Skip to comments.The Rage of Oriana Fallaci
Posted on 01/23/2003 2:37:59 PM PST by dennisw
The Rage of Oriana Fallaci by George Gurley
On a recent afternoon, the telephone rang in Oriana Fallacis Manhattan townhouse. The tiny, blue-eyed 72-year-old writer put down her cigarette and picked up the receiver.
"Oh, it is you!" she said. She assured the caller she was all right, then thanked him and hung up.
"He calls to see if Im alive," she said, "to see if I need something."
The caller was a police officer, who has been checking in on Ms. Fallaci since the publication of her most recent book, The Rage and the Pride, which she wrote in New York during the weeks following Sept. 11. The booka passionate cry in which she accuses the West of being blind to the true threat of Islamcaused a scandal when it was published in Europe last year, but has raised barely a murmur in the U.S. In her native country of Italy, the book has sold over 1 million copies and over 500,000 in the rest of Europe. In the U.S., it has sold just 40,000 copies since October. The relative silence with which Americans have greeted the book is somewhat puzzling: It is precisely Americans who have the most evidence, in downtown New York, of the danger which Ms. Fallaci lays out in her 187-page book.
In The Rage and the Pride, Ms. Fallaci compares Islam to a "mountain which in one thousand and four hundred years has not moved, has not risen from the abyss of its blindness, has not opened its doors to the conquests of civilization, has never wanted to know about freedom and democracy and progress. In short, has not changed." She warns that "from Afghanistan to Sudan, from Palestine to Pakistan, from Malaysia to Iran, from Egypt to Iraq, from Algeria to Senegal, from Syria to Kenya, from Libya to Chad, from Lebanon to Morocco, from Indonesia to Yemen, from Saudi Arabia to Somalia, the hate for the West swells like a fire fed by the wind. And the followers of Islamic Fundamentalism multiply like protozoa of a cell which splits to become two cells then four then eight then sixteen then thirty-two. To infinity."
In France, a group called the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People tried to get the book banned. A French court rejected the request. In Italy, a booklet titled "Islam Punishes Oriana Fallaci," written by the president of the Italian Islamic Party, called for Muslims to "go and die with Fallaci." Ms. Fallaci sued the author for slander and instigation to murder.
"My life," Ms. Fallaci wrote in her books preface, "is seriously in danger."
And not only from terrorists. In 1992, she underwent surgery for breast cancer; she told me she could die any day. But she still moves about like a spunky teenage girl, leaping up and down, making faces. She drinks fine wines which she keeps in her townhouse and smokes two packs of cigarettes a dayshe said her oncologist allows it.
Prior to her new book, Ms. Fallaci had achieved international fame as a journalist and authorthe beautiful, outspoken, brilliant "La Fallaci"who had covered the Vietnam War and conducted spirited, combative interviews with celebritiesArthur Miller, Orson Welles, Hugh Hefner, Sammy Davis Jr.as well as world leaders like Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, the Shah of Iran, Ariel Sharon, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasir Arafat and Deng Xiaoping (or, as she called some of them, "those bastards who decide our lives"). Henry Kissinger said that his interview with Ms. Fallaci was "the most disastrous conversation I ever had with any member of the press."
Her writing has made her life comfortablein addition to her Manhattan townhouse, she owns a residence in Florence and a 23-room country house in Tuscanythough comfort has not dulled her edges.
As we drank Sancerre in her sitting room, surrounded by bookshelves filled with Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville, Poe, Hemingway, Malraux and Kipling, she talked about The Rage and the Prides success in Europe.
"I have been months and months and months of best-seller No. 1," Ms. Fallaci said in her strong Florentine accent. "I do not say this to make self-congratulations. I say this to underline my thesisthat the moment was mature! That I have put the finger on the nerve of something: the Muslims immigration, which grows and grows without inserting itself in our way of life, without accepting our way of life and, on the contrary, trying to impose on us its way of life . And people in Europe are so exasperated by the arrogance of most of these invaders and being blackmailed with the unfair term racist when they protest, that there was a kind of thirst for a book like this . There is no other explanation for the books success! I have written better books than this. I have written beautiful books over my lifes work. This is a scream rather than an essaya book written in two weeks, cmon. Why? It was not the book itself. It was the thirst, the hunger.
"You know in the turning of history there are, at times, a brusque turn," she said. "Consider all the steps of history. Im afraid that we are now at one of those turns. Not because we want it. Because it is imposed on us. It is not this time a revolution, like the American Revolution or the French Revolution . It is a counterrevolution! Alas. And it is against us. I am kind of happy not to have ahead of me a very long future which will confirm my prediction. But you will live all of it."
