Thursday, March 16, 2006

Late Works

Oriana Fallaci has a new book out. It likely will be her last. As I look back on the history of the decades that we've lived through, I regret many passed chances to see certain people -- Pope John Paul II's visit to my backyard, for instance. And I regret not seeing Oriana Fallaci in action.

The book is also animated by a world-class journalist’s dismay that she could have missed the story of her lifetime for as long as she did. In the 1960s and ’70s, when she was a Vietnam War correspondent and a legendarily ferocious interviewer — going mano a mano with the likes of Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat, Fallaci was simply too preoccupied with the events of the moment to notice that an entirely different narrative was rapidly taking shape — namely, the transformation of the West. There were clues, certainly. As when, in 1972, she interviewed the Palestinian terrorist George Habash, who told her (while a bodyguard aimed a submachine gun at her head) that the Palestinian problem was about far more than Israel. The Arab goal, Habash declared, was to wage war “against Europe and America” and to ensure that henceforth “there would be no peace for the West.” The Arabs, he informed her, would “advance step by step. Millimeter by millimeter. Year after year. Decade after decade. Determined, stubborn, patient. This is our strategy. A strategy that we shall expand throughout the whole planet.”

From Brendan Bernhard's sympathetic review in LA Weekly, who adds his own perspective to the story:

In 1995, the late American novelist Paul Bowles, a longtime resident of Tangier, told me that he could not understand why the French had allowed millions of North African Muslims into their country. Bowles had chosen to live among Muslims for most of his life, yet he obviously considered it highly unlikely that so many of them could be successfully integrated into a modern, secular European state.

But he seems surprised by the 1974 quote from Algerian President Boumedienne, which is well known to many followes of the "Eurabia" story: "One day millions of men will leave the southern hemisphere of this planet to burst into the northern one. But not as friends. Because they will burst in to conquer, and they will conquer by populating it with their children. Victory will come to us from the wombs of our women.”

He finds her book "[c]onsiderably less intemperate" than "The Rage and the Pride," which was a direct and immediate reaction to 9/11. (But the New York Sun, where I expected a warm reception for Fallaci, thinks she's jumped the shark.)

Bernhard's conclusion is a keeper:

As that Norwegian Mullah told Aftenposten, “Our way of thinking … will prove more powerful than yours.” One hopes he’s wrong, but if he is, it will be ordinary Americans and Europeans, including courageous Arab-Americans like L.A. resident Wafa Sultan and the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali (two women openly challenging Islamist supremacism), who prove him so, and not our intellectual classes (artists, pundits, filmmakers, actors, writers …). Many of the latter, consumed by Bush-hatred and cultural self-loathing, are perilously close to becoming today’s equivalent of the great Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, who so hated the British Empire that he sided with the Nazis in World War II, to his everlasting shame. The Force of Reason, at the very least, is a welcome and necessary antidote to the prevailing intellectual atmosphere.