[Paleopsych] WSJ: (Fallaci) Citizen of the World
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Citizen of the World
Prophet of Decline
An interview with Oriana Fallaci.
BY TUNKU VARADARAJAN
Thursday, June 23, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
NEW YORK--Oriana Fallaci faces jail. In her mid-70s, stricken with a
cancer that, for the moment, permits only the consumption of
liquids--so yes, we drank champagne in the course of a three-hour
interview--one of the most renowned journalists of the modern era has
been indicted by a judge in her native Italy under provisions of the
Italian Penal Code which proscribe the "vilipendio," or
"vilification," of "any religion admitted by the state."
In her case, the religion deemed vilified is Islam, and the
vilification was perpetrated, apparently, in a book she wrote last
year--and which has sold many more than a million copies all over
Europe--called "The Force of Reason." Its astringent thesis is that
the Old Continent is on the verge of becoming a dominion of Islam, and
that the people of the West have surrendered themselves fecklessly to
the "sons of Allah." So in a nutshell, Oriana Fallaci faces up to two
years' imprisonment for her beliefs--which is one reason why she has
chosen to stay put in New York. Let us give thanks for the First
It is a shame, in so many ways, that "vilipend," the latinate word
that is the pinpoint equivalent in English of the Italian offense in
question, is scarcely ever used in the Anglo-American lexicon; for it
captures beautifully the pomposity, as well as the anachronistic
outlandishness, of the law in question. A "vilification," by contrast,
sounds so sordid, so tabloid--hardly fitting for a grande dame.
"When I was given the news," Ms. Fallaci says of her recent
indictment, "I laughed. Bitterly, of course, but I laughed. No
amusement, no surprise, because the trial is nothing else but a
demonstration that everything I've written is true." An activist judge
in Bergamo, in northern Italy, took it upon himself to admit a
complaint against Ms. Fallaci that even the local prosecutors would
not touch. The complainant, one Adel Smith--who, despite his name, is
Muslim, and an incendiary public provocateur to boot--has a history of
anti-Fallaci crankiness, and is widely believed to be behind the
publication of a pamphlet, "Islam Punishes Oriana Fallaci," which
exhorts Muslims to "eliminate" her. (Ironically, Mr. Smith, too, faces
the peculiar charge of vilipendio against religion--Roman Catholicism
in his case--after he described the Catholic Church as "a criminal
organization" on television. Two years ago, he made news in Italy by
filing suit for the removal of crucifixes from the walls of all
public-school classrooms, and also, allegedly, for flinging a crucifix
out of the window of a hospital room where his mother was being
treated. "My mother will not die in a room where there is a crucifix,"
he said, according to hospital officials.)
Ms. Fallaci speaks in a passionate growl: "Europe is no longer Europe,
it is 'Eurabia,' a colony of Islam, where the Islamic invasion does
not proceed only in a physical sense, but also in a mental and
cultural sense. Servility to the invaders has poisoned democracy, with
obvious consequences for the freedom of thought, and for the concept
itself of liberty." Such words--"invaders," "invasion," "colony,"
"Eurabia"--are deeply, immensely, Politically Incorrect; and one is
tempted to believe that it is her tone, her vocabulary, and not
necessarily her substance or basic message, that has attracted the ire
of the judge in Bergamo (and has made her so radioactive in the eyes
of Europe's cultural elites).
"Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder," the historian Arnold
Toynbee wrote, and these words could certainly be Ms. Fallaci's. She
is in a black gloom about Europe and its future: "The increased
presence of Muslims in Italy, and in Europe, is directly proportional
to our loss of freedom." There is about her a touch of Oswald
Spengler, the German philosopher and prophet of decline, as well as a
flavor of Samuel Huntington and his clash of civilizations. But above
all there is pessimism, pure and unashamed. When I ask her what
"solution" there might be to prevent the European collapse of which
she speaks, Ms. Fallaci flares up like a lit match. "How do you dare
to ask me for a solution? It's like asking Seneca for a solution. You
remember what he did?" She then says "Phwah, phwah," and gestures at
slashing her wrists. "He committed suicide!" Seneca was accused of
being involved in a plot to murder the emperor Nero. Without a trial,
he was ordered by Nero to kill himself. One senses that Ms. Fallaci
sees in Islam the shadow of Nero. "What could Seneca do?" she asks,
with a discernible shudder. "He knew it would end that way--with the
fall of the Roman Empire. But he could do nothing."
