Skip to comments.Anger and Pride by Oriana Fallaci.. Her first essay about 9-11-2002 attack
Posted on 04/20/2002 4:05:12 PM PDT by dennisw
Anger and Pride
by Oriana Fallaci
Written November 2001
Introduction by Ferruccio de Bortolo:
With this extraordinary piece, Oriana Fallaci breaks a decade of silence. A very long silence. Our most celebrated female writer (she calls herself a writer and refuses to use the word journalist anymore) lives a good part of the year in Manhattan. She doesnt answer the phone, opens the door rarely, and goes out even less. She never gives interviews. Everyone has tried, no-one has succeeded. Isolated. But history and destiny saw to it that the center of the modern apocalypse opened, like a Dantesque abyss, not far from her lovely and literary home. The shockwave of the morning of September 11 disturbed even Orianas hermit-like--and hermetically sealed--repose. She opens the door, seeming to marvel at the unfamiliar gesture... Her glance is at once tender and ferocious. Oriana has been working for years on a very important work, awaited by all the world, among piles of documents in a disorder that only appears as such, with warriorlike fervor. I asked her to write what she had seen, experienced, felt after that Tuesday, and Oriana gathered a few pages of emotions and thoughts. I leave shreds of my soul on every experience, she wrote some years ago. Its still true, very true. These are bracing thoughts. Explosive ones. Thoughts to reason over and reflect on. On America, on Italy, on the Islamic world. On patriotism (its surprising what she says about patriotism). Invectives and theses that surge at once from the head and from the heart, or rather from the head toward the heart. She bursts out: Someone had to say these things. I said them. Now leave me in peace. The door is closed again. And I dont want to reopen it. Her usual talons. People are going to be talking about this piece. And how.
You ask me to speak, this time. You ask me to break at least this once the silence Ive chosen, that Ive imposed on myself these many years to avoid mingling with chattering insects. And Im going to. Because Ive heard that in Italy too there are some who rejoice just as the Palestinians of Gaza did the other night on TV. Victory! Victory! Men, women, children. Assuming you can call those who do such a thing man, woman, child. Ive heard that some of the insects of means, politicians or so-called politicians, intellectuals or so-called intellectuals, not to mention others not worthy of the title of citizen, are behaving pretty much the same way. They say: Good. It serves America right. And I am very very, very angry. Angry with an anger that is cold, lucid, rational. An anger that eliminates every detachment, every indulgence. An anger that compels me to respond and demands above all that I spit on them. I spit on them. Angry as I am, the African-American poet Maya Angelou roared the other day: Be angry. Its good to be angry, its healthy. And I dont know whether its healthy for me. But I know that it wont be healthy for them, I mean those who admire Osama Bin Laden, those who express comprehension or sympathy or solidarity for him. Your request has triggered a detonator thats been waiting too long to explode. Youll see. You also ask me to tell how I experienced this apocalypse. To give, in other words, my testimony. Very well, Ill start with that. I was at home, which is in the center of Manhattan. At exactly nine oclock I had a sensation of danger, of a danger that perhaps would not touch me, but that undoubtedly concerned me. Its the sensation you feel in war, or rather in combat, when every pore of your skin feels the bullet or the rocket as it approaches, and you perk up your ears and yell at the person next to you: Down! Get down! I pushed it away. Its not like I was in Vietnam. Its not like I was in one of the many wars, those fucking wars that have tortured my life since World War II. I was in New York for God's sake, on a marvellous September morning in 2001. But the sensation still possessed me, inexplicably. So I did something I never do in the morning and turned on the TV. The audio wasnt working. The screen was. And on every channel--and here there are almost a hundred--you saw a tower of the World Trade Center burning like a giant match. A short circuit? A small plane gone off course? Or an act of deliberate terrorism? I stayed there almost paralyzed, fixed on that tower, and while I fixed on it, while I asked myself those three questions, another plane appeared on the screen. White, huge. An airliner. It was flying extremely low. Flying low, it turned toward the second tower like a bomber who draws a bead on a target and then hurls himself at it. Thats when I understood. I also understood because in that same moment the audio came back on and transmitted a chorus of primal screams. Repeated and primal. God! Oh, God! Oh, God, God, God! Gooooooood! And the plane went into that second tower like a knife going into a stick of butter.
By now it was quarter past nine. Dont ask me what I felt during those fifteen minutes. I dont know, I dont remember. I was a piece of ice. Even my brain was ice. I dont even remember whether certain things I saw were from the first tower or the second. For example, the people who threw themselves from the eightieth or ninetieth floor to avoid being burned alive. They broke the glass of the windows, they climbed up and jumped out like someone who jumps out of an airplane with a parachute on. They came down so slowly, waving their arms and legs, swimming in the air. Yes, they seemed to swim in the air, never arriving. Around the thirtieth floor though, they sped up. They started to gesture desperately, penitently I imagine, almost as though they were shouting for help. And maybe they really were. Finally they fell like rocks and splat. You know, I thought Id seen everything in war. Id considered myself vaccinated against war, and in substance I am. Nothing surprises me anymore. Not even when I get angry, not even when I get indignant. But in war Id always seen people who died by the hand of others. Id never seen people who die killing themselves, throwing themselves without parachutes from the eightieth or ninetieth or hundredth floor. In war, Id always seen things that explode. That blow up in all directions. And Id always heard a huge racket. Those two towers though, didnt explode. The first imploded, swallowed itself. The second fused and melted. It melted just like a stick of butter placed on the fire. And it all happened, or so it seemed to me, in tomblike silence. Is that possible? Was that silence real, or was it inside me?
I also have to say that in war Id always seen a limited number of deaths. Every battle, two or three hundred dead. Four hundred at most. Like at Dak To in Vietnam. And when the battle was finished, the Americans would gather up and count them. I couldnt believe my eyes. In the massacre of Mexico City, the one where I caught a fair number of bullets myself, they gathered at least eight hundred dead. And when, thinking me dead, they stuck me in the morgue, the cadavers I soon found around and on myself seemed like a deluge. Well, almost fifty thousand people worked in the two towers. And very few had time to evacuate. The elevators didnt work any more, obviously, and to go down on foot from the highest floors would have taken an eternity. Flames permitting. Well never know the number of dead. (Forty thousand, fifty thousand?) The Americans will never tell, so as not to underline the intensity of this apocalypse. So as not to give satisfaction to Osama Bin Laden and encourage other apocalypses. And anyway the two abysses that absorbed those tens of thousands of creatures are too deep. At most the workers will unearth pieces of scattered members. A nose here, a finger there. Or else a kind of paste that seems like ground coffee but is actually organic material. The residue of bodies pulverized in a flash. Yesterday the mayor Guiliani sent more than ten thousand body bags. But they went unused.
What do I feel for the kamikazes who died with them? No respect. No pity. No, not even pity, I who always wind up giving in to pity. Ive always disliked kamikazes, that is people who commit suicide in order to kill others. Starting with the Japanese ones from World War II. I never considered them Pietro Miccas who torch the powder and go up with the citadel in order to block the arrival of the enemy troops at Torino. I never considered them soldiers. Even less do I consider them martyrs or heroes, as Mr. Arafat, hollering and spitting saliva, described them to me in 1972. (Or when I interviewed him at Amman, where his marshalls were also training the Badder-Meinhof terrorists.) I just consider them vain. Vain people who instead of seeking glory in cinema or politics or sports seek it in the death of themselves and others. A death that, in place of an Oscar or a ministerial seat or a medal, will get them (they think) admiration. And, in the case of those who pray to Allah, a place in the paradise that the Koran speaks of: the paradise where heroes get to fuck houris. Ill bet theyre even physically vain. I have in front of me a photo of the two kamikaze I speak of in my novel Inshallah: the novel that begins with the destruction of the American base (more than four hundred dead) and the French base (more than three hundred fifty dead) at Beirut. Theyd had it taken before going to die, this photo, and before going to die theyd gone to the barber. See what lovely haircuts. What pomaded moustaches, what well-groomed little beards, what coquettish sideburns...
