Farewell, La Fallaci

Un hommage de Mark Steyn

I never really thought cancer would get Oriana Fallaci. She seemed so full of fire in the last few years that one assumed any tumor would shrivel and burn inside her. No doubt the legal harassment from her enemies and their appeasers in European justice systems took some toll. But she lived to finish a brace of books unique in their rollercoaster combination of facts and passion. Here’s what I had to say about The Force Of Reason in Maclean’s a few months ago:

Over in Sweden, they’ve been investigating the Grand Mosque of Stockholm. Apparently, it’s the one-stop shop for all your jihad needs: you can buy audio cassettes at the mosque encouraging you to become a martyr and sally forth to kill “the brothers of pigs and apes” – ie, Jews. So somebody filed a racial-incitement complaint and the coppers started looking into it, and then Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice, Goran Lambertz, stepped in. And Mr Lambertz decided to close down the investigation on the grounds that, even though the porcine-sibling stuff is “highly degrading”, this kind of chit-chat “should be judged differently – and therefore be regarded as permissible – because they were used by one side in an ongoing and far-reaching conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds this conflict”.

In other words, if you threaten to kill people often enough, it will be seen as part of your vibrant cultural tradition – and, by definition, we’re all cool with that. Celebrate diversity, etc. Our tolerant multicultural society is so tolerant and multicultural we’ll tolerate your intolerant uniculturalism. Your antipathy to diversity is just another form of diversity for us to celebrate.

Diversity-wise, Europe is a very curious place – and I mean that even by Canadian standards. In her latest book, The Force Of Reason, the fearless Oriana Fallaci, Italy’s most-read and most-sued journalist, recounts some of her recent legal difficulties with the Continental diversity coercers. The Federal Office of Justice in Berne asked the Italian government to extradite her over her last book, The Rage And The Pride, so she could be charged under Article 261b of the Swiss Criminal Code. As she points out, Article 261b was promulgated in order to permit Muslims “to win any ideological or private lawsuit by invoking religious racism and racial discrimination. ‘He-didn’t-chase-me-because-I’m-a-thief-but-because-I’m-a-Muslim’.” She’s also been sued in France, where suits against writers are routine now. She has had cases brought against her in her native Italy and, because of the European Arrest Warrant, which includes charges of “xenophobia” as grounds for extradition from one EU nation to another, most of the Continent is now unsafe for her to set foot in. What’s impressive is the range of organized opposition: the Islamic Centre of Berne, the Somali Association of Geneva, the SOS Racism of Lausanne, and a group of Muslim immigrants in Neuchatel, just to name a random sampling of her Swiss plaintiffs. After the London bombings and the French riots, the commentariat lined up to regret that European Muslims are insufficiently “assimilated”. But, in fact, at least in their mastery of legalisms and victimology, they’re superbly assimilated. One might say the same of the imam who took my chums at The Western Standard to the Alberta Human Rights Commission over their publication of the Danish cartoons.

Racked by cancer, Oriana Fallaci spends most of her time in one of the few jurisdictions in the western world where she is not in legal jeopardy – New York City, whence she pens magnificent screeds in the hope of rousing Europe to save itself. Good luck with that. She writes in Italian, of course, but she translates them herself into what she calls “the oddities of Fallaci’s English”, and the result is a bravura improvised aria, impassioned and somewhat unpredictable. It’s full of facts, starting with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when Mehmet II celebrated with beheading and sodomizing, and some lucky lads found themselves on the receiving end of both. This section is a lively read in an age when most westerners, consciously or otherwise, adopt the blithe incuriosity of Jimmy Kennedy’s marvelous couplet in his 1950s pop hit “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”:

Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

Signora Fallaci then moves on to the livelier examples of contemporary Islam – for example, Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Blue Book” and its helpful advice on romantic matters: “If a man marries a minor who has reached the age of nine and if during the defloration he immediately breaks the hymen, he cannot enjoy her any longer.” I’ll say. I know it always ruins my evening. Also: “A man who has had sexual relations with an animal, such as a sheep, may not eat its meat. He would commit sin.” Indeed. A quiet cigarette afterwards as you listen to your favourite Johnny Mathis LP and then a promise to call her next week and swing by the pasture is by far the best way. It may also be a sin to roast your nine-year old wife, but the Ayatollah’s not clear on that.

Kinky as this is, it has nothing on Fallaci’s next circle of cultural diversity – the weirdly masochistic pleasure European leaders get out of talking themselves down and talking Islam up. Beginning with the German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the 1983 “Hamburg Symposium for the Euro-Arab Dialogue”, Signora Fallaci rounds up a quarter-century’s worth of westerners who’ve insisted that everything you know was invented by Islam: Paper, medicine, sherbet, artichokes, on and on and on…

Always clever, the Muslims. Always at the top. Always ingenious. In philosophy, in mathematics, in gastronomy, in literature, in architecture, in medicine, in music, in law, in hydraulics, in cooking. And always stupid, we westerners. Always inadequate, always inferior. Therefore obliged to thank some son of Allah who preceded us. Who enlightened us. Who acted as a schoolteacher guiding dimwitted pupils.

