Via Islamophobia Watch, the Italian journalist notorious for her outbursts on Islam, Oriana Fallaci, has died. You can read obituaries on her here and here. The latter, in the Times surprisingly enough, highlights the irony of her bigoted, rabble-rousing anti-Muslim works in the light of her youth spent as a resistance fighter in fascist Italy:
Since its literary merits were slim, reading, as it did, as part memoir, part intemperate call-to-arms, its arguments rarely coherent, its success must be attributed to its having caught the mood of the times. Ironically, though one of Fallaci’s concerns was that what she saw as the servility of Europeans in the face of Islam’s imperial ambitions was caused by their having forgotten the lessons of the Second World War, the cheap potency of The Rage and the Pride recalls above all the rabble-rousing of the Fascist leaders.
I never read any of Fallaci’s works, even her post-9/11 anti-Muslim diatribes; it seems she was most famed in Italy where she was a distinguished foreign correspondent. She lived for much of her later life in New York and many of her English-speaking fans are fellow anti-Muslim bigots who come from various backgrounds (Bat Ye’or being Jewish, Robert Spencer being Catholic) and have little in common apart from their bigotry. People who bought The Rage and the Pride off Amazon also bought books by Bat Ye’or, Robert Spencer and Robert Bawer; the Reed reviewer cited on the Amazon page noted that she translated it into English herself, resulting in a rather less readable text:
Fallaci only aggravates her lack of rigorous thinking by translating the work herself, resulting in a clumsy text that appears not to have been edited or proofread by a fluent English speaker. (Whatever resonance “cicada”-her choice term for the “so-called intellectuals” whom she addresses-has in Italian fails to translate into English.) After a melodramatic preface in which Fallaci congratulates herself on her courage in speaking the truth (and in her defense, apparently there have been efforts to ban the book in France), she lights into the European, and especially Italian, “cicadas” who felt that, on September 11, 2001, America got what she had coming to her and who, in the name of political correctness, fail to condemn the “Reverse Crusade” being waged by Islamic zealots like Osama bin Laden. But Fallaci’s love for America, her adopted home, and her critique of European intellectuals’ perverse contempt for it, is laced with a bile that may lead readers to suspect her of anti-Arab bias-a possibility she is all to aware of, repeatedly defending herself against the charge of racism.
Fallaci’s ravings were roundly condemned in mainstream media of right and left and generally praised by the anti-Muslim bigots you might expect, which is in general how such matters are dealt with in western countries. As I’ve written here before, I’m not generally in favour of Muslims pushing for laws aimed at banning speech we don’t like unless it’s clearly aimed at inciting violence; an exception could be made for communal libel, such as the law under which Henry Ford was banned from continually quoting from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his company town newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, in the 1920s. If the words are simply derogatory or hyperbolic rather than peddling demonstrably false assertions, the likelihood is that it could not be prevented by law unless there is a context of violence, such as when the words are delivered to a riotous assembly.
At the time of her death, Fallaci was facing prosecution over her book in a case brought by a Muslim activist named Adel Smith (born in Egypt of Scottish origin, and a convert to Islam). Smith was known for bringing another court case in which he tried to get crucifixes banned in Italian schools if an Islamic symbol was not placed alongside it. (Islam, by the way, has no symbol equivalent to the cross; its symbol is the shahada.) In this, he was not supported by the mainstream Muslim community in Italy - the same community broad-brushed by Fallaci in her post-9/11 rantings. Her buddy Robert Spencer, of course, in ten separate articles on his two blogs mentioning Adel Smith, does not mention that Smith enjoys little support among Italian Muslims; in fact, Spencer calls him “the head of the Islamic community”.
Smith himself was prosecuted, and convicted, under the same laws in 2003 for calling the Catholic church a “criminal association” (among other things) on a Padua TV programme, and fined over 6,000 Euros (he said he would appeal; I’m not sure what the result was). Laws like this exist in many countries in Europe: criminal libel laws (Italy), laws banning insults to foreign heads of state (France), laws banning insults to officials (Poland). In the UK, insulting any living person (except, perhaps, the Queen) is legal as long as you don’t make false accusations, and while there are laws against blasphemy, they were last used in the 1970s. Some might actually agree with the Italian stance: after all, to say that the Catholic church has been scandalously remiss in dealing with child abusers in its priesthood is quite justifiable, but to call it a glorified paedophile ring is a travesty of the truth. I don’t agree, because generally making such a stupid statement quickly leads to ridicule.
I believe we Muslims should not be so quick to demand laws to protect us from hurt feelings given that, even in this country, Muslims have been prosecuted for distributing pamphlets containing Qur’anic verses and hadeeths hostile to certain ethno-religious groups but which did not actually incite violence. As in South Africa, such laws could easily be used against those they were (ostensibly) designed to protect when it suits prosecutors’, or the authorities’, fancies. I think it fortunate that the unlamented Fallaci passed on to what she sent ahead for herself before Adel Smith’s lawsuit came to fruition, because it would of a certainty have rebounded on the Muslim community whether she was found guilty or otherwise.
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