I can just imagine how Mr. Arafat would seethe with rage to hear me. Theres bad blood between us, you know. He never forgave me, either for the scorching differences of opinion we had during that meeting or for the judgments I expressed about him in my book Interview With History. As for me, I never forgave him anything. Including the fact that an Italian journalist who imprudently presented himself as a friend of mine found himself with a revolver pointed at his heart. So we dont see each other any more. Its too bad. Because if I met him again, or rather if I were to grant him an audience, Id scream in his face who the martyrs and heroes are. Id scream: Illustrious Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the passengers of the four airplanes that were hijacked and transformed into human bombs. Among them is a four year old little girl who disintegrated in the second tower. Illustrious Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the employees who worked in the two towers and at the Pentagon. Illustrious Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the firemen who died trying to save them. And do you know who the heroes are? The passengers of the flight that was supposed to throw itself into the White House but instead crashed into the woods in Pennsylvania because they fought back! There ought to be a paradise for them, illustrious Mr. Arafat. The real problem is that you are now a perpetual head of state. You play the monarch. You visit the pope, announce that you disapprove of terrorism, send condolences to Bush. And in his chameleonlike ability to contradict himself, hed even be capable of telling me Im right. But lets change the subject. Im very sick, as you know, and talking with the likes of Arafat gives me a fever.
I prefer to talk about the invulnerability that many, in Europe, attributed to America. Invulnerability? What invulnerability? The more democratic and open a society is, the more its exposed to terrorism. The more a country is free, not governed by a police regime, the more it risks hijackings or massacres like the ones that took place for many years in Italy and Germany and other parts of Europe. And that now take place, magnified, in America. Its no accident that non-democratic countries, countries governed by a police regime, have always hosted and financed and helped terrorists. The Soviet Union, the Soviet Union's satellites and the Peoples Republic of China, for example. Ghadaffi's Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Arafat's Lebanon, Egypt itself, that same Saudi Arabia of which Osama Bin Laden is a citizen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, of course, and all the Islamic African regions. In those countries airports or airplanes I have always felt safe. Tranquil as a sleeping newborn. The only thing I was afraid of was being arrested because I used to write bad things about the terrorists. In European airports and airplanes, on the other hand, I always felt uneasy. In American airports and airplanes I actually felt nervous. Twice as nervous in New York. (Not in Washington DC, though. The plane at the Pentagon was a complete surprise to me.) In my opinion it was ultimately never an issue of if: it was always one of when. Why do you think that on Tuesday morning my subconscious felt that anxiety, that sensation of danger? Why do you think that despite my habits I turned on the TV? Why do you think that one of the three questions I was asking myself while the first tower was burning and the audio wasnt working was that of a terrorist attack? Why do you think that when the second airplane appeared I immediately understood? Since America is the strongest country in the world, the richest, the most powerful, the most modern, almost everyone fell into that trap. The Americans did themselves, at times. But Americas vulnerability comes precisely from its strength, its wealth, its power and its modernity. Its the usual story of the dog chasing its own tail.
It comes from Americas multi-ethnic being, its liberality, its respect for its citizens and guests. Example: about 24 million Americans are Muslim-Arabs. And when a Mustafa or a Mohammed comes, say from Afghanistan, to visit his uncle, nobody tells him he cant attend pilot training school to learn how to fly a 757 jet airplane. Nobody can keep him from enrolling in a University (something I hope will change) to study chemistry and biology: the two sciences necessary to wage bacteriological war. Nobody. Not even if the government fears that this son of Allah might hijack that 757 or that he might toss a vial full of bacteria into the reservoir and unleash a disaster. (I say if because this time the government knew absolutely nothing and the disgrace of the CIA and FBI goes beyond all bounds. If I were President of the United States Id send them all packing for stupidity with well-placed kicks to the posterior.) Having said that, lets go back to the original thought. What are the symbols of American strength, wealth, power and modernity? Certainly not jazz and rock and roll, not chewing-gum or hamburgers, Broadway or Hollywood. Its their skyscrapers. Their Pentagon. Their science. Their technology. Those impressive skyscrapers, so tall, so beautiful that while you raise your eyes to gaze at them you almost forget the pyramids and the divine buildings of our past. Those gigantic airplanes, oversized, which they now use as they once used sailing ships or trucks because everything here is moved by airplane. Everything. The mail, fresh fish, ourselves. (And dont forget that they invented the air war. Or at least theyre the ones who developed it to the point of absurdity.) That terrifying Pentagon, that fortress which scares you just looking at it. That all-present, all-powerful science. That chilling technology that in a few short years has completely changed our daily lives, our millennial ways of communicating, eating, living. And where did he strike them, the reverend Osama Bin Laden? In the skyscrapers and in the Pentagon. How? With airplanes, with science and technology. By the way: do you know what gets me the most about this wretched multi-millionaire, this AWOL playboy who instead of courting blonde princesses and running wild in the night clubs (as he used to do in Beirut when he was 20 years old) enjoys himself by killing people in the name of Mohammed and Allah? The fact that his endless wealth comes from the earnings of a corporation specializing in demolition, and that he himself is a demolitions expert. Demolition is an American specialty.
When we met I found you almost stupefied by the heroic efficiency and admirable unity with which the Americans have faced this Apocalypse. Thats right. Despite all the shortcomings that always get rubbed in their face--that I myself always rub in their face (though those of Europe, and of Italy in particular, are even more serious)--America is a country with important things to teach us. And speaking of heroic efficiency, let me sing a paean to the Mayor of New York. That Rudolph Giuliani to whom we Italians should kneel in gratitude. Because he has an Italian last name and an Italian origin and he makes us look good before the whole world. Rudolph Giuliani is a great mayor, one of the greatest. And thats coming from someone who is never happy with anything or anyone, starting with myself. Hes a mayor worthy of another great mayor with an Italian last name, Fiorello la Guardia, and many of our mayors ought to go and study under him. They ought to come to him with bowed heads, or better with ash on their heads, and ask him: Signor Giuliani, sir, please tell us how its done. He doesnt delegate his duties to others, no. He doesnt waste his time with bullshit and greed. He doesnt split himself between the tasks of a mayor and those of a minister or deputy (is anybody listening in the three cities of Stendhal--Naples, Florence and Rome?). He ran over there immediately, and immediately entered the second tower, at the risk of being turned to ashes with all the others. He only made it out by a hair and only by chance. And in the space of four days he put this city back on its feet. A city with nine and a half million inhabitants, mind you, and almost two million in Manhattan alone. How he did it, I dont know. Hes sick like me, the poor man. The cancer that comes and returns has got him, too. And, like me, he pretends to be healthy: he works anyway. But I work at a desk, for Gods sake, sitting down! He, on the other hand... He looked like a general who joins the battle in person. A soldier who charges with his bayonet: Come on, people, come on!!! Lets roll up our sleeves, move! But he could do it because those people were, are, like him. People without airs and without laziness, my father would have said, and with balls. As for the admirable ability to unite, the almost martial compactness with which the Americans respond to disaster and to the enemy, well: I have to admit that then and there I was astounded as well. I knew, yes, that it had exploded at the time of Pearl Harbor, that is when the people huddled around Roosevelt and Roosevelt entered the war against the Germany of Hitler and the Italy of Mussolini and the Japan of Hirohito. I had caught a whiff of it, yes, after Kennedys assassination. But that had been followed by the war in Vietnam, the lacerating rift caused by the war in Vietnam, and in a certain sense it had reminded me of their Civil War of a century and a half ago. So, when I saw whites and blacks crying in each others arms--and I mean in each others arms--when I saw Democrats and Republicans arm in arm singing God Bless America, when I saw them drop all their differences, I was flabbergasted. Just as I was when I heard Bill Clinton (someone for whom I've never harbored much tenderness) declare: We must stand behind Bush. We must have faith in our president. I felt the same when those same words were forcefully repeated by his wife Hillary, now senator for the State of New York. And when they were reiterated by Lieberman, the ex-Democratic candidate for the vice-presidency. (Only the defeated Al Gore remained squalidly silent). I felt the same when Congress voted unanimously to accept war and punish those responsible. Oh, if only Italy would learn this lesson! Its such a divided country, Italy. So factious, so poisoned by tribal pettiness! They hate each other even within their own parties in Italy. They cant stick together even when they have the same emblem, or the same banner, for Gods sake! Jealous, bilious, vain, small, they think only of their own personal interests. Of their own careers, their own petty glory, their own small-town popularity. For the sake of their personal interests they spite each other, they betray each other, they accuse each other, they expose each other... I am absolutely convinced that, if Osama Bin Laden were to blow up Giottos tower or the Tower of Pisa, the opposition would blame the government. And the government would blame the opposition. The heads of the government and the heads of the opposition would blame their own party people and comrades. And having said this, let me explain where the ability to unite that characterizes the Americans comes from.
