When a life-long leftist makes a speech in Washington and conservatives turn out to cheer she must not be talking about the beauties and benefits of the socialist state. And indeed she's not. The subject is the culture war and Oriana Fallaci is here to talk about hatred of the West and, more to her point, Western cowardice on the battlefield.
Fallaci, the celebrated Italian journalist, came to Washington under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute, and was introduced as a "passionate Florentine" with a keen eye for puffery and sham who "challenges the conceits and pretenses of the powerful from all over the world."
She lives in New York now and flaunts her love for America despite its faults, flaws and mistakes. She read from her new book, "The Rage and the Pride," with provocative asides that contemporary Islam is out to destroy the West as we know it and might succeed if we don't watch out. She catalogs Muslim countries and communities that bear us ill will like a witch screaming incantations to exorcise evil. She describes fundamentalist Islamic hate for the West as "a fire fed by the wind," whose followers separate like "protozoa into cells from two to infinity."
"The clash between us and them is not a military one," she says. "It's a cultural one, a religious one, and the worst is still to come."
She compares herself to the child in Grimm's fairy tale who observes that the emperor is naked even as his other subjects fancifully describe his finery. The naked here are the mullahs and fellow Islamist travelers who conduct their "reverse crusade" whose singular aim, as they candidly describe it, is to subjugate the West and recreate it in their Islamic image. She castigates European intellectuals who rationalize shallow Islamist arguments and ignore the deep hatred directed at the intellectual traditions of the West.
This Italian woman who was born a Catholic describes herself now as an atheist. She often sounds like a prophet just in from the Old Testament, raging against a menace with plans to replace bell towers with minarets. The only difference between "moderate Islam" and "radical Islam," she believes, is the length of the mullahs' beards.
You don't have to agree with everything she has to say (and I don't), but hers is a voice that is silenced at everyone's peril. In France, which has a large Muslim population and no guarantees of free speech as we know it, a Muslim human rights group demands banning her book and takes her to court for inciting hatred against Muslims. Critics want to censor her book in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. She frequently receives death threats.
The threats haven't dissuaded her. She once got so angry at Ayatollah Khomeini that she tore off her headscarf and threw it in his face. The greatest failing in America and the West today, she argues passionately, "is our lack of passion," that a culture cannot survive without passion when confronting those who use passion to destroy what we love.
Oriana Fallaci, now 72, suffers from cancer, but she has lost none of her zest with the language, which she aims at an enemy that "intellectually terrorizes" Western liberals into silence. The politically correct on college campuses and in the larger culture attempt to "blackmail" those who know better, but who quail from recognizing the hatred of much of the Muslim world for our concepts of beauty, freedom and equality, our progress in science and medicine, even as they take advantage of our accomplishments, our openness, our tolerance, and above all our naiveté.
In our licentiousness, leniency and liberality, we become blind and deaf to the enemy: "Freedom cannot exist without discipline, self discipline, and rights cannot exist without duties."
Because she hasn't spoken in public for a decade, she's been accused of hiding because of vanity against aging. She laughs about that. "My wrinkles are my medals," she says. "Aging is beautiful. It gives us freedom youth never does."
"We refuse to live in fear," she says, quoting President Bush. "That is a beautiful sentence. I love it. But it's inexact. People are afraid, afraid to speak the truth against the Mountain, the Islamic World, afraid to be called reactionary."
She warns that the West and above all the Americans shouldn't be lulled by successes in Afghanistan where women discard their burqas and men shave their chins because burqas can be taken out of the closet and beards grow back. The terrorist war is a jihad against America, as the mullahs preach relentlessly to their own, and "aims at the conquest of our souls and the disappearance of our freedom." Tough stuff.