Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Tuesday, June 11, 2002
Mind you, I do not think Oriana is above criticism. But here is an excellent example by Rana Kabbani (from the Guardian, of course) of how not to criticize her constructively. Let's give it the ol' blog once over, shall we?
A controversy has convulsed Italy and France with the publication of a rabidly Islamophobic book, La rabbia e l'orgoglio, by leading Italian publisher Rizzoli and the mainstream French publisher Plon, which has just brought out a translation. Its author, Oriana Fallaci, made a name for herself in the 70s with her vicious interviews with heads of state. Veering violently from left to right, as many Europeans have in recent years, she now pens this diatribe against Muslims, perhaps to cash in on Europe's newest xenophobia: "They breed like rats, and they piss in baptismal fonts."
It's true, she did get Henry Kissinger to admit on tape that he saw himself as a cowboy figure. Ooh, how vicious! More importantly, to describe Fallaci as "veering violently from left to right" tells us precisely nothing about the content of her ideas and ignores the rather lengthy portion of her book addressed to this issue. To hear Fallaci tell it, she has always espoused precisely the same principles, called attention to the violation of those principles wherever she saw it, and been abused for doing so by whichever side of the political establishment she happened to be exposing at the time. In a recent interview in Panorama she talked about how she had been lionized by the "left" for her harsh scrutiny of America's actions in Vietnam, and then been abruptly villified by them when she went up to North Vietnam and denounced what she saw--go figure!--as a Stalinist dictatorship. (I'm currently reading her book on Vietnam, by the way: "Nothing and so be it." It is harrowing stuff, and ought not to be out of print in this country.)

Fallaci has always been a liberal in the true sense of the word: she stands for liberty. She's always had the clarity and guts to see and state that totalitarianism is what it is regardless of what ideals it pays lip service to. That this is now seen as placing her on the "right" rather than the "left" means not that she is veering but that those doing the labeling have become what they were supposed to hate. As for her diatribe against Muslims, it is true that her rhetoric and descriptions are often unsettlingly visceral. She is angry, the title of her book announces the fact, and when one is angry one says unkind things. But her anger is ultimately based on principles as well. She is a liberal, and Islamism undeniably wishes to destroy liberal civilization. She is an Italian and a lover of Italian culture, and the Somalians undeniably used the Baptistry as a urinal. Kabbani doesn't deny that anything Fallaci said here is true, but merely holds it up as self-evidently impermissible to say.

Had this book's victims been anyone other than Muslims, it would not have been published, and certainly not by any self-respecting house. But Muslims are fair game now and to defame them en masse has become not only respectable, but highly profitable. The defamer has nothing to fear, as there are no laws to check such vitriolic prejudice, nor do Muslims have the organised self-defence groups that Jews have formed so successfully to silence would be anti-semites.
I see. Only books that say mean things about Muslims are allowed to be published in France. They would never dare to publish, for example, something accusing a powerful white U.S. politician of conniving at the slaughter of thousands of his fellow citizens. And if defaming Muslims en masse is so respectable, why is Fallaci getting so much flack for it? Why isn't she basking in the warm adulation of her fellow intellectuals for doing her part to bag the fair game? How is it exactly that she's being sued over her book if there are no laws to check her vitriolic prejudice? As for organized self-defence groups to silence those who criticise Muslims, I admit I don't know much about the topic. I've heard there's a fella who does, though. Rushdie something.

One can dismiss Fallaci's rantings as those of an enraged has-been who, even in her heyday, communicated her ego in her writing. Like that other ageing beauty, Brigitte Bardot, now the sun-wizened pin-up of the south of France's National Front, Fallaci's hatred and fear of Muslims is both visceral and hysterical - no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she lives in New York and seems to have swallowed wholesale the US government's denomination of Arabs and Muslims as synonymous with "terrorists".
Yup, them docile New Yorkers. Swallowing up everything the U.S. government has to say with nary a belch. That the same U.S. government whose chief executive made a point of going to a mosque right after the bombing and has said umpteen times that we have nothing against Arabs or Muslims--huge numbers of whom are our fellow citizens--but only against idiots who think being a good Arab or a Muslim means trying to see how many people you can blow up? Did any French Muslim leaders visit French synagogues a while back to assure people that they didn't condone the new French sport of beating up Jewish soccer players? And the really funny thing, Kabbani, is that here you have it backwards when the truth might have served your intended rhetorical purpose better. Fallaci didn't swallow anything the goverment said. She cursed them out for incompetence and pooh poohed Bush's inclusive statements as nothing but a sop to get the American-Muslim community to turn in the terrorists in their midst. As for the personal barbs, whatever. Sure, she's got an ego. She's quite a character, and quite likes the character she is. For a has-been though, she sure has a lot of people interested in what she has to say.