It comes from their patriotism. I dont know whether in Italy you saw and understood what happened in New York when Bush went to thank the rescue men (and women) who are digging in the ruins of the two towers trying to save some survivor but only coming up with the occasional nose or finger. In spite of this, they do it without giving up. Without resigning themselves, so that if you ask them how they do it they say: I can allow myself to be exhausted, but not to be defeated. All of them. The young, the very young, the old, the middle aged. White, black, yellow, brown, purple... You saw them, didnt you? While Bush was thanking them all they did was wave their little American flags, raise their clenched fists, and roar: USA! USA! In a totalitarian country Id have thought: Look how nicely organized this was by the Powers That Be! Not in America. In America you dont organize these things. You dont manage them, you dont command them. Especially in a disenchanted metropolis like New York and with workers like New York workers. New York workers are real pieces of work. Freer than the wind. They dont even obey their unions. But if you touch their flag, or their Patria In English the word Patria doesnt exist. To say Patria you have to put two words together. Father Land. Mother Land. Native Land. Or you can simply say My Country. But they have the noun patriotism. They have the adjective patriotic. And apart from France, I cant imagine a country more patriotic than America. God! I was so moved to see those workers clenching their fists and waving their flags and roaring USA-USA-USA, without anyone ordering them to. And I felt a kind of humiliation. Because I cant even begin to imagine Italian workers waving the tricolor and roaring Italia-Italia. Oh, Ive seen them wave plenty of red flags in the marches and rallies. Rivers, lakes, of red flags. But never very many tricolor flags. None at all, actually. Ill-led or tyrannized by an arrogant left devoted to the Soviet Union, they always left the tricolor flags to their adversaries. Not that the adversaries made very good use of them, Id say. Nor did they waste them either, thank God. And those who go to Mass, ditto. As for that yahoo with the green shirt and tie, he doesnt even know what colors make up the tricolor. I-am-Lombard, I-am-Lombard. That guy wants to take us back to the wars between between Florence and Siena. So the result is that today you see the Italian flag only at the Olympics if you happen to win a medal. Worse: you see it only in the stadiums, when theres an international soccer match. Which is also, by the way, the only time youll ever hear a cry of Italia-Italia.
Well let me tell you something. Theres a big difference between a country in which the flag is waved only by hooligans in a stadium and a country where its waved by the entire population. Waved, for example, by indomitable workers who dig in the ruins to come up with an ear or nose of the creatures slaughtered by the sons of Allah. Or to gather the ground coffee.
The truth is that America is a special place, my friend. A country to envy, to be jealous of, for reasons that have nothing to do with wealth et cetera. Its special because it was born out of a need of the soul, the need to have a homeland, and out of the most sublime idea that Man has ever conceived: the idea of liberty, or rather of liberty married to the idea of equality. Its special also because the idea of liberty wasnt fashionable at the time. Nor was the idea of equality. Nobody was talking about these things but a few philosophers of the so-called Enlightenment. You couldnt find these concepts anywhere except in big expensive books released in installments and called Encyclopedias. And apart from the writers or the other intellectuals, apart from the princes and the lords who had the money to buy the big book or the books that inspired the big book, who knew anything about the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment wasnt something you could eat! Not even the revolutionaries of the French Revolution were talking about it, seeing how the French Revolution didnt start until 1789, thirteen years after the American Revolution exploded in 1776. (Another detail that the anti-Americans of the good-it-serves-America-right school ignore or pretend to forget. Bunch of hypocrites!)
Whats more, its a special country, a country to envy, because that idea was understood by often illiterate and certainly uneducated farmers. The farmers of the American colonies. And because it was materialized by a small group of extraordinary men. By men of great culture, great quality. The Founding Fathers. Do you have any idea who the Founding Fathers were, the Benjamin Franklins and the Thomas Jeffersons and the Thomas Paines and the John Adamses and the George Washingtons and so on? These werent the small-time lawyers (avvocaticchi as Vittorio Alfieri rightly called them) of the French Revolution! These werent the brooding and hysterical executioners of the Terror, the Marats and the Dantons and the Saint Justs and the Robespierres! These were people, these Founding Fathers, who knew Greek and Latin like our own Italian teachers of Greek and Latin (assuming there still are any) will never know them. People who had read Aristotle and Plato in Greek, who had read Seneca and Cicero in Latin, and who had studied the principles of Greek democracy like not even the Marxists of my day studied the theory of surplus value. (Assuming they really did study it.) Jefferson even knew Italian. (He called it Toscano.) He spoke and read in Italian with great fluency. In 1774 as a matter of fact, along with the two thousand vine plants and the thousand olive trees and the music paper which was rare in Virginia, the Florentine Filippo Mazzei brought him multiple copies of a book written by a certain Cesare Beccaria entitled Of Crimes and Punishments. As for the self-taught Franklin, he was a genius. Scientist, printer, editor, writer, journalist, politician, inventor. In 1752 he discovered the electric nature of lightning and invented the lightning rod. Is that enough for you? And it was with these extraordinary leaders, these men of great quality, that the often illiterate and certainly uneducated farmers rebelled against England in 1776. They fought the War of Independence, the American Revolution.
Well, despite the muskets and the gun powder, despite the death toll that is the cost of every war, they didnt do it with the rivers of blood of the future French Revolution. They didnt do it with the guillotine and massacres at Vandea. They did it with a piece of paper that, along with the need of the soul, the need to have a homeland, put into effect the sublime idea of liberty--or rather of liberty married to quality. The Declaration of Independence. We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men... And that piece of paper that weve all been copying well or badly from the French Revolution on, or from which weve drawn our inspiration, is still the backbone of America. The vital lymph of this nation. You know why? Because it turns the plebes into the People. Because it invites them, rather orders them, to govern themselves, to express their own individuality, to pursue their own happiness. All the opposite of what communism did, prohibiting people to rebel, to govern themselves, to express themselves, to get rich, and setting up His Majesty the State in place of the customary kings. My father used to say, Communism is a monarchic regime, and its an old-school monarchy. Because it cuts off mens balls. And when you cut off a mans balls, hes no longer a man. He also used to say that instead of freeing the plebes, communism turned everyone into plebes. It made everyone starve to death.
