Oriana Fallaci returns with a fury much like the ancient deity Diana that she evokes.
She is a goddess and a warrior… Her weapons are not the bow and arrow of mythology, but, instead, the very real pen and paper belonging to one of the 20th century's most important writers. And it is only pen and paper that this modern day Diana valiantly carries into each of her battles. She is Oriana Fallaci and with an explosively controversial book-length essay she has broken her more than decade long, self-imposed silence. She calls her latest composition La Rabbia e L'Orgoglio…The Rage and The Pride, and her extraordinary writing is filled with both the rage of a warrior and the pride of goddess. Fallaci once said: "I leave a piece of my soul on every page I write." When one reads any of her ten published books, this statement becomes immediately, powerfully and often harshly evident. But it is this new book, this screed, this warning to Western Civilization that has stunned people all over the world.
"There are moments in Life when keeping silent becomes a fault, and speaking
out an obligation, a civic duty, a moral challenge, a categorical imperative
from which we cannot escape."
Perhaps Italy’s most celebrated living writer (she refuses the word journalist), the enigmatic Fallaci lives much of the year in New York City. The city she calls "the capital of the west." It is rare that she ventures out of her apartment and into Manhattan, and rarely -if ever- does she respond to a knock on her door, and, rarer still -if possible- does she even answer her telephone. She no longer grants interviews -so as not to "mix (her voice) with the chorus of cicadas", the chirping insects she calls today's journalists and television pundits, who talk so much and say so little. And on the few occasions when she does allow an interview, those who seek her insightful views are often overwhelmed by the power of her knowledge, and those who dare challenge her are soon melted, reduced to puddles by her fire. Fallaci, lithe, graceful, and strong, evokes the goddess Diana. And this huntress is as elusive as the moon over which she presides. She is isolated, and happily so. But through the modern apocalypse, which has left an abyss in downtown New York City right out of Dante’s Inferno, doom and destiny have conspired to raise both the anger and the voice of the incomparable Oriana Fallaci. This sleeping literary giant was startled by the primal screams of that 11th day of September 2001, screams that echoed through the island of Manhattan and piercing the walls of her seclusion, destroyed the quietude of the silent world of Oriana. Those haunting screams shook Fallaci from her isolation and beckoned her to speak for the voiceless, for the fearful, and for the dead. Osama Bin-Laden's attack on 9-11 has prompted Oriana Fallaci to open up, and in doing so she has, once again, commanded our attention.
"In Life and in History there are moments when fear is not permitted. Moments when fear is immoral and uncivilized. And those who, out of weakness or stupidity
(or the habit of keeping one foot in two shoes) avoid the obligations imposed
by this war, are not only cowards they are masochists."
She speaks in exhortations and remonstrations; for there is no moral equivalence in the world of Fallaci, no psycho-social rationalization or revisionist history and certainly no politically correct verbiage. During a time when many are too paralyzed with shock or fear to offer their voices, Oriana Fallaci-as always- dares to speak the unspeakable. Which is to say that the Muslim world (at least a formidable portion of it) is, and has been for centuries, at odds with the West and Western ideals. Indeed Fallaci writes with a certain ferocity, and in The Rage and The Pride she directly addresses the fact that in the last century the growth of radical Islamic fundamentalism has now exploded like a virulent cancer (a disease Fallaci herself battles). A cancer, which threatens the entire world, including Muslims who do not accept the violent interpretations of the Koran, a religious cancer that mandates the murder or conversion of the so-called infidels. "These people feel they have the right to kill you, no, they feel that they are entitled to kill you, to murder you for your own good in the name of Allah…therefore dealing with them is impossible. Attempting a dialogue, unthinkable. Showing indulgence, suicidal. And he or she who believes the contrary is a fool."
Fallaci calls these radicals, who wish to destroy our freedom and indeed our civilization, Islamic fascists. Perhaps most striking, and compelling, about The Rage and The Pride is that Fallaci very plainly makes the point that Islamic fundamentalism is a credo of destruction not construction; that they have heretofore only destroyed and blown up monuments and buildings and people, and that this is a sign of great depravity and a deep-rooted sense of inferiority, not a high moral or religious standard, one in which many of the mullahs and imams and the bin-Ladens shroud themselves. Her contention is that their envy of our freedom, liberty and democracy runs so deep and is so pathological, that it erupts in acts of violence. Though Fallaci is careful to point out that, while the radicalized Muslim sect may in fact be growing farther apart from the majority of Islam today, their numbers are simply too great for the western world to continue to ignore.
When Fallaci concedes the important contributions of the Arab and Muslim worlds-- modern numerals, the poetry of Khaya'am and Averroe`, the al-Hambra, she quickly counters by referencing things such as: legalized slavery, the violation of basic human rights of women and others, the mass execution of homosexuals, stoning women to death, and the chopping off of the hands of thieves. When considering some of the barbaric, widespread practices found in the Muslim world, it is not surprising that Fallaci snaps: "Even accepting the positive contributions of Islam, when you bring me the image of the woman in a burkha, and the fact that she is valued less than a camel, it annihilates everything." Each of her words, pointed, sharply carved as if to take the shape of an arrowhead…and woe to those at whom she takes her aim.
