In Other Words

The Fallacies of St. Fallaci

La Rabbia e L’Orgoglio (The Anger and the Pride) By Oriana Fallaci 163 pages, Milan: Rizzoli, 2001 (in Italian) Two weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created a stir by calling on Europe to band together against the enemies of Western civilization. Soon after, Italian journalist Oriana ...

La Rabbia e L’Orgoglio (The Anger and the Pride)
By Oriana Fallaci
163 pages, Milan: Rizzoli, 2001 (in Italian)

Two weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created a stir by calling on Europe to band together against the enemies of Western civilization. Soon after, Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci published an interminable article in Corriere della Sera, a respected Milanese newspaper. In it, Fallaci — who has been called Italy’s greatest female writer — went even further, lashing out against Islam. Understandably, reactions to the piece were strong. Italian daily newspapers published responses from cultural and political thinkers, for and against Fallaci’s thinking. In the Roman daily La Repubblica, leading Italian intellectual Umberto Eco wrote at length on the need for dialogue and tolerance among cultures. Eco failed to mention Fallaci by name, but his piece was clearly written in response to her damning critique.

Fallaci’s article and the buzz it created were a fitting prelude to her book, The Anger and the Pride. Released in December 2001, the book is an extended version of her earlier Corriere della Sera article. Fallaci’s book shot to the top of Italy’s bestseller lists, selling over 700,000 copies in two weeks, a remarkable feat in Italian publishing. The work is studiously packaged for mass consumption: The cover is red, the color of cardinals, and the lettering is gold. Inside the dust jacket is a photo of Fallaci sitting in a car, with the skyline of a U.S. city reflected in the car windows. Fallaci is wearing a hat and dark glasses and appears to be staring the reader down with severity and contempt.

The book’s style is no less petrifying than its cover. It hardly leaves the reader space to breathe. Fallaci’s prose is rhythmic, syncopated, and nagging. The Anger and the Pride is not the work of Fallaci the journalist, whose task it is to document and explain. Instead, it feels more like a sermon, echoing the invectives of Saint Bernardino of Siena, who was made the patron saint of advertisers by Pope Pius XII for his ability to use simple language to clearly convey the Catholic faith. Fallaci’s roots also extend deep into the lexicon of Tuscany, which still lies at the heart of spoken Italian. The tone helps sell the book and its message, but stylistic niceties are not enough to explain the book’s overall success, particularly given its violent outlash against Islamic culture.

Equally powerful, the book’s narrative themes may explain its success. As Fallaci mixes together personal and general experience, the reader is drawn to her life story, from youthful journalist to war reporter, novelist, and voluntary exile in New York, where she has lived for several years. The Anger and the Pride makes use of a string of rhetorical themes, all of which tap into the heroic literary tradition associated with the political narratives of the Risorgimento, the period of cultural and political nationalism that unified Italy. Several times, Fallaci cites Italy’s rise to nationhood during the 19th century, achieved in large part through the efforts of a handful of intellectual patriots. Fallaci declares that she, too, is a patriot. And while espousing the superiority of her own culture, Fallaci accuses Muslims of fanaticism and, above all, of despising women. She accuses Muslims of attempting to "annihilate our way of living and dying, our way of praying and not praying, our way of eating and drinking, and wearing clothes, and having fun, and finding things out."

The deepest instincts of this book lie in its nationalism, xenophobia, and chauvinism, all of which are major pieces of the political culture of the Italian middle and lower-middle classes, epitomized by the fascist regime of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. This enduring fascism — what Eco called Italy’s "eternal fascism"– is one of the clearest elements of Fallaci’s own cultural makeup and that of her book. But readers should be careful not to judge. Her fascism is not totalitarian in nature. On the contrary, the paradox of Fallaci’s writing is that her fascism presupposes an extreme cult of personal freedom. But regrettably, it is a personal freedom opposed to the freedom of others, including Muslims. For Fallaci, freedom does not mean tolerance of others but superiority of her own culture, religion, and traditions. Italy’s cultural identity, Fallaci writes, "cannot withstand a wave of immigrants made up of people who in one way or another wish to change our way of life… And even if there were a place for such things, I wouldn’t give it over. Because it would be like throwing out Dante, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Rafael, the Renaissance, the Risorgimento, the freedom we have won… [and] the democracy we have created."

This intolerance is far from surprising. Italians have a strong sense of patria (pride in their native land) that sometimes extends no further than the borders of their own villages — Italy’s thousand piccole patrie (small native lands) are the legacy of the communes and city-states of the 14th to 16th centuries. Fallaci’s polemic is an expression of this connection to place. Despite her years in New York, she feels compelled to write in the name of Florence, her never-forgotten homeland. Fallaci’s fascism is a common cult of local identity, which many Italians now consider to be set against the forces of globalization. And for millions of her fellow Italians, more or less consciously, Fallaci’s fascism is a shared value.

There is nothing inherently wrong with cultivating the values of one’s own homeland, unless, as Fallaci does, values are set against the identities of others. In Fallaci’s case, the others are Arab and Muslim immigrants, who increasingly set up residence in those cherished, ancient Italian cities. These immigrants were once welcomed, even with a certain curiosity. But now they are frequently seen as an unwanted presence. Roughly 1 million Muslims live in Italy today. In 2000, 36.5 percent of Italy’s total immigrants, some 500,000 people, came from Islamic countries.

Fallaci’s book aims at the left and right, from the Communists to right-wing populist Silvio Berlusconi. Fallaci damns them all with fiery prose, just as a previous generation of journalists did with Benito Mussolini. Fallaci accuses Berlusconi of a lack of good taste, of having defended Western culture only to withdraw his defense. Fallaci’s relentless, fascist prose finds ready ears among Italians, particularly among a bourgeoisie that feels ennobled by the intensely heroic feel to her words. This constituency accounts for her book’s stunning success. Fallaci’s simplistic approach can be summed up in the vivid, neat formula she uses to describe herself: "I am an Italian."And so is her readership.

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