Well, in my view America frees the plebes. Everyone is a plebe there. White, black, yellow, brown, purple, stupid, intelligent, poor, rich. Actually the rich are the most plebeian of all. Most of the time theyre such boors! Crude, ill-mannered. You can tell immediately that theyve never read Galateo, that theyve never had anything to do with refinement and good taste and sophistication. In spite of the money they waste on clothes, for example, theyre so inelegant as to make the Queen of England look chic by comparison. But they are freed, by God. And in this world there is nothing stronger or more powerful than freed plebes. You will always get your skull cracked when you go up against the Freed Plebe. And they all got their skulls cracked by America: English, Germans, Mexicans, Russians, Nazis, Fascists, Communists. Even the Vietnamese got theirs cracked in the end, when they had to come to terms after their victory so that now when a former president of the United States goes there to visit they're in seventh heaven. Bienvenu, Monsieur le President, bienvenu! The problem is that the Vietnamese dont pray to Allah. Its going to be much harder to deal with the sons of Allah. Much longer and much harder. Unless the rest of the Western world stops peeing its pants. And starts reasoning a little and gives them a hand.
I am not speaking, obviously, to the laughing hyenas who enjoy seeing images of the wreckage and snicker good-it-serves-the-Americans-right. I am speaking to those who, though not stupid or evil, are wallowing in prudence and doubt. And to them I say: Wake up, people. Wake up!! Intimidated as you are by your fear of going against the current--that is, appearing racist (a word which is entirely inapt as we are speaking not about a race but about a religion)--you dont understand or dont want to understand that a reverse-Crusade is in progress. Accustomed as you are to the double-cross, blinded as you are by myopia, you dont understand or dont want to understand that a war of religion is in progress. Desired and declared by a fringe of that religion, perhaps, but a war of religion nonetheless. A war which they call Jihad. Holy War. A war that might not seek to conquer our territory, but that certainly seeks to conquer our souls. That seeks the disappearance of our freedom and our civilization. That seeks to annihilate our way of living and dying, our way of praying or not praying, our way of eating and drinking and dressing and entertaining and informing ourselves. You dont understand or dont want to understand that if we dont oppose them, if we dont defend ourselves, if we dont fight, the Jihad will win. And it will destroy the world that for better or worse weve managed to build, to change, to improve, to render a little more intelligent, that is to say, less bigotted--or even not bigotted at all. And with that it will destroy our culture, our art, our science, our morals, our values, our pleasures... Christ! Dont you realize that the Osama Bin Ladens feel authorized to kill you and your children because you drink wine or beer, because you dont wear your beard long or a chador, because you go to the theater or the movies, because you listen to music and sing pop songs, because you dance in discos or at home, because you watch TV, wear miniskirts or short-shorts, because you go naked or half naked to the beach or the pool, because you fuck when you want and where you want and who you want? Dont you even care about that, you fools? I am an atheist, thank God. And I have no intention of letting myself be killed for it.
For twenty years Ive been saying it. For twenty years. With a certain meekness, not with this passion, twenty years ago I wrote an editorial on this subject for the Corriere. It was an article by a person used to being with all races and all creeds, a citizen used to fighting all forms of fascism and intolerance, a layperson without taboos. But it was also an article by a person indignant at those who failed to smell the stench of a coming Holy War and who were letting the the sons of Allah get away with a little too much. I made an argument that went more or less like this, twenty years ago: What sense is there in respecting those who dont respect us? What sense is there in defending their culture or presumed culture when they scorn ours? I want to defend ours and I am informing you that I prefer Dante to Omar Khayan." The sky came crashing down. They crucified me: Racist! Racist! It was these same progressives (who at the time called themselves communists) who crucified me. I got the same treatment when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Do you remember those bearded men with the gowns and the turbans who, before firing their mortars-or rather with each shot--shouted Gods praises? Allah akbar! Allah akbar! I remember them very well. And I used to shiver hearing the word God coupled with the shot of a mortar. I thought I was back in the Middle Ages and I said: The Soviets are what they are. But we have to admit that by waging that war they are protecting us, too. And I for one thank them. Again the sky came crashing down. Racist! Racist! In their blindness they didnt even want me to speak of the monstrosities that the sons of Allah were committing on their POWs (they would cut off their legs and arms, remember? A little vice in which theyd already indulged in Lebanon with their Christian and Jewish prisoners.) They didnt want me to say it, no. And just to be progressive they would applaud the Americans who, having lost their marbles in fear of the Soviet Union, were arming the heroic-Afghan-people. They trained those bearded men, and among them the most-bearded-one-of-all, Osama Bin Laden. Away-with-the-Russians-in-Afghanistaaaaan! The-Russians-must-go-from-Afghanistaaaan! Well, the Russians left Afghanistan. Happy? And from Afghanistan the bearded men of the most-bearded Osama Bin Laden arrived in New York with the unbearded Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Saudis who made up the band of the identified nineteen kamikaze. Happy? Worse: now people here speak of the next attack that will hit us with chemical weapons, or biological, or radioactive, or nuclear. People are saying the next massacre is inevitable because Iraq provides them with materials. People are talking of vaccinations, of gas masks, of plague. People are wondering when it will happen. Happy?
Some are neither happy nor unhappy. They couldnt care less. America's far away anyhow, theres an ocean between America and Europe... Oh, no, my dear friends. Theres a mere thread of water. Because when the destiny of the West, the survival of our civilization is at stake, we are New York. We are America. We Italians, we French, we English, we Germans, we Austrians, we Hungarians, we Slovaks, we Polish, we Scandinavians, we Belgians, we Spaniards, we Greeks, we Portuguese. If America falls, Europe falls. The West falls, we fall. And not just in a financial sense, which seems to be what worries you the most. (Once when I was young and naive, I said to Arthur Miller: Americans measure everything with money, they only think of money. And Arthur Miller replied: You dont?) We fall in every sense, my friend. And well find muezzin instead of church bells, chador instead of miniskirts, camels milk instead of the old shot of cognac. Dont you grasp even this? Do you refuse to understand even this?!? Blair understood it. He came here and brought the solidarity of the English people. Renewed it, rather. Not a solidarity expressed with chattering and whining: a solidarity based on hunting down the terrorists and on military alliance. Chirac, on the other hand, didnt. As you know, last week he was here for an offical visit.
A visit scheduled a long time ago, not prompted by events. He saw the wreckage of the two towers; he learned that the death toll is incalculable and unspeakable, but he sure didnt overextend himself. During the interview with CNN, my friend Cristiana Amanpour asked as many as four times in what way and to what degree he intended to take a stand against this Jihad, and four times Chirac avoided giving an answer. He slipped away like an eel. One wanted to scream at him: Monsieur le President! Remember the landing at Normandy? Do you know how many Americans croaked at Normandy to kick the Nazis out of France? Not that I see any Richard Lionhearts among the other Europeans either, apart from Blair. Certainly not in Italy where the government has yet to single out, let alone arrest, a single accomplice or suspected accomplice of Osama Bin Laden. For Gods sake, Mr. Knight-of-Labor, for Gods sake!! In spite of their fear of war, every country in Europe has found and arrested some accomplice of Osama Bin Laden. In France, in Germany, in England, in Spain. But in Italy, where the mosques of Milan, Turin and Rome overflow with scoundrels singing hymns to Osama Bin Laden and terrorists waiting to blow up Saint Peters cupola, not a one. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Please explain, Sir Knight: are your policemen and carabinieri that inept? Your secret services that idiotic? Your civil servants that stupid? And are the sons of Allah we host all saints, all unaware of what happened and is happening? Or is it that if you make the right inquiries, if you single out and arrest those you havent singled out and arrested so far, youre afraid of being tagged with the old racist-racist label? I, as you can see, am not.
Christ! I dont deny anyone the right to be afraid. Anyone whos not afraid of war is an idiot. And as Ive written a thousand times before, anyone who acts as though hes not afraid of war is both an idiot and a liar. But in Life and in History there are times when one is not permitted to be afraid. Times when being afraid is immoral and uncivilized. And those who evade this tragedy out of weakness or lack of courage or habitual fence-straddling strike me as masochists.