The West, she said, is under assault and doesnt realize it.
"If we stay inert, if we let ourselves be scared, then we become collaborationists," she said. "If we are passive then we lose the war that has been declared against us.
"We can talk for centuries about the word racist," she said. "Racist has to do with race and not with religion. Yes, I am against that religion, a religion that controls the life of people in every minute of their day, that puts the burqa on women, that treats women as camels, that preaches polygamy, that cuts the hands of the poor thieves . I am not religiousall religions are difficult to accept for mebut the Islamic one is not even a religion, in my opinion. It is a tyranny, a dictatorshipthe only religion on earth that has never committed a work of self-criticism . It is immovable. It becomes worse and worse . It is 1,400 years and these people never review themselves, and now they want to come impose it on me, on us?
"Listen," she said, wagging a finger. "Those who do not follow what people like me say are unrealistic, are really masochistic, because they dont see the reality . Muslims have passion, and we have lost the passion. People like me who have passion are derided: Ha ha ha! Shes hysterical! Shes very passionate! Listen how the Americans speak about me: A very passionate Italian.
"Americans," she said, repeating for me something she told the American Enterprise Institute, "you have taught me this stupid word: cool. Cool, cool, cool! Coolness, coolness, youve got to be cool. Coolness! When I speak like I speak now, with passion, you smile and laugh at me! Ive got passion. Theyve got passion. They have such passion and such guts that they are ready to die for it."
I asked her about the death threats she receives.
"You put the finger on the wound," she saidbut not because shes afraid. "I cant bear the bodyguards," she explained. In Italy, she said, they are "imposed" on her. Her homes in Florence and Tuscany are closely guarded. If anything happened to her in Italy, she said, it would be a political scandal.
However, in New York shes fairly vulnerable, and she likes it.
"Thank God the Americans dont care about me!" she said, adding that the F.B.I. had been over a few times.
"I am not saying this because I want to look like I am like Rambo, or that I dont care. Thats stupid," she said. "Its my temperament. When you have been born in a war like me, living in a war as a child, when you have been in wars as a war correspondent all your lifetrust me! You develop a form of fatalism; you are always ready to die. And when you love your own freedom as much as I do, you dont bend to the fear to be killed, because otherwise you do nothingyou go under the bed and you stay hidden 24 hours.
"The point is not winning or losing," she said. "Of course, I want to win. The point is to fight well with dignity. The point is, if you die, to die on your feet, standing up. If you tell me, Fallaci, why do you fight so much? The Muslims are going to win and theyre going to kill you, I answer to you, Fuck youI shall die on my feet."
When she gets phone calls threatening her life, she said, she lets them talk. "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 of Beirut. And do you know what theyre doing? They are giving away theirI dont tell it to you, but I tell it to themand you know to whom? To an American. Fuck you!"
How did she feel about President Bush?
"We will see; its too soon," she said. "I have the impression that Bush has a certain vigor and also a dignity which had been forgotten in the United States for eight years."
She doesnt like it, however, when the President calls Islam a "religion of peace."
"Do you know what I do each time he says it on TV? Im there alone, and I watch it and say, Shut up! Shut up, Bush! But he doesnt listen to me.
"I adore his wife," she said. "You wouldnt believe it: Laura Bush has the face of my mother when my mother was young. The face, the body, the voice. The first time I saw on TV Laura Bush, I got frozen because it was as if my mother was not dead. Oh, Mama, I said, Mama."
Oriana Fallaci grew up poor, the oldest of three sisters, in Florence. Her father Edoardo was a craftsman and anti-Fascist political activist. Her bedroom was filled with books. "I woke up, I saw books," she said. "I closed my eyes to sleep, the last thing I saw was books." She started writing short stories at age 9 after reading Jack London.
In The Rage and the Pride, she writes about a day in 1943 when Allied bombs fell on Florence. She and her father took refuge in a church, and she started crying. Her father, she writes, "gave me a powerful slap, he stared me in the eyes and said, A girl does not, must not, cry."
He was a leader in the Resistance against the Fascists and made his daughter a soldier in the cause. According to a 1998 biography by Santo L. Aricò (Oriana Fallaci: The Woman and the Myth), she smuggled explosives past checkpoints; her nom de guerre was "Emilia." In 1944, her father was captured and sentenced to death, but the city was liberated before the sentence could be carried out.