In contrast to her anti-Muslim hysteria is her equally hysterical fervour for Jews, as though to damn the former were somehow to help the latter. It is interesting that in France, high-profile Jews like Bernard-Henri Levy have been among the few to send her packing. If I were Jewish, I would run screaming from such an exploitative and ultimately demeaning espousal of my people's suffering.

Fallaci's accolade of Ariel Sharon as a "Shakespearean figure" would have left the bard himself cursing in quatrains. Our great modern-day dramatists - Harold Pinter most notably, or Ronald Harwood, both Jewish - would cringe at such a comparison and at the sinister political sentiments lurking behind it. They would instantly see a betrayal of humanity in taking sides so cheaply.
She said he was "tragic and Shakespearean." And this is an accolade? Let's just take a gander at the list of tragic Shakespearean figures and see which ones we'd feel real special about being analogized to. Let's see...there's the guy who murdered his house guest because he couldn't stand up to his wife's career ambitions, the guy who managed to mope long enough to ensure that instead of the one person he wanted dead just about everyone in the neighborhood wound up on the rushes, the guy who manages to get himself manipulated into murdering a wife he loves and who isn't really cheating on him... Yeah, I'd really like to be a member of that club. Where do I sign up? I think what the Bard would be cursing at is the idea that anyone was dim enough to sit through his plays and think they were meant to be inspiring tales of self-improvement. As for what you'd do if you were Jewish, well, the ones who can really answer the question seem to have outvoted you by inundating Fallaci with love mail.

One cannot help but suspect that, having veered so violently from left to right, Fallaci must hate having once been in love with Alexander Panagoulis, the Greek "terrorist" who, in 1967, tried to blow up his country's dictator and was captured, imprisoned, tortured and finally freed in a general amnesty in 1973, only to be murdered by the colonels' henchmen. His life story (as recounted in Fallaci's novel, A Man, in which she glamorised herself as Bonnie to his revolutionary Clyde) is identical to that of thousands of Palestinians, whose attempts to liberate their country have now met with an outpouring of Fallaci's most virulent, pro-military bile.
Let's repeat that just once: "tried to blow up his country's dictator..." Not "tried to blow up thousands of people sitting at their office jobs." Not "tried to blow up people out buying a pizza." Not "exhorted children to strap bombs to themselves so they could die killing as many people as possible." Yup, Panagoulis is just like Arafat. The other point here, of course, is whether there is any valid analogy between the behavior of the military dictatorship in Greece and that of the democratic goverment in Israel. To justify violence one needs to say more than that one sees himself as "liberating his country." From what, exactly?

My intention, however, is not to attempt a deep psychoanalysis of Ms Fallaci, nor to give extra oxygen to a rant that would have embarrassed Benito Mussolini. It is to expose this drivel as an example of the now fashionable polemic - another weapon in the western arsenal, along with cluster bombs and missiles, with which to do battle against Muslims of every nationality and political belief.
I guess the now fashionable polemic is taking over for the now declassé tactic of insinuating but then refusing to substantiate the notion that your opponent has psychological flaws that render her opinions unworthy of serious examination.

White western Europe sees itself - wrongly, as research illustrates - as besieged by "hooded hordes" in the guise of thieving immigrants or asylum seekers. The recent, well-orchestrated campaign alerting opinion to the rise of anti-semitism in Europe camouflages the fact that Jews are not the foremost victims in the carnival of hatred. That dubious honour goes to Muslims, Europe's largest religious minority, numbering over 20 million.

They are the continent's poorest and most badly housed citizens. Their unemployment rate - double, often treble, the average - is the direct result of the increasing prejudice of employers, unchecked by any legal constraints. It is also the result of neglect, over a long period, by governments that did nothing to redress the festering sense of injustice among the young in Muslim ghettos.
Step right up, folks, to the carnival of hatred. See them fellers over there? Well, we hate em! Yes we do. And ya know what we're going to do about it, fer your thrills and entertainment? Hold onto yer seats, folks, this is gonna be good! We're gonna restrain our government from redressing their festering sense of injustice!! Whoa, nelly!