Masochists, yes, masochists. Why? Do you want to talk about what you call the Contrast-between-the-Two-Cultures? Well, if you really must know, it bothers me to even talk about two cultures: to put them on the same plane as though they were two parallel realities of equal weight and equal measure. Because behind our civilization we have Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Phydias, for Gods sake. We have ancient Greece with its Parthenon and its discovery of Democracy. We have ancient Rome with its greatness, its laws, its concept of Law. Its sculptures, its literature, its architecture. Its buildings, its amphitheaters, its acqueducts, its bridges and its roads. We have a revolutionary, that Christ who died on the cross, who taught us (too bad if we didnt learn it) the concept of love and of justice. Yes, I know, theres also a Church that gave me the Inquisition. That tortured me and burned me a thousand times at the stake. That oppressed me for centuries, that for centuries forced me to sculpt and paint only Christs and Madonnas, that almost killed Galileo Galilei. Humiliated him, shut him up. But it also made a great contribution to the History of Thought: Yes or no? And then behind our civilization we also have the Renaissance. We have Leonardo Da Vinci, we have Michaelangelo, we have Raphael, we have the music of Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. And on and on through Rossini and Donizetti and Verdi and Company. That music without which we could not live and which is prohibited in their culture or supposed culture. God forbid you should whistle a tune or hum the chorus of Nabucco. And finally we have Science, for Gods sake. A science that has understood a lot of diseases and that cures them. I am still alive, for now, thanks to our science. Not Mohammeds. A science that has invented marvellous machines. The train, the car, the airplane, the spaceships with which weve gone to the Moon and Mars and soon will go who knows where. A science that has changed the face of this planet with electricity, the radio, the telephone, the TV, and by the way: is it true that the gurus of the left dont want to say what I have just said?!? God, what pricks! They will never change. And now the fatal question: what is behind the other culture?
Damned if I know. I search and search and find only Mohammed with his Koran and Averroe with his scholarly merits (The Commentaries on Aristotle, et cetera.) Arafat also finds numbers and math. Again yelling in my face, again covering me with spit, he told me in 1972 that his culture was superior to mine, far superior to mine, because his grandparents had invented numbers and math. But Arafat has a short memory. Thats why he changes his mind and contradicts himself every five minutes. His grandparents did not invent numbers and math. They invented the graphic symbols for numbers that we infidels use as well. Math was conceived almost simultaneously by all ancient civilizations. In Mesopotamia, in Greece, in India, in China, in Egypt, among the Mayans... Your grandparents, my illustrious Mr. Arafat, left us nothing but a few beautiful mosques and a book theyve been breaking my balls with for the past thousand four hundred years like not even the Christians do with their Bible or the Jews with their Torah. And now lets see just what are the positive features that distinguish this Koran. Positive, really? Ever since the sons of Allah half-destroyed New York, the scholars of Islam have done nothing but sing the praises of Mohammed, explain how the Koran preaches peace, brotherhood and justice. (Even Bush has been chiming in. Poor Bush. It goes without saying that Bush has to keep on good terms with the twenty-four million Muslim-Americans, convince them to squeal what they know about the relatives, friends or acquaintances who might turn out to be devoted to Osama Bin Laden). So what do we do with the whole Eye-for-an-Eye-Tooth-for-a-Tooth business? What do we do with the chador, or better with the veil that covers the faces of Muslim women so that in order to glance at the person next to them the poor wretches have to peer through a close-meshed net at eye-level? What do we do with polygamy and the principle that women count less than camels, that they cant go to school, they cant go to the doctor, they cant have their pictures taken, etc.? What do we do with the veto on alcohol and the death penalty for those who drink it? This is in the Koran, too. And it doesnt seem all that just, all that brotherly, all that peaceful.
So heres my answer to your question on the Contrast-between-the-Two-Cultures: I say in this world theres room for everyone. In your own home you can do whatever you want. And if in some countries the women are so stupid as to accept the chador, or rather the veil you peer out of through a close-meshed net at eye level, thats their problem. If they are such birdbrains as to accept not going to school, not going to the doctor, not having their pictures taken, thats their problem. If they are such idiots as to marry some asshole who wants four wives, thats their problem. If their men are so silly as not to drink beer or wine, ditto. Far be it from me to stand in their way. I was raised with the concept of liberty, I was, and my mother used to say: Variety is what makes the world beautiful. But if they presume to impose the same things on me, in my home... And they do presume it. Osama Bin Laden says that the entire planet Earth must become Muslim, that we must convert to Islam, that he will convert us by fair means or foul, that this is why he massacres us and will continue to do so. And this cant be pleasing to us. It cant help but make us itch to turn the tables and kill him. But this thing wont end, wont die out with the death of Osama Bin Laden. Because there are tens of thousands of Osama Bin Ladens by now, and theyre not only in Afghanistan or in other Arabic countries. Theyre everywhere, and the most hardened ones are right in the Western world. In our cities, in our roads, in our universities, in the ganglions of technology. That technology that any dolt can handle. The Crusade has been in progress for some time. It works like a Swiss watch, sustained by a faith and a malice comparable only to the faith and malice of Torquemada when he led the Inquisition. The fact is that dealing with them is impossible. Reasoning, unthinkable. Treating them with indulgence, tolerance or hope, suicide. Whoever thinks differently is deluded.
This is coming from one who has known this type of fanaticism rather well in Iran, in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, in Saudia Arabia, in Kuwait, in Libya, in Jordan, in Lebanon, and at home. That is, in Italy. Known it, and had it chillingly confirmed through a number of trivial episodes--or rather, grotesque ones. Ill never forget what happened to me at the Iranian Embassy in Rome when I asked for a visa to go to Teheran, to interview Khomeini, and I showed up wearing red nail polish. To them, this is a sign of immorality. They treated me like a whore to be burned at the stake. They ordered me to take off that red immediately. And if I hadnt told them, or rather screamed at them, what I really felt like taking off--or better yet, cutting off of them... Nor can I forget what happened in Qom, Khomeinis holy city where as a woman I was turned away from all the hotels. To interview Khomeini I had to wear chador, to put on the chador I had to take off my jeans, to take off my jeans I had to find a secluded place. Naturally, I could have performed the operation in the car in which I had arrived from Teheran. But the interpreter wouldnt let me. Youre-crazy, youre-crazy, you-get-shot-in-Qom-for-doing-something-like-that. He preferred to bring me to the former Royal Palace where a merciful custodian took us in and let us use the former Throne Room. I actually felt like the Virgin Mary who has to take refuge with Joseph in the barn heated by the donkey and the ox to give birth to Baby Jesus. But the Koran forbids a man and a woman not married to each other to be alone behind a closed door, and alas, all of a sudden the door opened. The mullah in charge of Morality Control barged in screaming shame-shame, sin-sin, and there was only one way not to wind up being shot: get married. Sign the temporary (four months) marriage certificate the mullah was fanning in our faces. The problem was that the interpreter had a Spanish wife, a woman by the name of Consuelo who was not at all disposed to accept polygamy, and I didnt want to marry anyone. Least of all an Iranian with a Spanish wife not at all disposed to accept polygamy. At the same time I didnt want to be shot, that is, miss my interview with Khomeni. As I was debating what to do in this dilemma
Youre laughing, Im sure. These seem like jokes to you. In that case, I wont tell you the rest of this episode. To make you cry Ill tell you about the twelve young impure men I saw executed at Dacca at the end of the Bangladesh war. They executed them on the field of Dacca stadium, with bayonet blows to the torso or abdomen, in the presence of twenty thousand faithful who applauded in the name of God from the bleachers. They thundered Allah akbar, Allah akbar. Yes, I know: the ancient Romans, those ancient Romans of whom my culture is so proud, entertained themselves in the Colisseum by watching the deaths of Christians fed to the lions. I know, I know: in every country of Europe the Christians, those Christians whose contribution to the History of Thought I recognize despite my atheism, entertained themselves by watching the burning of heretics. But a lot of time has passed since then, we have become a little more civilized, and even the sons of Allah ought to have figured out by now that certain things are just not done. After the twelve impure young men they killed a little boy who had thrown himself at the executioners to save his brother who had been condemned to death. They smashed his head with their combat boots. And if you dont believe it, well, reread my report or the reports of the French and German journalists who, horrified as I was, were there with me. Or better: look at the photographs that one of them took. Anyway this isnt even what I want to underline. Its that, at the conclusion of the slaughter, the twenty thousand faithful (many of whom were women) left the bleachers and went down on the field. Not as a disorganized mob, no. In an orderly manner, with solemnity. They slowly formed a line and, again in the name of God, walked over the cadavers. All the while thundering Allah-akbar, Allah-akbar. They destroyed them like the Twin Towers of New York. They reduced them to a bleeding carpet of smashed bones.