Fallaci's venom is not directed towards all followers of the Islamic faith, and when she says 'Islam is in desperate need of a Savonarola, a Calvin or a Luther; reform is what is needed, for we simply no longer live in that world', she is addressing the simple truth that the progress of man cannot be stopped. But Fallaci is not an optimist. She believes that the ignorant are more motivated to do bad than good, and that the enlightened cannot conceive of the murder and terror that so readily comes to the unenlightened. Never comfortable with being too well liked, Fallaci has managed to alienate some of her supporters at various points in her long career. She has always had problems with power and its ability to corrupt and so this devout libertarian has shot her arrows at liberals and conservatives alike. It was her painfully personal Letter To A Child Never Born, published in the midst of the American feminist campaign to legalize abortion, which brought her fury and criticism from the left and feminists, both groups which, heretofore, were her champions. Whether bishops, rabbis or imams, Fallaci has always made clear that, religion, like politics, is a form of power, easily corrupted power, meant to control and manipulate people more often than lead them along a divine and beneficent path.
With the Italian and European publications of The Rage and The Pride debates exploded throughout every major city in Europe…televisions aired everything from political pundits furiously arguing to images of people in the streets coming to fisticuffs over Fallaci's recent manifesto. Like a decree issued via thunderbolt from Mount Olympus…the world listened and then soon reacted. The goddess of controversy had spoken and the jammed airwaves, the street riots, and the fatwas (Islamic death warrants) quickly followed. The clamor over another Fallaci book is nothing new, and Oriana would not have it any other way. But who is this warrior of words? And how did she come to be, yet again, at the center of a global cultural/political storm?
Fallaci, a child of war, was awarded the medal of courage by the Italian government at the age of 14 for fighting alongside with the partigiani in World War II in their valorous campaign against Hitler and Mussolini. She then went on to cover every major war and conflict from Vietnam to Mexico to Greece to the Middle East. She has lived in the midst of gunfire all her life, in countless places, and she has interviewed every major political and social figure of the last half of the 20th century. Fallaci says of herself, "I do not play the role of the courageous one. I am courageous. I always have been. In peace and in war…"
Oriana Fallaci was born in Florence, Italy on June 29, 1930 during the rise of Benito Mussolini, which was indeed a frenzied and fearful time. Italy's social and political state during Fallaci's formative years impacted greatly on her life and her writing. It is from these circumstances that she emerges as what many consider to be 'the greatest political interviewer of modern times.' Edoardo Fallaci, a liberal who had opposed Mussolini and the fascist credo, was a father that any girl would admire and Oriana was no exception. Signor Fallaci's opposition to fascism remained fervent and the young Oriana was profoundly impressed by his courage, his morality, his deep principles and his abiding love for Italy. At 10 the young Fallaci joined her father in the underground resistance movement and became a member of the Corps of Volunteers for Freedom to fight the Nazis. Her unique sense of self and poise combined with a fierce inner-strength and tenacity, helped to create a very brave young woman. During the Nazi occupation of Florence, Edoardo Fallaci was captured, taken prisoner and tortured before finally being released. Upon the ending of the war in Italy in 1945, Oriana (then 15) was honorably discharged from the army. The confluence of these remarkable life experiences was to be a major influence on Fallaci throughout her life and, indeed, her writing career.
By age 30 Fallaci had already made a name for herself as a serious combat journalist possessed with a warrior's courage and noted for her often-difficult personality. Her insightful interviews and enthralling reportage were in a league of their own, and she covered a variety of subjects: Hollywood and the European jet-set, writers Françoise Sagan, Gore Vidal, and Norman Mailer, filmmakers Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, actors Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren. World political leaders Henry Kissinger, General Giap, Golda Meir, Nguyen Cao Ky, the Shah of Iran, Walter Cronkite, Indira Gandhi, Nguyen Van Thieu, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as well as her notorious interviews with Yasser Arafat, Moh'mar Gaddafi and Ayatollah Khomeini. But it was Fallaci's reports from the frontlines of Vietnam, that quickly made her world famous and widely read, as did her feud with Jane Fonda. In 1968 she headed to the Olympics in Mexico City, where she found herself trapped in the horrific massacre of demonstrating workers and students, who were summarily slaughtered by the Mexican police. Fallaci was hit by at least three bullets during this siege; she survived and much like the immortal Diana, returned stronger still. The extraordinary trajectory of the writer was indeed set in motion by the extraordinary trajectory of her life. A life that echoes the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, a life few can begin to imagine.
