TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Oriana Fallaci, 1929-2006

Much to the chagrin of those terrorists who were hoping to be the ones to shut her up, Oriana Fallaci passed away peacefully in her beloved Florence, surrounded by her sister, her nephews, and very few close friends—those, that is, who did not repudiate the Italian intellectual after her well-known and courageous stance vis-à-vis the Islamic war on the Western world. The room in the downtown clinic, where she spent her last few days, overlooked both the Florence synagogue and Brunelleschi’s dome, two of the most powerful symbols of that Judeo-Roman legacy at the heart of the Western culture that Fallaci so strenuously and tenaciously defended.

She loved Florence as much as she loved her adopted home, New York. There, she owned a town house on the Upper East Side where she had lived for many years. It was shortly after the 9/11 attack that, in her home in Manhattan, she wrote a powerful and hard-hitting editorial for Il Corriere della Sera. An outcry of civic courage as well as a rare example of journalism which tells it like it is, the article was a preview of what she was to discuss in her best selling book The Rage and The Pride, followed a few years later by The Force of Reason, and more recently by The Apocalypse.

The three books (respectively of 168, 290, and 314 pages, but The New Yorker terms them “short books”), written in Fallaci’s usually impetuous and stringent prose, establish a clearly drafted intellectual itinerary in which she is as critical of radical Islam as she is of “Eurabia,” today’s Europe which sells itself cheap, “like a prostitute,” to the many Islamic immigrants who are turning it into a “colony of Islam.” She wrote of burkas and mini-skirts, of an impossible integration between Western and Islamic cultures, of European politicians catering to the needs of the immigrants more than to those of European citizens, of a Catholic Church which stands too weak before the Muslim world.

Accused of racism, Fallaci might have used strong language but her bottom line stands true today as it did a few years ago: a constructive dialogue, let alone a true integration between the two cultures is so desirable as it is nonviable.

While politicians of the left, supposed theoreticians and journalists were busy ostracizing and taking all kinds of legal actions against Fallaci, facts have been speaking louder than words. Take, for example, a few of the events which marked this past, and very hot, European summer. British citizens of Islamic descent (and/or of recent conversion) were ready to blow up ten or so aircrafts full of fellow citizens, some of whom might have gone to school with them or might have been their work colleagues.

Or take that Pakistani father, a legal resident in the wealthy Italian North, who (at the same time as the Prodi government was actively discussing ways to “speed up the Muslim integration” via stream-lined and more timely procedures which would turn an immigrant into an Italian citizen more or less overnight) beheaded his own daughter and buried her in the backyard of their home with her head appropriately pointing towards the Mecca. She used to work in a local pizzeria, had an Italian boyfriend (when, in fact, her father had picked a Pakistani cousin of hers to be her husband) and, to make the matter worse, also smoked and liked to wear red lipstick. More than enough for her Muslim father and the other male members of her family who condemned her to an untimely death. The brutal assassination was not the ugly result of a moment of rage, not a case of “domestic violence,” it was the execution of a death sentence after a “fair family trial.”

Or take the recent case of that Italian Catholic nun, Suor Leonella, who had been volunteering for years in a children’s hospital in Somalia. She was brutally assassinated a few days ago and, not by chance, soon after Pope Ratzinger had the guts to deliver that lectio magistralis in Regensburg. In the meantime, the mayor of Colle Val d’Elsa (a small beautiful town sensuously sitting on the hills between Florence and Siena) has been busy supporting—since 1999—the construction in the middle of the Tuscan countryside of a mosque, a plan Fallaci, like many Colle citizens who are calling for a referendum on the topic, rightly abhorred.

Or take that page of an Italian national newspaper purchased, this past summer, by the UNICOII (an acronym which, badly translated, stands for the Union of the Italian Islamic Communities). They bought the page to run an ad which, literally and explicitly, equated today’s Israeli politics to the politics and practices of the Nazis. I do not recall reading about UNICOII’s formal apologies for this blasphemy.