"The Second World War looked to us, to me, endless," she told me. "Bombing, bombing, bombing. I know about bombs. Every night the sirenswhoo, whoo! When the war in Italy was over, I remember one idyllic moment; I think I shall die and, in search of a moment of happiness, I will think of that. It was Sunday, I had a new dress. White. And I was cute with this white dress. I was eating ice cream in the morning, which made me very happy. I was all whiteit must be some psychological thing associated with purity, I dont know. And all at once, I dont know why, it must have been a holiday, all the bells of Florenceand Florence is a city of bellsstarted ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong! The whole city was bursting with this marvelous sound of the bells. And I was walking in the street, and I shall never, neverI have had honors, prizesI have never felt what I felt that morning. During the war the bells never rang, and now the whole city was exploding with the sound of bells! I have never tasted it again. Never! I felt that the world was opening up for itself . It seemed to me that the war was over, forever, for everybody! That was stupid. Right at that moment, you know what they were preparing? Hiroshima. I didnt know!"
She graduated high school at 16 and attended the University of Florence, where she studied medicine before being hired at a daily newspaper. At 21, she also began writing for one of Italys top magazines, Europeo. Soon she was interviewing people like Clark Gable. "He was so sweet," she said. "I have never met a man more shy than Clark Gable. He was so shy you couldnt make him talk."
While covering Hollywood in the 1950s and 60s, she wrote about Joan Collins, Gary Cooper, Cecil B. DeMille, Burt Lancaster, Jayne Mansfield, William Holden. She became close to Orson Welles, who would write the preface to her 1958 book, The Seven Sins of Hollywood ("Mamma mia, he ate so much food!" she told me), as well as Maria Callas and Ingrid Bergmanwhose daughter, Isabella Rossellini, defended Ms. Fallaci in a November 2001 letter to The New York Times.
(In the 1980s, she got to know director Martin Scorsese, who was Ms. Rossellinis first husband. "I think Scorsese is a tremendously interesting director," she said. "As a director, I adore him. As a man, I cannot bear him. Because he doesnt smoke. She invited me to dinner at their house, and in order to smoke a cigarette I had to go in the bathroom. So each dinner became a nightmare. I had to bend from the window of the 58th floor, risking to precipitate down on the sidewalk, and I came to hate him and to forget that he was such a good director.")
I asked about the secret of her huge success as a journalist. She said it had to do with the fact that she never tried to be objective. Objectivity, she said, was "a hypocrisy which has been invented in the West which means nothing. We must take positions. Our weakness in the West is born of the fact of so-called objectivity. Objectivity does not existit cannot exist! The word is a hypocrisy which is sustained by the lie that the truth stays in the middle. No, sir: Sometimes truth stays on one side only."
We decided to go out to dinner. I asked if it would be safe.
"When you are with me, youre safe. I defend you," she said. "I promise you, nothing will happen to you if I am there."
In her hallway, I noticed a framed advertisement for a speech against Hitler and Mussolini which the anti-Fascist writer Gaetano Salvemini gave at Irving Plaza in 1933.
"They wouldnt listen," Ms. Fallaci said. "They wouldnt believe him; it was too early. I feel myself very near like Salvemini. Because he was shouting with the same despair, with the same arguments, and people did not believe him. When you say things a little too early, they dont believe you. Capito?"
At the restaurant, we sat at a table by the bar so she could smoke. After a long, heated discussion with the restaurants proprietor, Ms. Fallaci ordered the Spanish prawns very reluctantly. She didnt believe they were like Italian ones.
"I dont believe what he said," she told me. "Spain is looking one side on the Mediterranean, but the other side is on the Atlantic ocean. Thus if he speaks of the prawns which are fished in the Atlantic, I promise you they are going to be like the American ones. And then I dont want them."
When her prawns arrived, she said, "Do you know the only thing the Muslims and the Arabs have been teaching to me? The only one? To eat with the hands. The pleasure of eating with the hands is infinite. The Arabs, the only thing they do well is how elegantly they touch the food."
Last April, she said, Ariel Sharon phoned her to praise an article she had written in the weekly Italian publication Panorama about the problem of European and Arab anti-Semitism.
She said she answered the phone and said, "Hey, Sharon! How are you? Are you as fat? Because I know him. Sharon said, Oriana, I called you to say, "Damn, you have guts; damn, you are courageous; damn, do I thank you." I said, Ariel, you thank meI apologize with you. I was too tough to you 20 years ago. And he was, as usual, a gentleman."
The night before the phone call, there had been an attack on a kibbutz.
