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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Thursday, November 21, 2002
Here's an interesting response to Fallaci from Amir Taheri in the Arab News. I think he distorts her views, and attributes to her some statements I don't think she actually made. But he does make some valid points, and given the broadness of some of her statements his characterizations are perhaps understandable. He also caricatures her and Rushdie as having gone from fashionable hatred of America to hatred of Islam. I can't speak to Rushdie, not having read much of his stuff. But I don't think Fallaci was ever anti-American. Was she a "leftist truth-seeker"? Certainly. Did she sympathize with the Viet Cong and criticize American actions in Vietnam and elsewhere? Absolutely. But she was never one of those leftists who define evil as "the U.S. and its interests" and good as "anything opposed to them." Even in the midst of the Vietnam conflict she was clearminded enough to realize that the regime in Hanoi was not good for children and other living things, and to say so even though it rendered her very unfashionable indeed.

After seeing that fawning Baba Wawa interview with Castro, it's quite a shock to read Fallaci's Interview With History. No issue skirting or word mincing here. Take her pissing match with William Colby, for example. This was right after it had come out that the CIA had given money to certain centrist politicians in Italy, and Fallaci goes after him with a machete for messing with her patria's political process. "Italy is not a banana republic!" "Who gave you the right?" Magnificent. (And then there's their little exchange over Allende, which deserves a post in itself, because it reads like a Platonic dialogue on "regime change.") What's amazing is that she was able to get so many people to agree to be interviewed by her even though they knew she would rake them over the coals. They must have viewed it as a challenge they couldn't back down from. Taheri notes that she wore hijab when she met with Khomeni, but neglects to mention that halfway through she ripped it off, saying she couldn't stand this "medieval rag" anymore.

Taheri's article was written before the Florence demonstration, but nor do I think Fallaci's view on the Social Forum crowd is really evidence that she's turned radically right in her old age. In 1968 she stood on the balcony in Mexico City with the student protestors who got mowed down by the army. She got mowed down with them, in fact. And that alone should show why she has such contempt for the bikini-and-bomb toting crowd. She knows what serious social movements look like; she knows what they risk. The people in Tiennanmen Square and the people who brought in the Velvet Revolution were seeking an end to real oppression and risking their lives. The rock throwing dipshits in Genoa knew they weren't about to be mowed down by anyone; they had to really work at it to scare a carabiniere into plugging even one of them. One whom they promptly beatified as a martyr to the violence inherent in the system. As a little girl Fallaci saw her father sentenced to death by the fascists; as an adult she interviewed South Vietnamese caught between the U.S. and the VC. Excuse her for not having time for people who think they're like, really oppressed by the existence of McDonald's.

More interesting to me is the evolution of her views on the Middle East. Here's how Sharon's ex-media adviser described Fallaci's tete a tete with him in 1982:
The interview, which lasted for several hours, was uninterrupted torture, since most of Fallaci's questions, in different forms and from different angles, seemed to me to be aimed at proving one thing only - that Arafat was right and Israel and Sharon were wrong in fighting him and expelling him from Beirut.
And maybe she did think Sharon was wrong to take that action at that time. Maybe she still does. Does that mean she thought Arafat was "right"? Not necessarily. If she ever did, it sounds like she was cured of it as soon as she had the pleasure of his acquaintance. But the point is that serious moral thought isn't about personal or tribal allegiances. A good person can do something unjust to a bad person, and deserve censure for it. You can recognize this, and still prefer the company of the good person and wish to see his views prevail. And you can be sympathetic to a people's plight and still reach the point where you say the tactics they have chosen cannot be condoned or rewarded.

With regard to the deserved censure of the good, a few weeks ago I went to see this flick, which I think should be required viewing for warbloggers. Not because it tells us anything one way or another about whether we should take out Saddam. But because it reminds us that there are reasons why people out there don't trust our good faith as much as we do, why they get worried when they hear talk of preventive strikes and regime change. Why it's not sufficient to dismiss their fears or suspicions as anti-American bias needing no response other than dismissive ridicule, the Sontag Award. We have done shady things. We have been complicit in actions as bad as those we condemn in Saddam. And whether it's fair or not to single out Kissinger and make him pay for those things I'm not sure. But pretending like they didn't happen or acting like we don't have to justify or answer for them really does provide people with legitimate reasons to fear and hate us.

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