In the face of these examples alone, it is hard not to agree with Fallaci when she writes that Europe will “end up with minarets in place of the bell-towers, with the burka in place of the mini-skirt.” It is also difficult not to agree that “the current invasion” is not carried out only by the “terrorists who blow up themselves along with skyscrapers or buses” but also by “the immigrants who settle in our home, and who, with no respect for our laws, impose their ideas, their customs, their God.” By the same token, she is unfortunately right when she asserts that “If you speak your mind on the Vatican, on the Catholic Church, on the Pope, on the Virgin Mary or Jesus or the saints, nobody touches your ‘right of thought and expression.’ But if you do the same with Islam, the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad, some son of Allah, you are called a xenophobic blasphemer who has committed an act of racial discrimination. If you kick the ass of a Chinese or an Eskimo or a Norwegian who has hissed at you an obscenity, nothing happens. On the contrary, you get a ‘Well done, good for you.’ But if under the same circumstances you kick the ass of an Algerian or a Moroccan or a Nigerian or a Sudanese, you get lynched.”

Dead or alive, Fallaci continues to be a highly controversial figure and, above all, a true Florentine. This latter trait of her personality (Florentines are witty, loud, theatrical, they like provocations, they like to entertain their guests at home, etc.) was the least understood by her detractors, like that New Yorker journalist who authored a long article on the Tuscan intellectual. In her highly critical piece, titled “The Agitator,” Margaret Talbot reported, among other things, on a lunch Fallaci had cooked for them both and wrote that she had never seen anybody “approach certain kitchen tasks with such ferocity. “I must CRUSH the potatoes [Fallaci] declared.” The New Yorker journalist, with the obvious intent to prove a point, which is utterly overstated in her article, namely that Fallaci was a violent and angry woman, capitalized the verb “crush.” For her peace of mind, Ms. Talbot should know that all Italians, and especially the Florentines, “crush” their potatoes while Americans are certainly free to continue to mash them. Here, indeed, might lie one of those insurmountable cultural differences, this time between Italian and American cuisine, of which Ms. Talbot is certainly not aware but that Fallaci has well known all along. Likewise, Talbot is also not aware of the fact that “good oil” or olio buono, to any Florentine means “olive oil” and that cooking the now rare-to-find chestnut flour (on which a lot of resistance leaders survived during the war), without olio buono (as Fallaci suggested when giving the flour as a gift to the journalist) is a sin as serious as those that the Muslims attribute to the Western world.

As a true Florentine, Fallaci now rests in peace, in the beautiful Cimitero degli Allori on the via Senese in Florence. There, she is surrounded by other great thinkers like the historian Giorgio Spini, the art lover and collector Lord Harold Acton, and Frederick Stibbert.

A copy of Il Corriere della Sera and the Fiorino d’Oro were buried with her. The Gold Florin is the highest honor that the city of Florence bestows upon its most accomplished citizens. The Florin resting with Fallaci, however, was not an official city recognition but a personal gift to her by one of her closest friends, film and opera director, Franco Zeffirelli. He gave her the florin (the one Florence had given him a few years ago) first as a tribute and then as a powerfully symbolic action against the center-left government of the city which has always denied Fallaci one. Similarly, the same city government has turned down a posthumous and official proposal to name a Florence street after Oriana Fallaci, on account of the fierce opposition it met by local communist groups. But this, too, makes Fallaci a true Florentine. Other very illustrious citizens of Florence shared her same destiny. The first who comes to mind is Dante Alighieri himself. He loved his city and the culture it nurtured, fought for it but had to live and die in exile without any recognition (if not at a much later date) by his fellow citizens. Today, Florentines and visitors alike can walk down a street named Dante Alighieri and can even visit a (phony) house of Dante. Only God knows how many years or centuries will have to go by before an Oriana Fallaci street will be on the map of Florence. For the time being, her legacy is firmly and clearly written on the confusing and ever-changing map of the contemporary world.

Comments are closed.