"I said, Listen, dear, I know what happened last night in that kibbutz. Will you please permit me to express to you and to your people my condolences? Sharon started crying. I dont know, I didnt see the tears. But the voice was of a crying man, and he started to shout: Oriana! You are the only one who says the word condolences! Do you know, these bloody heads of states, I just spoke with the British and the Americansmeaning Blair and Bushthey did not say that word to me. And then with broken voice he said, Do you know who were the dead last night? One was the grandmother who was in Dachau and who still had the number on her arm. The second one was her daughter, who was seven months pregnant. And the third one was the child of the daughter, who was 5 years old. And they are all dead! All dead! All dead! He was crying."
He told her he would be coming to America soon.
"I said, Ariel, weve got a problem: How do we see each other in New York without the journalists knowing it? So we have organized 007 storybeautiful. And the night beforedo you remember what happened, the great massacre in Jerusalem? I remember that his assistant, this woman, she called me. I answered the phone and she said, Were leaving, we must go back, we dont come to New York, do you know what has happened? I said, I know, I heard it, tell the Prime Minister I shall come to Jerusalem. I never went. I couldnt."
Not that she feared any danger. After all, shed been to Vietnam. By the late 60s, she had written hundreds of articles, appeared on The Tonight Show, published four booksso she went to the war, where she interviewed generals, soldiers, P.O.W.s and civilians.
"Suddenly Ive been seized by a fear that isnt the fear of dying," she wrote in 1968. "Its the fear of living."
In 1968, while covering a student uprising in Mexico City, she found herself in the middle of a massacre. She was shot three times; earlier, shed lifted her blouse to show me the scars on her back and the back of her knee.
"I was so lucky, because everywhere it entered, it didnt touch the artery or the vein," she said.
In 1973, she interviewed a Greek resistance leader, Alexandros Panagoulis, after he was released from prison. They became lovers. He was killed in a suspicious car accident in 1976. She wrote a novel, A Man, based on their relationship. In the 1960s and 1970s, she conducted many of her infamous interviews with world leaders; her work appeared in publications like Life, The Washington Post and The New York Times. In 1990, the book she calls her "modern Iliad," Inshallaha 600-page novel about the war in Lebanonwas published and sold well.
In 1992, she had surgery for breast cancer.
I told her she looked very healthy for someone who was still dealing with cancer.
"Nooooo, you have not met me before," she said. "I am unrecognizable."
When she started to recover, she began writing what she calls her "big novel."
"It was 30 years that novel was sitting in my mind, and I havent the guts to write it, because I knew it would be very long, very difficult, very complex," she said. "It scared me. When I got the cancer, I found the courage. Im very grateful to the cancer, because it pushed me. I said, Hey, if you dont do it now, you die. So the dumb alienI call the cancer alienmust leave me alone until I have finished that book. If I died the day after I finish it, I die happy. "Remember, if you hear that Fallaci died, but she finished the bookyou must think Fallaci died happy."
You may reach George Gurley via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
back to top This column ran on page 1 in the 1/27/2003 edition of The New York Observer.
"The al-Qaida network is not America's most dangerous enemy.
To fight only the al-Qaida enemy is to miss the terrorist network operating within our own borders. Who are these traitors? Every rotten, radical left-winger in this country, that's who." -- Michael Savage
Some more recent expressions of Muslim love for Americans:
I read such an interesting article about Sharon in Vanity Fair some months ago.
As a child of Russian emigres in what was to be Israel, he was very malnourished, and everyone around him lived on a very meager diet.
I can't remember what the food was that was mentioned, but it was all they had to eat for most of the time, but because of that all the rest of his life he has apparently craved rich foods.
Thanks so much for posting this fascinating article about Fallaci. What an icon she is, and how sad it makes me feel that so few are heeding her words of wisdom.
I believe that one day the islamists will understand what it was that the Japanese general said after Pearl Harbor was attacked:
"I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant."
While he was in the Haganah, he fought in the 1948 war of independence in which he commanded an infantry company in the Alexandroni Brigade. In June of 1953, Sharon led a special forces unit called Unit 101 in raids on the al-Burj refugee camp in Gaza and against the village of Qibya, where several people were killed. The greatest military success that Sharon achieved was during the Yom Kippur War in October 1973. He commanded 27,000 Israeli troops across the Suez Canal into Egypt which in turn put the war in his nation's favor.
Ayear later, Sharon started off his long political career by winning a place in the Israeli parliament (Knesset). When the 80's kicked off, he did run into some trouble though. He drew up plans for massive Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and later authorized a dozen new ones. This upset several people when Israel and Egypt were talking peace. Sharon said it was done in an effort to avoid the possibility of withdrawal. Sharon also led Israel into Lebanon, which was widely criticized, and cause a war lasting 20 years, ending in September 2000. There is still tension today between these two countries.