Oh, I could go on ad infinitum. Tell you things never told, things to make your hair stand on end. About that dotard Khomeni, for example, who after our interview held an assembly at Qom to declare that I had accused him of cutting off womens breasts. He extracted a video from this assembly that was shown for months on Teheran television so that, when I returned to Teheran the next year, I was arrested as soon as I got off the plane. It looked bad for me, you know, very bad. This was the period of the American hostages I could tell you about Mujib Rahman, who, again at Dacca, had ordered his guerillas to eliminate me as a dangerous European, and lucky for me an English colonel saved me at the risk of his life. Or about that Palestinian named Habash who held me for twenty minutes with a machine gun pointed at my head. God, what people! The only ones Ive had a civil relationship with remain poor Ali Bhutto, the first prime minister of Pakistan, who was hanged because he was too friendly to the West, and the most excellent king of Jordan: King Hussein. But those two were as Muslim as I am Catholic. Anyway I want to get to the point of my argument. A point that will not please many, given that defending ones own culture, in Italy, is becoming a mortal sin. And given that, intimidated by the inapt term racist, everyone shuts up like rabbits.
I dont go pitching tents at Mecca. I dont go singing Our Fathers and Hail Marys in front of Mohammeds tomb. I dont go peeing on the marble of their mosques; I dont go shitting at the feet of their minarets. When I find myself in their countries (something from which I never derive pleasure), I never forget that I am a guest and a foreigner. I am careful not to offend them with clothing or gestures or behavior that are normal for us but impermissible to them. I treat them with dutiful respect, dutiful courtesy, and I excuse myself when through mistake or ignorance I infringe some rule or superstition of theirs. And the images Ive had before my eyes while writing this scream of pain and indignation havent always been those of the apocalyptic scenes I started with. Sometimes I see another image instead, a symbolic (and therefore infuriating) one: the huge tent with which the Somalian Muslims disfigured and befouled and profaned the Piazza del Duomo at Florence for three months last summer. My city.
A tent put up in order to beg-condemn-insult the Italian government that hosted them but wouldnt give them the papers necessary to rove about Europe and wouldnt let them bring the hordes of their relatives to Italy. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, pregnant sisters-in-law, and if they had their way, their relatives relatives as well. A tent situated next to the beautiful palazzo of the Archbishop on whose sidewalk they kept the shoes or sandals that are lined up outside the mosques in their countries. And along with the shoes or sandals, the empty bottles of water theyd used to wash their feet before praying. A tent placed in front of the cathedral with Brunelleschis cupola and by the side of the Baptistery with Ghibertis golden doors. A tent, finally, furnished like a sleazy little apartment: seats, tables, chaise-lounges, mattresses for sleeping and for fucking, ovens for cooking food and plaguing the piazza with smoke and stench. And, thanks to the customary irresponsibility of ENEL, which cares about our works of art about as much as it cares about our landscape, furnished with electric light. Thanks to a radio tape player, enriched by the uncouth wailing of a muezzin who punctually exorted the faithful, deafened the infidels, and smothered the sound of the church bells. Add to all this the yellow streaks of urine that profaned the marble of the Baptistry. (My, these sons of Allah sure have a long range! However did they manage to hit the target when they were held back by a protective railing that kept it nearly two whole meters away from their urinary equipment?) And along with the yellow streaks of urine, the stench of the excrement that blocked the door of San Salvatore al Vescovo: that exquisite Romanesque church (year 1000) that stands at the rear of the Piazza del Duomo and that the sons of Allah transformed into a shithouse. Youre well aware of this.
Youre well aware because Im the one who called you, begged you to talk about it in the Corriere, remember? I also called the mayor, who, I admit, came politely to my house. He listened to me, he agreed with me: Youre right. Youre quite right. But he didnt remove the tent. He forgot or he wasnt able. I also called the Foreign Minister, who was a Florentine, indeed one of those Florentines who speaks with a very Florentine accent, not to mention being involved in the whole affair. And he too, I admit, listened to me. He agreed with me: Oh, yes. Youre right, yes. But he didnt lift a finger to remove that tent, and as for the sons of Allah who urinated on the Baptistery and shat all over San Salvatore al Vescovo, he moved quickly to appease them. (I understand that the fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins and pregnant sisters-in-law are now where they wanted to be. That is in Florence and in other cities of Europe.) So I changed tactics. I called a nice police officer who directs the security office and said to him: My dear officer, I am not a politician. When I say Im going to do something, I do it. I also know something about war and have certain skills. If by tomorrow you dont get that fucking tent out of here, I will burn it. I swear on my honor that I will burn it, that not even a regiment of carabinieri could stop me, and I want to be arrested for it. Taken to jail in handcuffs. That way Ill get into all the newspapers. Well, being more intelligent than the others, in the space of a few hours he got rid of it. In place of the tent there remained only an immense and disgusting stain of filth. It was a Pyrrhic victory, though. Because it had no effect on the other atrocities that for years have wounded and humiliated what used to be the capital of art and culture and beauty. It did nothing to discourage the other arrogant guests of the city: the Albanians, the Sudanese, the Bengalese, the Tunisians, the Algerians, the Pakistani, the Nigerians who contribute with so much fervor to the drug trade and prostitution which, it appears, are not prohibited by the Koran. Oh yes: theyre all right where they were before my policeman took away the tent. In the courtyard of the Uffizi Galleries, at the foot of Giottos tower. In front of the Loggia dell Orcagna, around the Loggie del Porcellino. Opposite the National Library, at the entrances to the museums. On Ponte Vecchio where every so often they kill each other with knives or revolvers. Along the banks of the Arno where they asked for and received municipal funding. (Thats right, ladies and gentlemen: municipal funding.) In the churchyard of San Lorenzo where they get drunk on wine and beer and liquor, bunch of hypocrites, and where they utter obscenities at women. (Last summer in that churchyard they even tried it with me, an old lady. Needless to say they lived to regret it. Oooh, did they regret it! One of thems still there whimpering over his genitals.) In the historic streets where they camp out on the pretext of selling merchandise. By merchandise I mean purses and bags illegally copied from patented models, photo murals, pencils, African statuettes that ignorant tourists take for Bernini sculptures, stuff-to-sniff. (Je connais mes droits, I know my rights one of them hissed at me on Ponte Vecchio, one who Id seen selling stuff-to-sniff). And God forbid that a citizen protest, God forbid that someone tell him to take-those-rights-of-yours-and-go-exercise-them-at-home. Racist, racist! God forbid that a pedestrian brush up against a presumed Bernini sculpture while trying to walk through the merchandise that blocks the way. Racist, racist! God forbid that a metro cop should walk up to him and dare to say, Signor son of Allah, Your Excellence, would you mind moving over a hairsbreadth to let people get by? Theyd eat him alive. Theyd go after him with knives. At the very least, theyd insult his mother and progeny. Racist, racist! And people just take it, resigned. They dont react even if you yell what my old man used to yell during fascism: Dont you care at all about dignity? Dont you have even a little pride, you big sheep?
