ORIANA FALLACI--THE ENJOYMENT OF HATE
ORIANA FALLACI--THE ENJOYMENT OF HATE
ROME -- Italy's feisty queen of journalism, Oriana Fallaci, died of cancer in her native Florence at age 77 on Friday morning, September 15. Corriere della Sera's obituary, which runs Sunday morning, is not unusual in its oozing ecstatic phrases about her, with not a sobering doubt expressed. Seen from here, this is somewhat curious, for she was hardly without serious flaws. For example, a 2003 article in the center-left newspaper La Repubblica called her "ignorantissima," an "exhibitionist posing as the Joan of Arc of the West."
The author of thirteen widely translated books, in recent years she lived in Manhattan. "Florence and New York are my two countries," she said. But the world was almost too small for this aggressive interviewer. She was pretty and with enough potent sex appeal when younger to make her subjects--they included Henry Kissinger, U.S. astronauts, the Ayatollah Khomeini--relish the combat.
Born in Florence June 29, 1929, when she was ten years old her father, who liked to hunt, taught her to handle a gun. He was also an active anti-Fascist, later captured and tortured by Fascists, and encouraged his adolescent daughter to join the partisans' struggle in Tuscany against Nazi-Fascism during World War II. For this she received the gold medal of the Italian president in 2005. She something spoke in aphorisms, such as "Freedom is a duty before it is a right," and "Courage is made of fear." She occasionally deployed investigative talents -- for example, after the 1975 murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini, she wrote an influential and widely-reprinted exposÃ© (it appeared in the U..S. in The New Republic) of the killing as a political assassination committed by multiple persons, and showed how the supposed teenage "murderer" (who got a light sentence because he was underage) had complex family ties to a violent fascist group (last year, the "murderer" of Pasolini recanted his 30-year-old "confession" and said the assassination was, in reality, the work of a band of three other men.)
Fallaci also had a vivid imagination, which went beyond journalism to produce works like Oriana interviewing Oriana and a long letter to an unborn child. In 1979 she also wrote a novelistic tale, "A Man," of mega-devotion to her beloved Alexandros ("Alekos") Panagoulis.
The two met when she interviewed him as leader of the Greek resistance to the colonels. Panagoulis was already well known in European Socialist circles for his attempt to assassinate Greek dictator George Papadopoulos in 1968. As Panagoulis told Fallaci in her interview (reprinted in 1976 as Interview with History), "I am not capable of killing a man--I wanted to kill a tyrant." Amazon.com states, "from that interview was born a great love and an immense tragedy."
True only to a point, for it was neither a particularly great love, nor was the tragedy hers, except in the telling. Like many lovers, they did not always get on. One day in Oriana's apartment in Rome Panagulis was taking a shower when Oriana rushed in, with new clothing she had just purchased for him. She took the items into the bathroom to show him. Furious--he did not like the hint of being kept by her--he literally pelted her with the expensive new underwear. Fact was, back home in Greece Panagulis had a fiancÃ©e whom he was expecting to marry when he was killed in a suspicious auto accident in Greece. When he died, she wrote "A Man," and he was hers forever.
In recent years, Fallaci moved sharply to the right, and became an obsessive, xenophobic racist, producing three short, incendiary post-9/11 books -- two of them, "The Rage and the Pride" and "The Force of Reason," which she translated into idiosyncratic English by herself (in the past she'd had extremely mercurial relations with her translators) and a third, "The Apocalypse," published in Europe, that also included a lengthy self-interview. The books have been best-sellers in Italy; and together sold four million copies (a reflection of the rise in fear and hatred of dark-skinned immigrants on the peninsula.) Her books were so rabidly racist that even Christopher Hitchens (who constantly harps on the dangers of "Islamofascism") wrote (in The Atlantic) that The Rage and the Pride was "a sort of primer in how not to write about Islam."
Part of her fantasy world was her vulgarly describing, post 9/11, the Islamic world as composed of men putting their butts into the air five times a day, and rabbity women tossing off babies endlessly ("Muslims breed like rats.". "I don't want to see a minaret every few yards in Giotto's Pisa.") Fallaci also had little use for Mexican immigrants: "If you put a pistol against my head and ask which I think is worse, Muslims or Mexicans, I'd have to think a moment, then I'd say the Muslims because they've broken my balls." She snarled that the presence of Islamic butcher shops in Cavour has transformed the "exquisite city" into a "filthy kasbah." Her paranoid world-view led her to ask whether all Islamic immigrants to the West had their transport paid by "some Osama bin Laden for the mere purpose of establishing the Reverse Crusade's settlements and better organizing Islamic terrorism."
Not long ago, Fallaci had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI -- and, considering Ratzinger's comments on Islam last week that created such world-wide furor, they obviously had much in common to talk about. Fallaci's conservatism also included opposition to abortion -- unless she "were raped and made pregnant by a bin Laden or a Zarqawi."
A notorious homophobe who excoriated gay people as "devoured ... by the wrath of being half and half," she also opposed gay marriage by saying, "they'd like everybody to be like them." Sometimes she combined her homophobia and her Islamophobia ("In the same way that the Muslims would like us all to become Muslims, they [the 'gay lobby'] would like us all to become homosexuals"). In an interview with Robert Scheer for Playboy, she carried on about her distaste for gays: "I'm not crazy about them, the homosexuals. You see them here in New York, for instance, moving like this [makes a mincing gesture], exhibiting their homosexuality. It disturbs me. It's... I don't know... I just can't stand them." She then likens them to "the Mafia or the Communist Party."
Fallaci was paranoid about Jews -- for example, she said, "I am angry at the Jews for many things... If you want to take the example of America, how they hold the power, the economical power in so many ways, and the press and the other kind of stuff... I never realized how it happened and they came to control the media to that point. Why?" That rant of Fallaci's reeks of classic anti-Semitism. Fallaci's racist disdain for anything in the Third World in her later years led her to characterize the United Nations as "a Mafia of cheaters and the underdeveloped."
Shortly after La Fallaci's outburst against the Muslim world following 9/11 (in a long newspaper essay for Corriere della Sera that would later be expanded into The Rage and the Pride), the late, remarkable Italian author/philosopher Tiziano Terzani (right) wrote her an open letter of reproach which included these words:
"And you, Oriana, putting yourself at the head of this crusade against all that are not like you or whom you don't like, do you believe you can offer us some salvation Salvation does not come from your hot rage, nor from you calculated military campaign, which, to make it more acceptable, you call 'enduring freedom.'..."To defend ourselves, Oriana, there is no need to offend (I'm thinking of your spitting and kicking). To protect ourselves there is no need to kill, even though in this there can be just exceptions."
She relished violence in her own language. And yet, as a former RAI TV network chief, Lucia Annunziata, said this morning, Oriana did not like being considered a rightist spokesperson, racist or xenophobic, which of course she was. Many Italians loved her, as per this paragraph posted on line today in Italy by a 20-year-old Florentine woman (see: http://OthankyouorianaO.giovani.it)
"This is placed on the web in memory of a Great Writer. This time I beg you only to respect our pain, and those of millions of readers who loved this woman. At least today do not wound us with bad, polemical and defamatory messages."
Sorry, but the Great Writer was also a Great Ego, whose enjoyment of hating everybody, or almost everybody, who was not her was immense.
This is the latest in a series of Letters from Rome on the politics of Italy from DIRELAND's correspondent in Italy, Judy Harris -- a veteran expat journalist and former Italy staffer for the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine. DIRELAND (where this article appeared on Sept. 16, 2006) is the blog of Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic.