The New York Observer 27 Jan. '03

The Rage of Oriana Fallaci

by GeorgeGurley

On a recent afternoon, the telephone rang in Oriana Fallaci's 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 I'm 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 book-a passionate cry in which she accuses the West of being blind to the true threat of Islam-caused 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 book's preface, "is seriously in danger."

Ms. Fallaci had achieved international fame as a journalist and author- "La Fallaci"-who had covered the Vietnam War and conducted spirited, combative interviews with celebrities ...ell 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 comfortable-in addition to her Manhattan townhouse, she owns a residence in Florence and a 23-room country house in Tuscany-though comfort has not dulled her edges.

As we drank Sancerre in her sitting room ...she talked about The Rage and the Pride's success in Europe.

"I have been months and months and months of best-seller No. 1," .... "I do not say this to make self-congratulations. I say this to underline my thesis-that 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 book's success! ... This is a scream rather than an essay-a book written in two weeks, c'mon. 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 .... I'm 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. ...."

The West, she said, is under assault and doesn't 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, ... .I am not religious-all religions are difficult to accept for me-but the Islamic one is not even a religion, in my opinion. It is a tyranny, a dictatorship-the only religion on earth that has never committed a work of self-criticism ...

"Listen, ... Those who do not follow what people like me say are unrealistic, are really masochistic, because they don't see the reality .. Muslims have passion, and we have lost the passion. People like me who have passion are derided . . .. . . They have such passion and such guts that they are ready to die for it."

I asked her about the death threats she receives.

"..."I can't 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 she's fairly vulnerable, and she likes it.

"Thank God the Americans don't 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 .... "It's 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 life-trust 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 don't bend to the fear to be killed, because otherwise ... you go under the bed and you stay hidden ... .

. . .

How did she feel about President Bush?

"We will see; it's 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 doesn't 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? I'm there alone, and I watch it and say, 'Shut up! Shut up, Bush!' But he doesn't listen to me.

. . .

Oriana Fallaci grew up poor, the oldest of three sisters, in Florence. Her father Edoardo was a craftsman and anti-Fascist political activist ... .

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. Aric? (Oriana Fallaci: The Woman and the Myth), she smuggled explosives past checkpoints... . In 1944, her father was captured and sentenced to death, but the city was liberated before the sentence could be carried out.

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 Italy's top magazines, Europeo. Soon she was interviewing people like Clark Gable. ...

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 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."

. . .

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 wouldn't listen," Ms. Fallaci said. "They wouldn't 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 don't believe you. Capito?"

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 me-I 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 don't know, I didn't 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... I just spoke to the British and Americans ... 'they 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."