On his deathbed, Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085) is reported to have said, "I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile." Gregory's words might just as well be attributed to his fellow countryman Oriana Fallaci. Wanted for a speech crime in her native Italy, Europe's most celebrated journalist now passes her days in exile in an upper Manhattan townhouse. In May, Fallaci was indicted under a provision of the Italian penal code that criminalizes the "vilification of any religion admitted by the state." Specifically it is charged that her latest book The Force of Reason (due out in the U.S. in October) "defames Islam," which is a little like charging Paul Revere with disturbing the peace. (Tony Blair has promised to introduce similar legislation in Britain. Blasphemy laws, once a mainstay of the Dark Ages, are fast returning to the law books throughout the West.)
The plaintiff is an Italian Muslim activist with the infidel name of Adel Smith. Smith is believed to be the author of the pamphlet "Islam Punishes Oriana Fallaci," a screed that calls upon Muslims to "eliminate" the journalist and to "go and die with Fallaci." Smith was also behind a recent court decision banning crucifixes from public school classrooms (the crucifix, according to Smith, is a "miniature cadaver"). And he has called for the removal of Dante's Divine Comedy from high school syllabus, and the destruction of the medieval fresco, "The Last Judgment" by Giovanni da Modena, in Bologna Cathedral, both of which depict the prophet Mohammed in hell. After 9/11, the former Scot turned Italian Muslim put the demolition of the priceless artwork on the backburner while he turned to other assaults on Christianity. During a January 2003 television show, Smith repeatedly called Christianity a "criminal association" whose head, Pope John Paul II, was "a foreigner who leads the church and who is con man." (In an all-too-rare case of poetic justice, an Italian court last month sentenced Smith to six months in prison for defaming Catholicism.)
Yet, despite the U.S.'s relative tolerance for free expression, Fallaci has not been particularly welcomed here either. The journalist first earned the contempt of the Intellectual Left with her vocal opposition to abortion. Today many intellectuals, both left and right, regard her as an anti-Muslim racist. As with Salman Rushdie before her, the cultural elites seem a little embarrassed by Fallaci, and not a few believe that both Rushdie and Fallaci deserve their fate.
In a 2003 interview with the New York Observer, "La Fallaci," as she is known in Europe, flatly denied the racist charge: "Racist has to do with race and not with religion. Yes, I am against that religion, a religion that controls the life of people every minute of their day, that puts the burka on women, that treats women as camels, that preaches polygamy, that cuts the hands off poor thieves...[Islam] is not even a religion, in my opinion. It is a tyranny, a dictatorship -- the only religion on earth that has never committed a work of self-criticism....It becomes worse and worse...and now they want to come impose it on me, on us."
In Italia, where the The Force of Reason has sold more than a million copies, Fallaci is rather more popular. In Force she writes that the long-awaited fall of the West has commenced -- not due to communism, but to Islamic fascism. And she argues that Western-style democracy, with its long tradition of liberty, human rights, freedom of thought and religion, and Islamic fundamentalism cannot coexist. As proof, she cites attempts by France's Union of Italian Muslims to ban her first book, The Rage and the Pride, and her recent indictment at home.
Despite the indictment, the almost constant death threats and the recent murders of outspoken critics of radical Islam, La Fallaci remains undeterred in her criticism of Islamofascism. European Muslims, she says, not only refuse to assimilate, but seem determined to undermine Western society. "The increased presence of Muslims in Italy, and in Europe, is directly proportional to our loss of freedom," she writes. More dire are her predictions that an apathetic Europe will soon become part of a new Islamic Empire she calls Eurabia... "Europe becomes more and more a province of Islam, a colony of Islam. And Italy is an outpost of that province, a stronghold of that colony....In each of our cities lies a second city: a Muslim city, a city run by the Quran. A stage in the Islamic expansionism."
The daughter of a political activist who opposed Mussolini, Fallaci was for many years a respected war correspondent covering the Vietnam War and the Indo-Pakistani War. She survived being shot three times during a student uprising in Mexico City, and went on to write one of the classics of modern journalism, An Interview With History, which contains her trademark confrontational interviews with Kissinger, Deng Xiaoping, the Shah of Iran, Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Muammar Qaddafi, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Federico Fellini. "I do not feel myself to be, nor will I ever succeed in feeling like, a cold recorder of what I see and hear," she writes in the preface to Interview. "On every professional experience I leave shreds of my heart and soul; and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter concerned me personally and were one on which I ought to take a stand (in fact I always take one, based on a specific moral choice)."
At 75, the petite, blue-eyed former World War II resistance fighter who once smuggled explosives past Nazi checkpoints, remains as feisty as ever. Particularly when she receives one of her frequent death threats. She lets the caller have his say, she told the Observer, "Then I say, 'Do you know where it is your mother and your wife and your sister and your daughter are right in this moment? They are in a brothel in Beirut. And do you know what they're doing? They are giving away their' -- I don't tell it to you, but I tell it to them -- 'and you know to whom? To an American!"
Always the fighter, La Fallaci is today waging a losing battle against breast cancer, and doesn't expect to be around for her June 2006 trial, though she suspects she would be found guilty. In the meantime she still has much to say:
"The clash between us and them is not a military one," she warns. "It is a cultural one, a religious one, and the worst is still to come."
The West would do well to listen to the words of La Fallaci.
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