Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist who late in life did a profound about-face – going from leftist supporter of revolutionary movements to resolute defender of the West and vocal opponent of Islamic fundamentalism – died last week in Florence.
The 77-year-old Fallaci had been battling cancer for years, but her illness had no discernable effect on her legendary combativeness – which after 9/11 was directed almost exclusively at what she described in vivid, often angry, prose as the threat posed by radical Islam to Western values and the suicidal indifference to that threat on the part of Western elites, particularly those in Europe.
Her book The Rage and the Pride, published in Italy just months after the 9/11 attacks and in the U.S. in September 2002, unabashedly celebrated the United States as a bastion of freedom even as it acknowledged the country’s “flaws and mistakes and faults.”
In her follow-up book, The Force of Reason, published in the U.S. earlier this year, she detailed the legal attacks (Muslim groups in France and Italy filed lawsuits against her and called for a ban of The Rage and the Pride) and the death threats that had come her way since she’d begun writing on Islam.
In The Force of Reason she stated that Islam “sows hatred in place of love and slavery in place of freedom” – a choice of words that reflected the tone of her writing in her final years and that led critics to slam her for what in their view amounted to a blanket condemnation of all Muslims.
Although Fallaci was for decades decidedly pro-Palestinian, she painted an unflattering picture of Yasir Arafat in the course of a 1972 interview she conducted with the PLO chairman. “He was short in height,” she wrote, “five feet three, I’d say. And even his hands were small, even his feet. Too small, you thought, to sustain his fat legs and his massive trunk, with its huge hips and swollen, obese stomach.”
When Arafat got angry, she added, “his soft voice becomes a loud one, his eyes become pools of hatred, and he looks as though he would like to tear you to pieces along with all his enemies.”
During that interview Fallaci also inadvertently exposed the then-still nascent myth of Palestinian nationhood.
Fallaci: But what does Palestine mean? ….The Turks were here, before the British Mandate and Israel. So what are the geographical borders of Palestine?
Arafat: ….From an Arab point of view, one doesn’t speak of borders; Palestine is a small dot in the great Arabic ocean. And our nation is the Arab one, it is a nation extending from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and beyond….
Later in the interview, when Fallaci again brought up the matter of borders, Arafat reiterated: “I repeat that borders have no importance. Arab unity is important, that’s all.”
In April 2002, Fallaci publicly repudiated her longtime (and largely uncritical and unquestioning) support for the Palestinian cause in a scorching essay on anti-Semitism. As Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Ruth Ellen Gruber described it, “Repeating over and over the assertion ‘I find it shameful,’ Fallaci unleashed a brutal indictment of Italy, Italians, the Catholic church, the left wing, the media, politically correct pacifists and Europeans in general for abandoning Israel and fomenting a new wave of anti-Semitism linked to the Mideast crisis.”
In Fallaci’s memorable words, she was “disgusted with the anti-Semitism of many Italians, of many Europeans” and “ashamed of this shame that dishonors my country and Europe.”
“I find it shameful,” she wrote, “and I see in all this the resurgence of a new fascism, a new Nazism.”
Acknowledging that in the past “I fought often, and bitterly, with the Israelis, and I defended the Palestinians a lot – maybe more than they deserved,” Fallaci was characteristically unambiguous about where she now stood:
“…I stand with Israel, I stand with the Jews,” she wrote. “I defend their right to exist, to defend themselves, and not to allow themselves to be exterminated a second time.”