Extremism and Bigotry
Oriana Fallaci could benefit from less rage and more reason
Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there has been much debate about the threat that Islamic extremism poses to the West and about when concern over such extremism turns to anti-Muslim bigotry.
Such labels as "bigotry" and "Islamophobia" are often indiscriminately slapped on all outspoken critics of fanatical Muslim radicalism. But the real thing does exist.
For an example, one can turn to a profile of Italian writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci by Margaret Talbot in a recent issue of The New Yorker. Fallaci, who rose to fame with her fearless reportage from danger zones and her gutsy interviews of famous and infamous public figures, has more recently drawn attention—and, in the eyes of many people, become infamous herself—with two polemics against the Islamic threat, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason.
Fallaci, who is currently facing legal charges of defaming Islam in Italy, has many defenders who describe her as a passionate anti-Jihadist unfairly accused of racism. Yet her recent writings do have an unmistakable whiff of racism, indiscriminately lumping together radical Islamic terrorists and Somali vendors of fake designer bags who urinate on the street corners of Italy's great cities. Journalist Christopher Hitchens, himself a strong polemicist against radical Islamic fundamentalism, has described The Rage and the Pride in The Atlantic magazine as "a sort of primer in how not to write about Islam." He has noted that Fallaci's diatribes have all the marks of other screeds about filthy, disease-ridden, sexually threatening aliens.
The New Yorker profile reinforces this impression. Talbot, whom some conservative bloggers have accused of smearing Fallaci either out of liberal soft-headedness or even out of envy toward Fallaci's passion and moral conviction, actually treats her subject with a lot of respect. She is well aware, for instance, that Fallaci's concern about the deep-seated problems in much of Islamic culture today, including in some immigrant Muslim communities in Europe (the treatment of women, the resistance to modernization, the religious intolerance, and anti-Semitism), is amply justified. But some of Fallaci's own words as quoted by Talbot are quite damning.
About Muslim immigration, she tells Talbot: "The tolerance level was already surpassed fifteen or twenty years ago… when the Left let the Muslims disembark on our coasts by the thousands." She rejects the idea that there can be a moderate Islam or moderate Muslims: "Of course there are exceptions. Also, considering the mathematical calculation of probabilities, some good Muslims must exist. I mean Muslims who appreciate freedom and democracy and secularism. But… good Muslims are few." She claims, in a rather blatant distortion of history, that since its birth Islam has had a unique propensity among all religions to slaughter or enslave "all those who live differently."
The planned building of a new mosque and Islamic center near Siena enrages Fallaci so much that she promises Talbot that, if she is alive at the time of its opening, she will blow it up: "I do not want to see this mosque—it's very near my house in Tuscany. I do not want to see a twenty-four-metre minaret in the landscape of Giotto. When I cannot even wear a cross or carry a Bible in their country!"
These are ugly words, based on the bizarre assumption that the West must respond to religious intolerance in many Muslim countries with religious intolerance of our own.
Despite its manifest problems, Islamic culture today is not monolithic. There are regions, such as Bosnia, where the Muslim populations are modern and moderate; there are progressive and reformist forces within Islam. In the United States, where the social and economic structures are far more flexible and more conducive to the integration of immigrants than in most of Europe, Muslim radicalism has not been a serious problem. (In the United States, all Muslim protests against the publication of the infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons have been nonviolent.)
The problems posed for the West, from within and without, by radical Islamic fundamentalism need to be honestly addressed. But if this response turns to anti-Muslim bigotry—which on some "anti-jihadist" websites turns to defending Slobodan Milosevic's genocide against Bosnian Muslims —it will leave us with little reason for hope. Fallaci's passion ultimately leads to a dead-end.