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October 26, 2002

The Rage and the Pride

Oriana Fallaci's new book is pro-American, belittles Eurpean contempt for America, and is anti-Muslim. So of course many want the book banned.
The Rage and the Pride
by Oriana Fallaci
Rizzoli, 168 pp., $14.95

ITALIAN JOURNALIST and professional provocateur Oriana Fallaci may once have embodied enlightened postwar Western Europe. But with the release of her new book, "The Rage and the Pride"--a biting polemic against anti-Americanism, political correctness, and Islam's "reverse crusade"--she has managed to become a pariah in European intellectual circles.

A self-declared "political refugee," Fallaci broke her ten-year refusal to comment on political issues after the terrorist atrocities committed by Islamic fundamentalists on September 11. Sick with cancer, the seventy-two-year-old Fallaci, who spends most of her time in New York City, let her fury erupt in an "anger that eliminates every detachment." Only days after the attacks, the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera published Fallaci's scathing essay entitled "La Rabbia e l'Orgoglio." The article was a sensation, igniting bitter controversy all over Europe. Soon after, the Italian publisher Rizzoli persuaded her to extend her essay into a small book, which has sold one million copies in Italy, and has now been translated into English by Fallaci herself.

Fallaci's antagonists have accused her of being a xenophobe and Islamophobe. In France, an anti-racist group has attempted to have her book banned. Two other groups demanded disclaimers that the book doesn't accurately portray Islam. The head of Editions Grasset, one of France's most prominent publishers, said: "It's a regressive book, which will be read by people with reptilian brains." Rana Kabbani wrote, "Fallaci's hatred and fear of Muslims is both visceral and hysterical."

Fallaci--an anti-Fascist resistance fighter as a teenager and a war correspondent for most of her career as a journalist--is unlikely to have been motivated by fear. "The Rage and the Pride" is unfocused, but it is not hysterical, and, though uncompromising, is certainly not visceral. "War you wanted, war you want?" she declares. "Good. As far as I am concerned, war is and war will be. Until the last breath."

Fallaci has always written with a self-regarding eye, seeing herself as a player, not bystander, of history--but the history she now takes up is Western civilization and Italy's sacred cultural heritage. "The Rage and the Pride" makes no pretense at constructing a disciplined case against Muslim fundamentalists or their European fellow travelers. Fallaci feigns no detachment or objectivity. The book is a spontaneous reaction to an almost inexpressible horror, and more important to Fallaci, a portent of horrors to come. It lectures and accuses and, despite some occasional drifting, is utterly convincing. "On every professional experience," Fallaci once said, "I leave shreds of my heart and soul; and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter concerned me personally and were one on which I ought to take a stand (in fact I always take one, based on a specific moral choice)."

The leftists attacking the book have this much excuse: Fallaci's didactic posture can make her infuriating. The idiosyncratic translation, the scatological cursing, and the self-righteousness all sporadically undermine "The Rage and the Pride." But none of it undermines the emotional effect. And as Fallaci explains in her preface, the book was not meant for us. "My country, my Italy, is not the Italy of today," she writes--"The pleasure-loving, vulgar Italy of people who think only about retiring before they are fifty, the evil, stupid and cowardly Italy of the little hyenas who would send their daughter to a brothel in Beirut just to shake hands with a Hollywood star, but when the kamikaze of bin Laden reduce thousands of New Yorkers to mush, laugh and say it serves America right."

In the end, the unsympathetic candor is what makes "The Rage and the Pride" so refreshing. Fallaci's heartfelt defense of American culture may find much antipathy in Europe, but here it will be warmly embraced. Ted Morgan once wrote in the Washington Post that Fallaci "wants to be more than a brilliant interviewer, she wants to be an avenging angel." Finally, she has her chance.