The fallacy of the Fallaci 'fatwa'

Posted: May 27, 2005 12:00 AM

So goes my prayerful response to news that Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci will be prosecuted on charges of "outrage to religion." Apparently, the outspoken Fallaci, now in her 70s, has offended some disciples of Islam with her book, "The Force of Reason," and, by Allah, they intend to see she pays for it.

At least they didn't shoot her.


You'll recall that last year in Holland, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was fatally shot and stabbed for work deemed unflattering to Islam. A fellow named Mohammed B. confessed to the murder. Recently, two more suspects, both Chechen citizens believed to be linked to a group of Islamic fundamentalists, were arrested in connection with the crime.

Both of these incidents followed another high-profile episode of perceived offense to Islam. In 2002, French author Michel Houellebecq faced trial for calling Islam "the dumbest religion," and for saying the Koran was so badly written it made him "fall to the ground in despair."

The courts acquitted him, but the trend is clear. Criticize Islam and face jail or justice at the hands of a true believer. Is it possible that radical Islam really does hate freedom?

Now, to Durham, N.C., where Wednesday night three crosses were burned in different places around town - in front of an Episcopal church, at a downtown intersection and on a dirt pile near a construction site.

Americans know what burning crosses represent beyond desecration of a religious symbol, and most are disgusted by the act. Most also figure the perps are the sort of folks who, if they bathed, would need a toilet brush and a silo of Lysol.

We might wish the world were rid of these creeps, but alas, life is imperfect and God apparently is still shuffling the deck of human DNA. I say "cut and deal," but then I'm a mere mortal.

Meanwhile, let's be abundantly clear: You can still burn a cross in this country (qualifiers to follow), or flush a Bible down the toilet, or insult Isaiah's writing, or burn a burqa in your front yard and live to see the morrow.

So far.

It is, in fact, illegal to burn a cross on someone else's private property without the owner's permission. (It's a misdemeanor in North Carolina.) But otherwise you can burn to your heart's content as long as you're making a general statement and not trying to intimidate anyone specifically, according to a 2003 Supreme Court decision.

We call that freedom of speech in America, though that freedom is under assault here, too, every time someone demands compensation for hurt feelings, or takes too literally an "offensive" cartoon and tries to get the artist fired, or resents criticism of some pet policy and insists on stifling the insult.

Our own laws against hate speech, though perhaps inspired by virtue, are nevertheless first steps toward the sort of tyranny that now threatens to bring down Fallaci.

And for what? Because some thin-skinned fanatics find her words too painful - or too truthful - to bear?

Fallaci fans know her to be a take-no-prisoners journalist who says what people are thinking but dare not utter aloud. I haven't read the book in question, but I have a copy of her previous book, "The Rage and the Pride," on my desk and it is no valentine to Islam.

Nor to others Fallaci finds ethically weak, in her words: "insects who, disguised as ideologists, journalists, writers, actors, commentators, psycho-analysts, priests, warbling crickets, putains a la page, (that is, polished sluts), only say what they are asked to say." Just to give you a taste.

She is equally blunt in her warnings that to the world's jihadists, "...the West is a world to conquer and subjugate to Islam."

You may agree or disagree. You may criticize her writing style or impugn a rhetorical approach that may result in few converts. But there's no defensible reason why she shouldn't be permitted her say.

The freedom to express oneself shouldn't need defending in this country, where we permit anti-abortionists to hoist bloody photos of dismembered fetuses and allow skinheads to proclaim, "God hates faggots." And, yes, troglodytes to burn crosses in the public square.

We don't have to like them, but to silence them is to invite silence to our own hearths. Better to see and hear hatred in the daylight than to let it fester in the dark. Thus, "outrage to religion" isn't a crime, but is a testament to our faith in freedom.

Let's keep it that way, and long live Oriana Fallaci.