Her intense affair with the Greek freedom fighter, Alekos Panagoulis, and the emotionally charged biographical novel, Un Uomo (A Man), which she wrote about and for him, brought Fallaci international recognition as a writer. In this harrowing and heart-breaking book Fallaci attempts to immortalize the martyred poet and Greek resistance leader. After Panagoulis bravely tried to assassinate the fascist, tyrannical Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos with a car bomb, he was captured and imprisoned for five years. Days after Panagoulis was released, he was interviewed by Fallaci, a meeting both seemed to believe was sheer fate, a veritable date with destiny. The two quickly became lovers and A Man recounts the heroic and tragic story of Panagoulis's fight for Greece's freedom--a fight he continued until his death. After a passionate, three-year, often tempestuous affair, Panagoulis (the great love of her life) was killed in 1976 in what seems to be a retaliatory assassination. Soon after his death she began to write A Man, her most famous book to date, a book as mourning, as dedication and as vindication.
Whether or not one agrees with the sweep and severity of Fallaci's writings, one thing is undeniable: This is a woman profoundly and passionately in love with the West in general, and Italy in particular. It is the very freedom that the West celebrates and has been constructing for over 2,500 years that Fallaci venerates and, in this grave time, wants to declare categorically superior. She concedes that Western Civilization has indeed borrowed from all civilizations (Islam included) and this is exactly why it is superior. Yet, it is this very openness and spirit that leaves us vulnerable to attacks of terrorism. But, she demands that "we must not apologize for our freedom and our advancement and our art and science, we must lead and show the others the way." In this sense she evokes one of her idols, the great Florentine Galileo, who despite being derided and persecuted, stayed true to himself. Fallaci's argument is compelling; with great freedom comes great responsibility, and there are many people on this planet, who, due to either poverty or hopelessness or stupidity (or all three), would prefer the life of a sheep to that of a shepherd. Fallaci warns is that the threat to freedom is real and these times require courage not fear. Strength not capitulation. Integrity not appeasement.
And if you think time has mellowed Oriana Fallaci, you could not be more wrong. She can still stun her readers, as when she says in her preface to The Rage and The Pride; "…And should the poor-little-things (the Islamic fascists) destroy one of the treasures of the West… the Statue of Liberty, Westminster Abbey, The Louvre, San Marco, Tower of Pisa, The Uffizi Gallery, The Pitti Palace, St, Peter's or the Colosseum; if they should destroy just one of these, only one, I swear: it is I who would become a holy-warrior. It is I who would become a murderer! So listen to me, you followers of a God who preaches an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I was born in war. I grew up in war. About war I know a lot and believe me, I have more balls than your kamikazes who find the courage to die only when dying means killing thousands of people…babies included. War you wanted, war you want? Good! As far as I am concerned war is and war will be. Until the last breath." These haunting exhortations are as startling as they are commanding.
Over the past 40 years Fallaci's words have never failed to provoke and mesmerize, and her various writings have managed to attack any and every social or political monolith, not only in Italy but indeed the world over. No corner of the globe is safe from her literary arrows. All of this makes Fallaci simultaneously loved and hated, depending on which side of the debate you may fall. But often enough a person will agree with one aspect of her incisive writing and disagree with another…as Fallaci wears controversy like a badge. The debate and exchange of ideas that her writing inspire, the expression it engenders, and the freedom of speech which it is predicated on, are all essential for any civilized society, and indeed for progress. Unfortunately, Oriana Fallaci's only reportage over the past seventeen years has been covering the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War; an assignment she blames for her cancer since she was reporting from the middle of the burning oil fields -which Saddham Hussein set afire- when she inhaled the thick, black, deadly smoke. At 72, the still vivacious Fallaci now spends her time working on her opus; a non-fiction novel, which she reticently concedes may be based on her own family's long and fascinating ancestry as well as the glorious, infinitely rich history of Tuscany. There is hope the book will be published sometime in 2004.
The intrepid Oriana Fallaci proves that, as Theodore Roethke wrote: "In a dark time the eye begins to see." This self-imposed exile, this deafening silence for eleven years, has perhaps made her latest book The Rage and the Pride more stunningly powerful. Fallaci's works must be read and taken seriously, not only because of her great mind, her unconventional intellect, and her incomparable talent as a writer, but because her astonishing and accomplished life demands that we do. One cannot dismiss her… attention must be paid. Fallaci gives us pause to ponder why the ancient Greeks and Romans would conceive of a goddess -not a god- as the deity of the hunt and ruler of the moon. Oriana, like the fierce and vigilant goddess Diana, offers us her luminous, revealing moonlight to guide us in this dark time.
-Franco D'Alessandro © 2003
Franco D'Alessandro was raised in both Italy and the United States and is a playwright living in New York. His latest play ROMAN NIGHTS (about the 25-year friendship between Anna Magnani and Tennessee Williams) premiered Off-Broadway in 2002 and will tour Europe in 2004 and 2005. His new play THE SHATTERING examines the dissolution of an immigrant family. He has previously written about Anna Magnani, Tennessee Williams, and Alfred Hitchcock for Progress International Magazine.