage. At times I share it. When I see horror I have to speak. It gets me in trouble all the time, though . . .

Michelle said...

Yes, I understand, especially for Americans, how horrific it was but Fallaci goes too far. It really is a hate-filled, over the top response. And I worship Fallaci, I think she was amazing.

Christine said...

I knew a little about her from J school but didn't know she wrote this hateful book.

Also I agree with you re: "we should vociferously decry practices which violate human rights, deprive women of equality...." etc. That whole paragraph, really.

Michelle said...

Well her work is phenomenal ... especially her collection Interview with History. She's a wonderful writer. This book is a very disturbing deviation.