The liberals of Europe -- those champions of free-ranging Voltairean speech and scourges of fanatical religion -- are dragging journalist and author Oriana Fallaci into court for writing a book critical of militant Islam. Fallaci, who now lives in Manhattan, has been ordered to stand trial in her native Italy for The Force of Reason, a 2004 book which a mau-mauing Muslim activist has managed to convince an Italian judge skates too close to a law prohibiting "outrages against religion."
Can Catholic activists in Italy invoke this law too? If so, the critics of Fallaci would find themselves in court next to her, as they denounce the Catholic religion in the very abusive terms they scold her for using against Islam.
Pope Benedict XVI's contribution this week to the defeat of an Italian referendum targeting embryos for research and destruction has Europe's secularists in another anti-Catholic tizzy. Having grown accustomed to a feckless post-Vatican II Catholic Church, they were surprised and upset that Pope Benedict encouraged Italy's bishops to torpedo the referendum by telling their flock to boycott it. What "unwarranted interference in Italian affairs," they pouted. Monica Bellucci interrupted her theatrical career to blast the Church. "What do politicians and priests know about my ovaries?" she said.
The dominant American press, scenting a worrisome but perhaps defeatable challenge to European secularism, took a keen interest in the Italian referendum until it flopped. The Washington Post did an ambitious, A01, story on the referendum last weekend, full of Brave New World bias and secularist probing into the Church's opposition to it. But on Tuesday after the referendum resoundingly failed (only 25.9 percent of Italians went to the polls, rendering a referendum requiring 50 percent turnout invalid) the Washington Post buried its story about the outcome on A18, and suddenly the Church's influence wasn't all that decisive in its analysis. "It remained unclear what effect the church's [opposition] had on the turnout," hedged the Post. Had the referendum succeeded, the Post's tone would have been: secular Europe 1, Pope Benedict O. (The Los Angeles Times's interest in the referendum also flagged in its follow-up story.)
Italian secularists, busy opening their public squares to imams, now more than ever want it closed to priests. They fear, reported the European press after the referendum failed, a "victorious Vatican." Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy's Minister for Equal Opportunities and a member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, sputtered in anger about the "fundamentalist and intolerant" opposition and said, "The Church has never intervened in such an overwhelming and determined way."
Italy's civilizational stirrings -- the referendum failed in part because Italians are still put off by the "granny births" and other moral anomalies a 1990s culture of embryo tinkering produced in the country -- are not going unnoticed by the political class. Massimo Cacciari, the Mayor of Venice, commented to the press that Italy's "liberal secular culture" is decelerating.
As secularists regroup, what can be expected? One certainty is that the "outrages against religion" Europe's liberals are not permitting Oriana Fallaci will multiply against the Church. Terms they can't bring themselves to use against militant Islam -- dangerous, fanatical, irrational -- will fall easily from their mouths on Pope Benedict as they try desperately to consolidate secularist gains. Though the liberals of Europe would never dare call Islam illiberal, they speak of the religion that gave birth to civilized Europe in that language, and wouldn't even permit a direct historical mention of it in the European Union Constitution (also failing to impress weary Europeans in referendums).
Fallaci is known as a liberal but of a vanishing species, one who sees that fellow liberals are playing dupes to the most alien and illiberal ideology in Europe. This rebuke cannot be abided, and so Europe's liberals, who are far more wildly authoritarian than the conservative authorities they displaced, are putting her on trial, once again exposing their rhetoric of liberty as a sham. And they can even drum up another charge against her: she sided with the odious Catholic Church in Italy's referendum fight.
"Behind this referendum is a project to reinvent man in the laboratory, to transform him into a product to sell like steak or a bomb. Here we return to Nazism," she wrote. The children of Voltaire won't fight to the death for her free speech. Under a death wish of another sort, now they prosecute it.
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