[062305fallaci.jpg] The impending Fall of the West, as she sees it,
now torments Ms. Fallaci. And as much as that Fall, what torments her
is the blithe way in which the West is marching toward its precipice
of choice. "Look at the school system of the West today. Students do
not know history! They don't, for Christ's sake. They don't know who
Churchill was! In Italy, they don't even know who Cavour was!"--a
reference to Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the conservative father,
with the radical Garibaldi, of Modern Italy. Ms. Fallaci, rarely
reverent, pauses here to reflect on the man, and on the question of
where all the conservatives have gone in Europe. "In the beginning, I
was dismayed, and I asked, how is it possible that we do not have
Cavour . . . just one Cavour, uno? He was a revolutionary, and yes, he
was not of the left. Italy needs a Cavour--Europe needs a Cavour." Ms.
Fallaci describes herself, too, as "a revolutionary"--"because I do
what conservatives in Europe don't do, which is that I don't accept to
be treated like a delinquent." She professes to "cry, sometimes,
because I'm not 20 years younger, and I'm not healthy. But if I were,
I would even sacrifice my writing to enter politics somehow."
Here she pauses to light a slim black cigarillo, and then to take a
sip of champagne. Its chill makes her grimace, but fortified, she
returns to vehement speech, more clearly evocative of Oswald Spengler
than at any time in our interview. "You cannot survive if you do not
know the past. We know why all the other civilizations have
collapsed--from an excess of welfare, of richness, and from lack of
morality, of spirituality." (She uses "welfare" here in the sense of
well-being, so she is talking, really, of decadence.) "The moment you
give up your principles, and your values . . . the moment you laugh at
those principles, and those values, you are dead, your culture is
dead, your civilization is dead. Period." The force with which she
utters the word "dead" here is startling. I reach for my flute of
champagne, as if for a crutch.
"I feel less alone when I read the books of Ratzinger." I had asked
Ms. Fallaci whether there was any contemporary leader she admired, and
Pope Benedict XVI was evidently a man in whom she reposed some trust.
"I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things,
there must be something true. It's that simple! There must be some
human truth here that is beyond religion."
Ms. Fallaci, who made her name by interviewing numerous statesmen (and
not a few tyrants), believes that ours is "an age without leaders. We
stopped having leaders at the end of the 20th century." Of George
Bush, she will concede only that he has "vigor," and that he is
"obstinate" (in her book a compliment) and "gutsy. . . . Nobody
obliged him to do anything about Terri Schiavo, or to take a stand on
stem cells. But he did."
But it is "Ratzinger" (as she insists on calling the pope) who is her
soulmate. John Paul II--"Wojtyla"--was a "warrior, who did more to end
the Soviet Union than even America," but she will not forgive him for
his "weakness toward the Islamic world. Why, why was he so weak?"
The scant hopes that she has for the West she rests on his successor.
As a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the European (and
the Western) condition. Last year, he wrote an essay titled "If Europe
Hates Itself," from which Ms. Fallaci reads this to me: "The West
reveals . . . a hatred of itself, which is strange and can only be
considered pathological; the West . . . no longer loves itself; in its
own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and destructive,
while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure."
"Ecco!" she says. A man after her own heart. "Ecco!" But I cannot be
certain whether I see triumph in her eyes, or pain.
As for the vilipendio against Islam, she refuses to attend the trial
in Bergamo, set for June 2006. "I don't even know if I will be around
next year. My cancers are so bad that I think I've arrived at the end
of the road. What a pity. I would like to live not only because I love
life so much, but because I'd like to see the result of the trial. I
do think I will be found guilty."
At this point she laughs. Bitterly, of course, but she laughs.
Mr. Varadarajan is editorial features editor of The Wall Street
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