The same thing happens in other cities, I know. At Turin, for example. That Turin that created Italy and now doesnt even seem like an Italian city. It seems like Algiers, Dacca, Nairobi, Damascus, Beirut. At Venice. That Venice where the pigeons of Piazza San Marco have been replaced by little rugs with merchandise and even Othello would feel ill at ease. At Genoa. That Genoa where the marvellous palazzi that Rubens so admired have been seized by them and are now perishing like beautiful women who have been raped. At Rome. That Rome where the cynicism of a politics of every falsehood and every color courts them in the hope of obtaining their future votes, and where the Pope himself protects them. (Your Holiness, why in the name of the One God dont you take them into the Vatican? Strictly on condition, of course, that they refrain from shitting on the Sistine Chapel and the paintings of Raphael.) And heres something I really dont understand. Instead of sons of Allah, in Italy they call them foreign laborers. Or else manual-labor-for-which-there-is-demand. And I dont doubt that some of them work. The Italians have become such little lords. They vacation in Seychelles, come to New York to buy sheets at Bloomingdales. Theyre ashamed to be laborers and farmers, and wont be associated with the proletariat. But those of whom I speak, what kind of laborers are they? What work do they do? In what way do they satisfy the demand for manual labor that the Italian ex-proletariat no longer supplies? Camping out in the city on the pretext of selling merchandise? Loitering and defacing our monuments? Praying five times a day? And then theres something else I dont understand. If theyre really so poor, whos giving them the money for the voyage by ship or rubber dinghy that brings them to Italy? Who gives them the ten million lira a head (at least ten million) necessary to buy the ticket? Its not by any chance Osama Bin Laden looking to launch a conquest not only of souls, but of real estate?
Well, even if hes not the one giving them money, the situation bothers me. Even if our guests are absolutely innocent, even if theres no-one among them who wants to destroy the Tower of Pisa or the Tower of Giotto, wants to put me in chador, wants to burn me at the stake of a new Inquisition, their presence alarms me. It makes me uncomfortable. And whoever takes this situation lightly or optimistically is wrong. And even more wrong is the person who compares the wave of migration hitting Italy and Europe to that which spilled into America in the second half of the 1800s or rather at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. Now Ill tell you why.
Not long ago I happened to catch a phrase uttered by one of the thousand prime ministers that have honored Italy with their presence over these past few decades. Well, my uncle was an immigrant too! I can remember him leaving for America with his little cardboard suitcase. Or something along those lines. No, my friend. No. Its not the same thing at all. And its not for two rather simple reasons. The first is that the wave of migration to America that took place in the latter half of the 1800s was not clandestine and was not carried out by bullying on the part of those who effected it. It was the Americans themselves who wanted it, urged it, and by a specific act of Congress. Come, come, we need you. If you come, well give you a nice piece of land. The Americans even made a movie about it. That one with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and what struck me about it was the ending. The scene with the poor souls running to plant a little white flag on the piece of land they want to claim as theirs, so that only the youngest and strongest are able to make it. The rest wind up with diddly squat and some of them die in the process. To my knowledge, there was never any act of Parliament in Italy inviting or rather urging our present guests to leave their countries. Come-come-we-really-need-you, if-you-come-well-give-you-a-little-farm-in-Chianti. They came to us on their own initiative, with their accursed dinghies and in the teeth of the customs officers who tried to send them back. What occurred was not an immigration, it was more of an invasion conducted under an emblem of secrecy. A secrecy thats disturbing because its not meek and dolorous but arrogant and protected by the cynicism of politicians who close an eye or maybe even both. Ill never forget the way these stow-aways filled the piazzas of Italy with assemblies last year to clamor for visas. Those distorted, savage faces. Those raised fists, threatening. Those baleful voices that took me back to the Teheran of Khomeni. Ill never forget it because I felt offended by their bullying in my home, and because I felt made fun of by the ministers who told us: Wed like to deport them but we dont know where theyre hiding. Bastards! There were thousands of them in those piazzas and they sure as hell werent hiding. To deport them all they had to do was put them in line, please-right-this-way-sir, and escort them to a port or airport.
The second reason, my dear nephew of the uncle with the little cardboard suitcase, is one even a schoolboy could understand. It requires only two elements to expound. One: America is a continent. And in the latter half of the 1800s when the American Congress gave the green light to immigration, this continent was practically unpopulated. Most of the population was massed in the eastern states, in other words those on the side of the Atlantic, and there were even fewer people in the Midwest. California was practically empty. Well, Italy isnt a continent. Its a very small country, and far from unpopulated. Two: America is a very young country. If you recall that the War of Independence took place at the end of the 1700s, you can deduce that its only two hundred years old and you understand why its cultural identity is not yet well defined. Italy, on the other hand, is a very old country. Its history goes back at least three thousand years. Its cultural identity is thus very precise--and lets not beat around the bush: that identity has quite a bit to do with a religion called Christian religion and a church called the Catholic Church. People like me have a nice little saying: the-Catholic-church-has-nothing-to-do-with-me. But boy does it have to do with me. Whether I like it or not, it has to do with me. And how could it not? I was born into a landscape of churches, convents, Christs, Madonnas, Saints. The first music I heard coming into the world was the music of church bells. Those bells of Santa Maria del Fiore that were smothered by the uncouth voice of the muezzin during the Tent Age. And I grew up in that music, in that landscape. And it was through that music and that landscape that I learned what architecture is, what sculpture is, what painting is, what art is. It was through that church (which I later rejected) that I began to ask myself what is Good, what is Evil, and by God...
There: you see? I wrote by God again. With all my secularism, all my atheism, I am so imbued with Catholic culture that its even part of my way of expressing myself. Oh God, my God, thank God, by God, sweet Jesus, good God, Mother Mary, here a Christ, there a Christ. These words come so spontaneously to me that I dont even realize Im speaking or writing them. And you want me to lay it all out? Even if Ive never pardoned Catholicism for the infamies it inflicted on me for centuries, starting with the Inquisition that burned even my grandmother--poor grandmother!--even if Ive never gotten along well with priests and have no use for their prayers, all the same I really love the music of church bells. It caresses my heart. I also love those painted or sculpted Christs and Madonnas and Saints. In fact I have a thing for icons. I also love monasteries and convents. They give me a sense of peace, and sometimes I envy those inside. And then lets admit it: our cathedrals are more beautiful than mosques and synagogues. Yes or no? Theyre also more beautiful than Protestant churches. Look, my familys cemetery is Protestant. It accepts the dead of all religions but its Protestant. And one of my great-grandmothers was Walensian. One of my great-aunts, Evangelist. I never knew my Walensian great-grandmother. But I did know the Evangelist great-aunt. When I was a little girl she would always take me to her church functions in Via de Benci at Florence, and... God, how bored I was! I felt so alone with those faithful who did nothing but sing psalms, that priest who wasnt a priest and did nothing but read the Bible, that church that didnt seem like a church and apart from a little pulpit had nothing but a big crucifix. No angels, no Madonnas, no incense. I even missed the smell of incense, and would rather have been in the nearby Basilica di Santa Croce where they had these things. The things I was used to. And Ill say more: in my country house, in Tuscany, there is a tiny little chapel. Its always closed. No one goes there since my mother died. But I go there sometimes, to dust, to make sure the mice havent made a nest, and despite my secular upbringing I feel comfortable there. Despite my priest-hating tendencies, I move there with casual ease. And I believe that the vast majority of Italians would confess the same thing. (Even Berlinguer, the head of the Italian Communist Party, confessed as much to me.)
