The Rage and The Pride hit Italy with a maelstrom of emotion. It was a body blow to the country’s cravenness. Italy of course split. But it was also abruptly enfolded in an astonishing act of love that in a sense rendered it more united and more aware of its identity. Oriana went straight for the heart, forcing even those who agreed with none of her thoughts to think. Even those who, wrongly, considered her slightly racist.*
by Oriana Fallaci
You ask me to speak this time. You ask me-this time at least-to break the silence that for years I have imposed upon myself in order that my voice not get mixed up with the sound of the cicadas. And I will break that silence-because I have learned that even in Italy some have rejoiced as the Palestinians in Gaza did the other night on TV. “Victory! Victory!” Men, women, and children. I assume that those who do such a thing can be defined as men, women, and children. I have learned that some high grade cicadas, politicians or so-called politicians, intellectuals or so-called intellectuals, and others who don’t deserve to be called citizens, have behaved in the same way. “Good!” they say, “The Americans deserve it!” And I’m very, very, very angry. I’m angry with a cool, lucid, rational anger, an anger that wipes out any detachment, any indulgence, that commands me to answer, and finally to spit on them. And I do spit on them. The African- American poet Maya Angelou, herself as angry as I am, yesterday roared: “Be angry! It’s good to be angry, it’s healthy!” But whether or not it’s healthy for me I don’t know. However I do know it’s not healthy for them-I mean whoever admires the Usama bin Ladens, whoever expresses understanding, sympathy, or solidarity toward them. You’ve fired a detonator that has too long wanted to explode, with your request. You’ll see. You’ve also asked me to explain how I myself experienced this apocalypse. In sum, to furnish my own testimony. And so I shall begin with that. I was at home-my house is in the center of Manhattan, and at exactly nine o’clock I had the sensation of a danger that probably would not touch me, but that certainly concerned me. The sensation one feels in war-or rather in combat-which each pore of your skin feels the bullet or the rocket coming in at you, and you prick up your ears and shout to whoever is standing beside you “Down! Get down!” I rejected it. I was certainly not in Vietnam. I was not in one of those fucking wars that have made a torment of my life ever since the Second World War. I was in New York, for God’s sake, on a beautiful September morning in the year 2001. But the inexplicable feeling continued to possess me. Then I did something that in the morning I never do. I turned on the television. Actually, the audio wasn’t working. But the screen was. And on each channel-here you have almost a hundred of them-you saw one tower of the World Trade Center burning like a gigantic matchstick. A short circuit? A little, careless plane? Or an act of terrorism? I stared almost paralyzed and while I was staring, while I was posing those three questions to myself, a plane appeared on the screen. It was big and white. A commercial airliner. It was flying very low. And, flying very low, it turned toward the second tower as a bomber aims at its target-throws itself at its target. And I understood. I understood also because at that moment the audio came back, transmitting a chorus of wild shouts. Repeated, wild shouts. “God, oh God! Oh, God! God! God! Goooooood!” And the plane slipped into the second tower as a knife slips into a slab of butter.