Many Muslims in Europe are poor, badly housed, and unemployed. As the most recent wave of immigrants invariably is. And as they invariably remain for a period inversely proportional to the extent to which their native culture inculcates values and skills that enable them to offer something of value to those around them. That degree from the madrassas just ain't gonna cut it on the job application. "Let's see now, Mr. Assad. I see that you excelled in denouncing the Great Satan and justifying the stultifying poverty of your home country by reference to the western imperialist exploiters. I have just the position for you." (There are, after all, only so many spots on the Guardian editorial staff available.)

I have a friend in Italy who works for a northern European company that makes cured meats, prosciutto and so forth. He's one of those guys who used to be a fashionably radical commie back in college, and even though he thinks ol' Berlusca might have a point now and again, on a gut level he still identifies with the other camp. He can't stand Fallaci; thinks she's insufferable. Died in the wool pacifist who thinks (unlike Fallaci) that the Muslims should be allowed to build mosques in Italy regardless of whether they allow Christian churches in their countries. He told me about the problems his firm has had in making efforts to hire these victims of the carnival of hatred, and believe me he's made a point of trying. He looked at me and sighed in resignation. Nine times out of ten, once hired these individuals simply seek to get away with not working. This is a factual observation, based on a cultural reality. It's not a question of race. There is a disconnect there between what makes a European society and economy work and what these people from a different world regard as the premises of social and professional interaction, what they regard as permissible, honorable, reasonable behavior. The other name for this phenomenon, of course, is "the increasing prejudice of employers, unchecked by any legal constraints." The problem in Europe is that the legal constraints work to make it almost impossible to fire someone once you've given him a job. This makes it even harder for those immigrants who would actually make good employees to be given a chance to prove it. But I doubt Kabbani will be calling anytime soon for these constraints to be loosened. After all, we wouldn't want to veer from left to right.

Though it is hardly ever reported in a media that has few Muslim writers, the vast majority of racially motivated maimings and killings across Europe over the past decade have been directed at Muslims - not at the asylum-seeking "aliens" shoved into insalubrious camps, but against second and third-generation Europeans such as my own children, whose continent this is, at least as surely as it is Oriana Fallaci's.
I'm not sure who exactly "shoved" the asylum seekers Fallaci has described into the Piazza del Duomo, but I'm sure she'd like to know so she can write him an angry letter. Please do tell. I don't doubt that there has been violence directed at Muslims in Europe. How this qualifies as "racially motivated" escapes me, but that's really beside the point since I don't think violence is any worse just because it is based on racial as opposed to any other kind of animosity. Nor, I think, does Fallaci, who I'm sure would be horrified at any violence committed against Kabbani's or any other children. I note that Kabbani refers to them as "second and third-generation Europeans." And here is the point where the discussion should really begin: How did that occur, exactly? What does it take to construct an identity that is European and liberal while at the same time being ethnically Muslim? Obviously, it can be done. Nowhere does Fallaci seem to acknowledge this, and that I think is where she is at fault. She seems unable to conjure the image of a Muslim-Italian family who goes to services at the local mosque and then goes into the centro to buy a gelato without ever having the faintest desire to blow up the Duomo or piss on the cathedral. No doubt her personal experience makes that image hard to picture. I'd have hoped that living here for so long would have made it easier. But that's the image the Europeans need to strive for. And even if she's unable to believe in that image, Fallaci has an undeniable point: you don't get there by conferring social welfare rights on huge influxes of illegal immigrants who exhibit no respect for or desire to become part of European culture. As a matter of fact, we know what you get when you do that. You get a festering sense of injustice and a cushy breeding ground for terrorists. And terrorists don't care whether your children are second or third generation European. They just want them dead.

Kabbani's reaction to Fallaci is understandable. She sees only a powerful writer whose rhetoric could easily lead to animosity toward her children, even though her children have nothing to do with the threats that exercise Fallaci's anger and pride. Fallaci needs to learn to make finer distinctions among the sons of Allah. And Kabbani needs to learn that being a European Muslim has to mean not only defending Muslims from being wronged by Europeans but defending Europe from being wronged by Muslims.

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