Swans Commentary » swans.com September 25, 2006  



Oriana Fallaci


by Peter Byrne





(Swans - September 25, 2006)  Like the brilliant journalist she had been, Oriana Fallaci chose a newsworthy time to die. Her new friend, Pope Benedict XVI has just put his Prada-shod red foot in it. We may be looking at another Danish cartoon affair where irresponsible Westerners in positions of power frivolously provoke violence. At the same time an admirer of La Fallaci has just released an anti-Islam movie whose publicity screams of (some?) Italian Muslims, "They live like us, they talk like us, but they hate us."

In the middle distance, behind these flamboyant figures, lies an uneasy Italy. Like many European nations it has trouble assimilating immigrants, who nevertheless are an economic necessity because of a low birth rate. The national state of mind can be summed up as, "Our way of life is a treasure that outsiders are intent on rifling. Pull up the draw bridges quick."

Much has been made of Oriana Fallaci's beginnings in the Italian Resistance as a child. But unless we understand that her father's party, Giustizia e Libertà, was a non-Marxist anti-Fascist movement informed by vague Risorgimento values, we might wonder about her lifetime of seeming ideological incoherence. "A temperament of the left" has been attributed to her on the strength of her visceral distaste for authority and her distrust of people in power. That and her Tuscan bullheadedness served her well in the confrontational interviews that made her name. Too much has been written about her aggressive questioning, her flowing blond hair and striking cheekbones, and not enough about the weeks of intense work she put into the preparation of an interview.

In Vietnam, ("a useless war") Fallaci clashed with the North's Stalinist regime while showing sympathy for the Vietcong. Her close association with the activist Alexos Panagoulis, who heroically resisted the Greek Colonels, did not make her a socialist. Her disdain for the Italian Communist Party had much to do with its retroactive highjacking of the Resistance and the fact that the polarities of the cold war left no platform for her. Her best literary works belong to the 1970s' Letter to a Child Unborn and A Man. Her fiction was tumultuous and uneven, often only made valid by the strong voice -- once again -- of her temperament.

This same temperament that had informed her best work would be her undoing. She was silent for a decade from 1990, struggling with cancer. September 11, 2001 brought her to life again in her Manhattan residence, and she began her anti-Islam campaign. In a nutshell, this saw all Muslims as potential terrorists and their immigrants in Europe as invaders bent on establishing the dominance of their inferior civilization and barbaric religion. It was an attitude that attracted all sorts of questionable allies. Her books attacking Islam sold millions of copies in Italy and beyond. They expressed what many Europeans were ashamed to say aloud.

Fallaci met, somewhat secretly, with Pope Benedict XVI in the summer of 2005. She'd always called herself an atheist, but now claimed to be a Christian atheist. She blamed Pope John Paul II for seeking a dialogue with Islam. (She'd even taken George W. Bush to task for calling Islam a religion of peace.) The new Pope struck her as much more promising. He proved her right when on September 2 he addressed the bishops on the "confusion" resulting from the inter-religious meetings set in motion by John Paul II. On September 12 in Germany, he developed his thesis that the Christian God was reasonable (rejecting violence), unlike the Muslim God who was arbitrary (indifferent to violence). After the hostile reaction of Muslims to these speculations, Benedict was quickly excused in Italy as a bookish old man, lacking diplomacy, who had been misunderstood. On the contrary, his words in Germany, apart from being patronizing toward 1.3 billion Muslims, simply marked another step in the effort of the Church to keep Europe for its private domain. In fact, as John Hopper points out (London Observer, September 17, 2006) Benedict began dwelling on the links between Islam and violence well before he became Pope.

Theology, crude invective, and whim came together. Fallaci seemed most concerned in her last days not to have her view of Florence marred by a minaret, as if that were as good a reason as any to unleash the dogs of war. In sum, it was otherness that revolted her. She admitted to hating Mexican immigrants in America as much as Muslims in Europe. Homosexuals were another bugbear. So were Jews. More grotesque supporters joined her new crusade. On her death September 15, unconditional praise for Fallaci came from La Padania, the organ of the hate-mongers of the xenophobic Northern League. Their language -- just as hers in the end -- resembled nothing so much as that of the Fascist rabble-rousers the girl Oriana went to war against in the 1940s.