It was now a quarter past nine. Don’t ask me what I felt during those fifteen minutes. I don’t know; I don’t remember. I was a piece of ice. Even my brain was ice. I can’t remember if I saw certain things on the first tower or on the second. The people who in order not to die by being burned alive threw themselves out of the windows of the eightieth or ninetieth floors, for example. They broke the glass in the windows; climbed over it; threw themselves out the same way you throw yourself from a plane when you have a parachute on, and they came down so slowly, waving their arms and legs, swimming in the air. Yes, they seemed to be swimming in the air-and never arriving. Towards the thirtieth floor, however, they speeded up. They began to gesticulate desperately, regretful, I think, almost as if they were yelling “Help…help!”. And I guess maybe they really did yell. Finally they fell like stones and, pow! You know, I was sure I had seen everything in war. I’ve felt that I’ve been made immune to war, and in substance I am. Nothing surprises me. Not even when I’m angry, not even when I feel contempt. But In war I always saw people die from being killed. I never saw people die by killing themselves, that is, by throwing themselves from the windows of the eightieth or ninetieth or hundredth floors. Moreover in war I always saw something bursting. Exploding fanwise. I always heard a great noise. Those two Towers, on the other hand didn’t explode. The first one imploded, it swallowed itself. The second one fused, it blew itself apart. It fused because of heat, like a slab of butter on the fire. And it all happened, or so it seemed to me, in a tomblike silence. Is this possible? Was there really that silence, or was it inside me? I also have to tell you that in wars I always saw a limited number of deaths. With every combat, two or three hundred dead. At most four hundred. At Dak To, in Vietnam, for example. And when the combat ended and the Americans set about gathering them up, counting them, I couldn’t believe my eyes. At the slaughter of Mexico City, in which I too took on my fair share of bullets, they collected at least eight hundred dead. And when, thinking me dead, they hurled me into the morgue, it seemed almost a flood of cadavers that I suddenly found all around me. Well, almost fifty thousand people worked in the Twin Towers. And very few of them escaped in time. The elevators didn’t work any more, obviously, and to come down on foot from the top floors took an eternity. If the flames permitted. We’ll never know the number of dead. (Forty thousand, forty-five thousand?) The Americans will never say this. So as not to underline the intensity of this apocalypse. So as not to give satisfaction to Usama Bin Laden and not to encourage other apocalypses. And then, the two abysses that absorbed the tens of thousands of creatures are too deep. At most the workmen will disinter little pieces of scattered limbs. A nose here, a finger there. Or a kind of mud that seems to be coffee grounds but instead is organic matter. The remains of bodies that in a flash were pulverized. Yesterday Mayor Giuliani sent another ten thousand body bags. But they have remained unused.
What do I feel for the kamikazes who died with them? No respect. No pity. No, not even pity-I who in all circumstances have always ended by giving in to pity. I’ve always disliked Kamikazes, that is to say people who commit suicide by killing other people, beginning from the Japanese in World War Two. I never considered them Pietro Micca, who set fire to the ashes and burned with the city, Turin, to block the arrival of enemy troops. I never considered them soldiers. And far less do I consider them martyrs or heroes, as Mr. Arafat, screeching and spitting saliva at on me, defined them in 1972. (That is, when I interviewed him in Amman, the place where his officers also trained the Baader-Meinhof terrorists). I consider them showoffs and nothing more. They are showoffs who instead of seeking glory in the movies or politics or sports seek it in their own death and the deaths of others. And, in the case of those who pray to Allah, a place in the Paradise of which the Koran speaks: the paradise in which heroes fuck the Uri. I bet they are showoffs physically too. I have in front of me the photo of the two kamikazes of whom I speak in my Insha’allah, the novel that begins with the destruction of the American base (over four hundred dead) and the French one (over three hundred fifty dead) in Beirut. They had it shot before going to die, that photograph, and before going to die they went to the barbershop. Look what a pretty haircut. What pomaded moustaches, what beautiful beards, what fetching side-whiskers.
Ah, who knows how Mr. Arafat would sizzle with rage, listening to me! There’s bad blood between us, you know. He never forgave me either the powerful differences of opinion we had during that interview nor the judgment of him I expressed in my book Interview with History. As for me, I never forgave him for anything. Including the fact that one Italian journalist who’d been so unwise as to present himself as my “friend” got a revolver pointed at his heart. Consequently, we don’t frequent each other’s company any more. Too bad. Because if I met him again, or rather if I were to grant him an audience, I’d shout in his face who the martyrs and the heroes are. I’d shout: Distinguished Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the passengers of those four airplanes taken over and transformed into human bombs. Among them the four-year-old child who disintegrated in the second Tower. Distinguished Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the clerks working in the Towers and in the Pentagon. Distinguished Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the employees who worked in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Distinguished Mr. Arafat, the martyrs are the firemen who died trying to save them. And do you know who the heroes are? They’re the passengers of the flight that was to have been thrown into the White House and instead burst into a wood in Pennsylvania because they rebelled! They indeed deserve Paradise, distinguished Mr. Arafat. The trouble is that you are a Chief of State ad perpetuum. You play the monarch, you visit the Pope, you say you don’t like terrorism, you send condolences to Bush, and with your chameleon-like capacity for lying, you’d be able to answer that I’m right. But let’s change the subject. I’m very ill, you know, and talking to Arafat gives me a fever.
