Maimonides, the great Rambam who wrote his Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith in Arabic, in Islamic Spain, while the “civilized” world lived its darkest ages, would not have had any freedom in the Catholic Kings’ Spain. He probably would have been the first to defend Islam, which many have reduced to being a castigator of “holy war,” an extremist religion which “locks up women,” and a fundamentalist ideology that “hates the West.” Its pillars and ideals have been completely distorted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and Oriana Fallaci is one more in a horde of Islam-bashers spreading deceit about what the Koran supposedly says.
Under the pretense of relating her reactions to Sept. 11, for which she blames not terrorists but Islam, Fallaci penned a preposterous diatribe in the Italian daily Corriere della Serra on Sept. 29, “La rabbia e l’orgoglio” (rage and pride) whose every sentence awoke my own rage and pride. Having often savored her discourse, I never imagined losing respect for a writer whose contributions to journalism are undeniable; surprisingly, she has decided to end her distinguished career with intolerance and deception.
Instant rebuttals from several writers were not comforting, for they unfortunately confined themselves to arguments about the invalid concept of the “superiority” of civilizations (such as Umberto Eco’s indirect but sensible riposte in La Repubblica) or about side issues (such as Juan Goytisolo’s vindication of Omar Khayyam’s Rubbayat in the Spanish paper El Pais). The defense of Islam itself shone by its absence, especially from the heirs of the great civilization which Fallaci considers so inferior.
Fallaci concluded her article by implying she would never speak again, telling her editor: “Ask nothing further of me.” Since then, however, she recently published an attack on “anti-Semitism” in the Italian magazine Panorama, in which she laments (among other anti-Palestinian statements) the fact that European youth “flaunt the keffiyeh” and compares it to Mussolini’s fascist badge, and now this sensationalist account of Islam that bears few truths and even fewer facts in a book that will be translated into several languages. As no one seems to object to her hypocrisy, muted exasperation is no longer an option.
Fallaci deliberately chose the most vindictive, vulgar and offensive terms to describe Islamic civilization and to make up outright lies about Islam and the Koran. That a writer of her caliber should show such gratuitous antagonism and exploitation of events to turn her tirade against Islam into a call to arms to her “superior” Western citizens is revolting.
It is not necessary to stoop to Fallaci’s level by denigrating writers like Dante Alighieri (whom she prefers to Khayyam), because like her, I know he is great. Unlike her, I know one can appreciate writers, artists, philosophers and scientists of different civilizations, and that cathedrals and mosques can each be beautiful in their own right.
Throughout her tirade, Fallaci refers to Muslims as “the sons of Allah,” resorting to the pathetic and worn ploy of implying that Muslims believe in some god named “Allah,” knowing well that it is simply the Arabic translation of God, used by all Arabs of all religions. In fact, she only uses the term Muslim to state that “some 24 million Americans are Arab-Muslims,” nearly quadrupling the estimated number of Arab-Americans and merging them with Muslim-Americans, between which she can’t seem to make a distinction.
It is difficult to decide whether it is her violent discrimination or her listing of “facts” from the Koran that is more astonishing. Repeatedly, she remarks on Islam’s “inferiority” by drawing “examples” from the Koran. In effect, Fallaci’s awe for Western civilization seems largely limited to the wearing of mini-skirts and drinking alcohol, for which she wrongly accuses the Koran of advocating the death penalty. Conveniently neglecting to provide references for this supposed punishment, Fallaci would be hard pressed to find anything in the Koran about this.
Odious to the end, Fallaci provokes readers into imagining what living under Islam would mean: “Instead of bells, we will find muezzins, instead of mini-skirts, the chador, instead of cognac, camel’s milk.” She warns Westerners: “You do not want to realize that we are facing a crusade in reverse,” stating along the way that “apart from Blair, I see few Richard the Lionhearts among European leaders,” surely meaning to compliment the British prime minister.
Fallaci’s ignorance climaxes when she refers to the Koran’s supposed treatment of women: “The principle that women count for less than camels, that they must not go to school, they can’t go to the doctor, they can’t have their pictures taken ï¿½ this is in the Koran.” Not only are these fabrications nowhere to be found in the Koran, but Fallaci’s intelligence must be questioned when she attributes the concept of photography to a scripture that was revealed 14 centuries ago. If by some miracle she can prove this, then the Koran is amazing indeed.
It should have been beneath someone of Fallaci’s stature to suddenly invent ludicrous stories, among which one relating to the chador which she once had to don to interview Ayatollah Khomeini. She recounts first having to remove her jeans (in a room accompanied by her interpreter) when a mullah supposedly threatened killing them both unless they got married! Not even finishing the story, because it simply could not have happened, Fallaci counts on readers’ unawareness that the chador is in fact a type of cover worn over clothes, not instead of them.
Not satisfied with these inventions, she blames women for restrictions imposed on them: “If in certain countries women are so stupid as to accept the chador or rather the veil ï¿½ too bad for them. If they are so stupid to accept not going to school, not going to the doctor, not getting photographed ï¿½ too bad for them.” By the same logic, she could have said: Too bad for the rape victim who is so stupid that she accepted getting raped. Too bad for poor people who are stupid enough to accept being poor. Too bad for Palestinians who are stupid enough to accept Israeli occupation.
Fallaci even denies the Islamic world recognition for its contributions to science and philosophy, first brought to European light by Adelard of Bath in the 12th century. “I am still alive, for now, thanks to our science, not to that of Mohammed,” she writes, although if anything could describe the essence of Islam, particularly in its golden era spanning eight centuries, it is precisely the search for knowledge.
She also forgets how Ibn Battuta’s travels, before her own Marco Polo or Ibn Khaldun’s “Muqaddima,” a century before Machiavelli’s The Prince, contributed to our understanding of the world. Were it not for the multitude of Muslim scholars who were able to think, write and research in all liberty, and even translate Greek texts, then medicine and philosophy would have taken much longer to develop her ancestors’ civilization.
Racist, bigoted, prejudiced are words which, for all their viciousness, seem too weak to describe Fallaci’s baseless attack on Islam. Islam is innocent of the crimes committed in its name, and it is innocent of the misrepresentations of ignorant people who cannot even be bothered to browse a copy of the Koran in any language. And Islam is certainly innocent of the offenses of which Fallaci accuses it.
Rime Allaf is a writer and specialist in Middle East affairs. She is also a consultant in international communications and new economy business.