The film director Renzo Martinelli has now jumped on the bandwagon of the scare peddlers. Introducing his new film, Il Mercante di Pietre (The Stone Merchant), to the press in Rome (Repubblica, September 14) he went right to the point: "The terrorists are among us. I go everywhere armed." Then, detouring back to the year 1453, he said Constantinople had been lost because somebody left a gate open. "Just so has Europe left a door open through which Muslims now infiltrate." To this call to battle, Harvey Keitel, Martinelli's imported star, added a few confused and irrelevant words: He'd been a "hard and determined" Marine but turned against the war in Vietnam.

The only surprise in this action flick weighed down with propaganda will be to see Italy presented as a place where nothing happens but terrorism. In reality, unlike New York, Madrid, and London, Italian cities have known no serious incidents. Moreover, though Italy boasts fewer Muslim immigrants than other major European countries, in Martinelli's film they seem to outnumber the native population and are each and every one a terrorist.

The film starts with views of Rome: First of a mosque complete with wailing in Arabic and then of St. Peter's Basilica with the same music. Get that? Good. Then you are clever enough to take in this story of comic-strip characters, scary cuts, cheap melodrama, and big brutal camera sweeps. Just to keep folks awake, it starts with an Islamist terror attack in an airport lounge. The beautiful woman (Jane March) who was grabbed as hostage by a terrorist before he got shot in the head is the wife of an Italian amputee. He lost much of his body in the terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

Mr. Nice Guy, cut off at the thighs, has become an expert in Jihad studies, which he teaches at the University of Rome. But he takes time off to escort his beautiful wife to picturesque Cappadocia in Turkey. There, instead of merely recuperating from being taken hostage, she falls for a mysterious gem salesman, Harvey Keitel done up as an "homme fatal." The affair continues in Rome, offering noisy orgasms to alternate with threatening Arab song.

Our cuckold has taken in the situation and suspects Keitel not so much of sexual freebooting as of Islamist leanings. But no one will believe the Jihad expert, not the newspaper editor, nor the Italian Secret Service, and least of all his students and his wife. Do you see the point? No one believed Oriana Fallaci either when she insisted on closing the door so as not to lose Constantinople, whoops, the Western World. As for the wife, she definitely has a real case of the hots for Harvey and pursues him to Turin. There, after listening to a bogeyman imam preach (F. Murray Abraham has found his destiny), we learn that -- guess what -- a terrorist plot is brewing, this one between Calais and Dover where, surely a curiosity in those parts, more menacing Arab music can be heard.

Meanwhile, back at the abandoned husband's pad in Rome, he ponders videos: one of Muslims cutting off each other's limbs, another of that 1998 attack in Nairobi and, of course, some shots of the Twin Towers falling. He's interrupted by two Somali killers come to call. Evil for Martinelli is mainly Somali, maybe because their immigrant pool in Rome is large enough to furnish a variety of actors. But those Secret Service people weren't so stupid as they seemed and turn up just in time to shoot the culprits dead. Martinelli takes no prisoners.

The beautiful, sinning wife will have no such luck. She's been tricked into proceeding to Dover on her own with a radio active bomb, which duly sinks the ferry in the British port. Of the three plotters, Harvey goes soft in the end and regrets his deed. As a name actor still able to -- just barely -- convince in bed, the ex-hard Marine didn't want to go back to the States earmarked for only total-baddy roles or unemployment. There are no similar worries for the two (more) Somalis who shoot him. Their careers will consist of being real bad guys.

Oriana Fallaci, buried in Florence on the morning of September 17, did well to skip this moronic bombast that she had inspired. Will Pope Benedict see the movie and ponder its geopolitical implications? It surely raises the question of who does the more harm to Europe -- Somali street sweepers, or hysterical filmmakers?


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About the Author

Peter Byrne was born in Chicago, attended universities in Quebec and Paris, and lived for long periods, teaching and writing, in Montreal, London, Paris, Italy -- north and south -- Sofia, and Istanbul. He now lives in the Italian city of Lecce within sight of Albania on a very clear day.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/pbyrne16.html
Published September 25, 2006