Good God! (Here we go again.) Im telling you that we Italians are not in the same position as the Americans: mosaic of ethnic and religious groups, hodgepodge of a thousand cultures, at once open to every invasion and able to stave it off. Im telling you that, for the very reason that our cultural identity is so precise and defined by so many centuries, it cannot sustain a wave of immigration composed of people who in one way or another want to change our way of life. Our values. Im telling you that we have no room for muezzins, for minarets, for false teetotalers, for their fucking Middle Ages, for their fucking chador. And if we had room, I wouldnt give it to them. Because it would be the equivalent of throwing away Dante Alighieri, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, the Renaissance, the Risorgimento, the liberty that for better or worse we fought for and won, our Patria. It would mean giving them Italy. And I wont give them Italy.
I am Italian. The fools who think Im an American by now are wrong. Ive never asked for American citizenship. Years ago an American ambassador offered it to me on Celebrity Status, and after thanking him I replied: Sir, Im very tied to America. Im always arguing with it, always telling it off, but Im still profoundly tied to it. For me America is a lover--no, a husband--to whom I will always be faithful. Assuming he doesnt sleep around on me. I care about this husband of mine. And I never forget that if he hadnt troubled himself to wage war on Hitler and Mussolini, today Id speak German. I never forget that if he hadnt kept an eye on the Soviet Union, today Id speak Russian. I care about him and I like him. I like for example that when I come back to New York and hand over my passport and green card, the customs agent gives me a big smile and says Welcome home. The gesture seems so generous, so affectionate. I also remember that America has always been the Refugium Peccatorum for people without a homeland. But I already have a homeland, sir. Italy is my Patria, and Italy is my mamma. I love Italy, sir. And it would seem like renouncing my mamma to take American citizenship. I also told him that my language is Italian, that I write in Italian, whereas I only translate myself in English. Just as I translate myself in French, feeling it to be a foreign language. And then I told him that when I listen to Mamelis anthem I get emotional. That when I hear that Fratelli-d'Italia, l'Italia-s'è-desta, parapà-parapà-parapà, I get a lump in my throat. I dont even notice that as anthems go, its pretty ugly. I only think: thats the anthem of my Patria. I also get a lump in my throat when I see the white red and green flag waving. Apart from the stadium hooligans, that is. I have a white red and green flag from the 1800s. Its full of stains, stains of blood, all pink from mice. And despite the fact that it has the coat of arms of the House of Savoy in the center (though without Cavour and without Victor Emmanuel II and without Garibaldi who bowed to that coat of arms we would never have unified Italy), I hold onto it like gold. I treasure it as a jewel. Christ! We died for that flag! Hanged, shot, decapitated. Killed by the Austrians, by the Pope, by the Duke of Modena, by the Bourbons. We carried out the Risorgimento with that flag. And the unification of Italy, and the war in Carso, and the Resistance. My maternal great-great-grandfather Giobatta fought for that flag at Curtatone and Montanara and was horribly disfigured by an Austrian rocket. My paternal uncles endured every kind of pain for that flag in the trenches of Carso. My father was arrested and tortured for that flag by the nazi-fascists at Villa Triste. My whole family fought for that flag in the Resistance, and I did too. In the ranks of Justice and Liberty, with the battle name Emilia. I was fourteen. The next year when they discharged me from the Volunteer Italian Army Corps of Liberty, I felt so proud. Jesus and Mary, I had been an Italian soldier! And when I found out that along with the discharge went 14,450 lire, I didnt know whether to accept it or not. It seemed wrong to accept it for doing my duty to the Patria. Then I did accept it. None of us had shoes at home. And with that money I bought shoes for myself and my little sisters.
Obvioiusly my homeland, my Italy, is not the Italy of today. The scheming, vulgar, fat-dumb-and-happy Italy of Italians whose only concern is getting their pensions by 50 and whose only passions are foreign vacations and soccer matches. The rotten, stupid, cowardly Italy, of little hyenas who would sell their daughter to a Beirut whorehouse in order to shake the hand of a Hollywood divo or diva but if Osama Bin Ladens kamikazes reduce thousands of New Yorkers to a mountain of ashes that seem like ground coffee they snigger contentedly good-it-serves-America-right. The squalid, faint-hearted, soulless Italy, of presumptuous and incompetent political parties that dont know how to win or lose but know how to glue the fat posteriors of their representatives into the seat of a deputy or minister or mayor. The still-Mussolinesque Italy of black and red fascists that make you think of Ennio Flaianos terrible joke: In Italy there are two kinds of fascists: fascists and anti-fascists. Nor is it the Italy of the magistrates and politicians who in their ignorance of proper verb tense commit monstrous errors of syntax while pontificating on television screens. (You dont say, If it was, you animals! You say If it were.) Nor is it the Italy of young people who, having similar teachers, are drowning in the most scandalous ignorance, the most excruciating superficiality, drowning in emptiness. So that they add errors of spelling to errors of syntax and if you ask them who the Carbonari were, who the liberals were, who Silvio Pellico was, who Mazzini was, who Massimo DAzeglio was, who Cavour was, who Victor Emmanuel II was, they look at you with dulled pupils and dangling tongues. They know nothing or at most they know how to play the comfortable role of aspiring terrorists in a time of peace and democracy, how to wave black flags, hide their faces behind ski masks, the little fools. Inept fools. And even less is it the Italy of the chattering insects who after reading this will hate me for having written the truth. Between one bowl of spaghetti and another theyll curse me and hope I get killed by one of those whom they protect, that is by Osama Bin Laden. No, no: my Italy is an ideal Italy. Its an Italy that I dreamed of as a young girl, when I was discharged from the Italian Volunteer Army Corps of Liberty, and I was full of illusions. An intelligent, dignified, courageous Italy, and therefore worthy of respect. And this Italy, an Italy that exists even if it is silenced or ridiculed or insulted--woe to anyone who lays a finger on it. Woe to anyone who robs it from me or invades it. Because whether the invaders are Napoleons French or Francis Josephs Austrians or Hitlers Germans or Osama Bin Ladins comrades, its all the same to me. Whether they invade it using cannons or rubber dinghies, ditto. And with that I bid you an affectionate farewell, by dear Ferruccio, and I warn you: ask nothing further of me. Least of all, to get involved in disputes or pointless polemics. Ive said what I had to say. Anger and pride ordered me to. Age and a clean conscience allowed me to. But now I have to get back to work; I dont want to be disturbed. End of story.
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I don't want or intend to write a screed on copyright law pro & con, but let me just mention this: As one who has been a "professional" writer ( my definition? I got paid to do it. Albeit a pittance ) I am certainly sensitive to the needs of those who create for a living to be paid for their work.
On the other hand, I believe as a practical matter copyright died when it became possible to digitize print or pictures and shoot it out electromagnetically across the world. The matter of just compensation is a moot subject at best, and one I won't go into here.
My point being that I believe restricting the dissemination of articles like this does no great good to the public ( because they never become aware of it at all ) but also is of no great good to the writer. Many people, if they saw this, might want to see, and even buy, more of her works. I guess that's my point- restricting the flow of information ultimately does more harm than good.
well that's what I get for making a comment BEFORE reading the piece. She does have a way with words.
One poster said she was ill. Maybe veronica said this.
I once spent hours translating this article into English; Tale of a Teenage Communist written by a Colombian ex-leftist. They never bother to translate his articles into English, but let Gabriel Garcia Marquez say something pro-Castro, and it's broadcast all over the world in multiple languages.
Not bad for an old communist, eh?