This, it seems to me, is the most valuable contribution of Oriana Fallaci’s work. I enjoy the don’t-eat-your-sexual-partner stuff as much as the next infidel, but the challenge presented by Islam is not that the cities of the western world will be filling up with sheep-shaggers. If I had to choose, I’d rather Mohammed Atta was down river in Egypt hitting on the livestock than flying through the window of Manhattan skyscrapers. But he’s not. And one reason why westernized Muslims seem so confident is that Europeans like Herr Genscher, in positing a choice between a generalized “Islam” and “the west”, have inadvertently promoted a globalized pan-Islamism that’s become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

At the height of her fame thirty years ago Oriana Fallaci seemed to embody the triumph of the post-Christian west. She lived long enough to understand that secular hyper-rationalism is insufficient, and she was big enough to change her mind on that without changing her unmistakeable voice. This is one of my favorite passages from The Force Of Reason:

In the days of the Soviet Union there was Popov. Nobody knew who Popov was or had been. When or in what region he had lived or died, what his face had been like, what proof of his existence he had left. It was not even known whether the name Popov was a first name or a surname or a nickname or an invention. But the Soviets and the Italian servants of the Soviets used to tell us that he had invented everything. The train, the telegraph, the telephone, the bicycle, the zipper, the sewing machine, the lawnmower, the violin, the ice-cream, the pizza. I mean all the things that we ought the West had invented. Well: with the hopefully-unaware-disciples of Sigrid Hunke, it’s quite the same. Only difference, their Popovs are called Muhammad or Ahmad or Mustafa or Rashid. And instead of belonging to the Soviet Union, instead of representing the superiority of Communism, they belong to the past of Islam and represent the superiority of islam. For example: I believed that the sherbet was already eaten at the time of the Ancient Romans who manufactured it with snow brought from the mountains and conserved it in cold cellars. But Margarita Lopez Gómez of the Fundación Occidental de la Cultura Islamica in Madrid tells me that it was invented by the Popovs of Allah. That in Mesopotamia the snow could be conserved better than in our modern refrigerators. That the word "sherbet" comes from the Arabic "sharab".

I also believed that paper had been invented by the Chinese. To be precise, by a certain Tsai-lun who in 105 Anno Domini (therefore 500 years before the Prophet) succeeded in manufacturing paper from mulberry and bamboo fibres. But, always according to Margarita Lopez Gomez, paper was invented by the Muslims of Damascus and Baghdad then widespread by their descendants in Cordoba and in Granada. (The "most splendid and civilized cities the world had ever known", she says. The two marvels which made Pericles’ Athens and Augustus’ Rome look like squalid villages, she would like us to think). I also believed that the study of blood circulation had been initiated by Hippocrates. But according to Mrs. López G6mez it was initiated by Ibn Sina that is to say Avicenna, without whom Medicine would not have survived. Nor does it end here. Because, according to Professor Sherif Mardin of Washington University, (one of the two Americans with a Koranesque surname), to the Popovs of Islam we owe even the artichokes. Including the carciofi alla giudea, the fried artichokes that in Italy we attribute to the Jews… Professor Mardin, however, does not stop at vegetables. At cereals, at cotton, at paper and ice-cream. He maintains that to Islamic civilization we also owe the Dolce Stil Novo: the poetic school which, as everybody knows, was founded in the last century by the Bolognese Guinizel buL flourished in Tuscany. Especially in Florenc with Dante Alighieri and Guido Cavalcanti an Lapo Gianni. ("Guido, I wish that Lapo and you and I… " begins the Dante’s sonnet we studied at school). Because it was the Muslims of the Crusades the first ones to sing of love and courtliness am chivalry, professor Mardin explains. It was their civilization that saw the Woman as a fount of inspiration, a mystic instrument of edification. Professor Louis Baeck of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, ditto or worse. In fact he states that the contribution of Islam is not confined to literature: it extends to economics. The father of economic theory, he says, is not Adam Smith: it is the Prophet himself. Although the Koran devotes to economics a few Surahs only, the religious norms that the Prophet expresses through them subsume all Adam Smith’s ideas. Professor Reinhard Schuize of the Orientalist Seminar in Bonn, instead, ascribes to Islam the full paternity of Enlightenment. Enough, he roars, with attributing the Enlightenment to the West. Enough with presenting Europe of the Eighteenth Century as a volcano of intellectual vitality. Islam, as an abyss of Juertia and decadence. Enough with assigning every merit to the Voltaires, the Rousseaus, the Diderots, the Encyclopaedists…

(Letter to professor Schulze: <<Dear Sir, shut up your big mouth and leave certain theories to your compatriot Sigrid Hunke. We know perfectly well that in Islam’s historic past there have been a few intelligent, exceptional men, Intelligence doesn’t know borders, it always manages to penetrate the wall of constitutionalized idiocy…)

She was a force unto herself. Godspeed, you ferocious old lioness.

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