I prefer to speak of the invulnerability that so many, in Europe, attribute to America. Invulnerability? What kind of invulnerability?!? The more a society is a democratic and open one, the more it is exposed to terrorism. The more a country is free and not governed by a police regime, the more it undergoes or risks the hijackings or massacres that happened for so many years in Italy and Germany and in other parts of Europe-and that, grown gigantic, are happening now in America. It’s not by chance that the non-democratic Countries, governed by police regimes, have always hosted and financed, and are assisting terrorists. The Soviet Union, the Soviet Union’s satellite nations, and the People’s Republic of China, for instance. Khaddafi’s Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria; Arafat’s Lebanon; the same Egypt, the same Saudi Arabia of which Usama Bin Laden is a subject; Pakistan; of course Afghanistan and all the Islamic regions of Africa. In the airports and on the airplanes of these countries I have always felt safe. The only thing I feared was being arrested because I wrote bad things about terrorists. In European airports and on European planes, on the other hand, I have always felt a bit nervous. In American airports and on American planes I’m very nervous. And in New York I’m extremely nervous. (Not in Washington, I have to say. I really didn’t expect a plane to hit the Pentagon.) In my judgment, then, it was never a question of “if;” it was always a question of “when.” Why do you think that on Tuesday morning my subconscious felt that worry, that sensation of danger? Why do you think that, contrary to my usual custom, I switched on the TV? Why do you think that one of the three questions that I asked myself while the first tower burned and the audio wasn’t working was about a plot? And why do you think I got it as soon as the second plane appeared? Since America is the strongest country in the world, the richest, the most powerful, the most modern, we were almost all trapped by that snare. Americans too, at times. But America’s vulnerability comes precisely from its strength, its wealth, its power, its modernity–the old story of the dog that eats its own tail.
This grows out of the country’s multi-ethnic nature too, out of its liberalism, its respect for its citizens and its guests. An example: about twenty-four million Americans are Arab-Moslems: And when a Mustafa or a Muhammad comes, let’s say, from Afghanistan to visit his uncle, nobody forbids him from attending flight training school to learn how to fly a 757. Nobody forbids him from enrolling at a university (something that I hope will change) to study chemistry or biology-the two sciences you need to begin a bacteriological war–not even if the government fears that this son of Allah might hijack a 757 or throw a vial full of bacteria into the water supply, bringing on a massacre. (I say “if,” because this time the government didn’t know a damned thing, and the CIA’s and the FBI’s foul-ups were infinite. If I were President of the United States I would kick them all out for their foolishness.) So let’s come back to the original point. What are the symbols of the strength, wealth, power and modernity of America? Certainly not jazz and rock and roll, chewing hum and hamburgers, Broadway and Hollywood. They are its skyscrapers, its Pentagon. It’s science, its technology. Those impressive skyscrapers, so high, so beautiful that when you look up a them you almost forget the Pyramids and the divine palaces of our past. Those gigantic, exaggerated airplanes, that now are used as once sailing vessels and trucks were used, because now everything moves with airplanes. Everything. The mail, fresh fish, we ourselves (And don’t forget that it’s they who invented air war. Or at least developed it to the point of hysteria). That terrifying Pentagon, that fortress that is frightening just to look at. That omnipresent, omnipotent science. That chilling technology that in a few short years has transformed our daily existence, our age-old ways of communicating, eating, living. And where did the Reverend Usama bin Laden hit them? On the skyscrapers, on the Pentagon. How? With airplanes, with science, with technology. By the way: know what impressed me most about this sad multimillionaire, this failed playboy who instead of flirting with blond princesses and acting crazy in nightclubs (as he did in Beirut when he was twenty) now amuses himself by killing people in the name of Muhammad and Allah? The fact that even his immense wealth derives from the earnings of a corporation specialized in demolition, that he himself is a demolition expert. Demolition is an American specialty.
When we met I saw how astonished you were by the heroic efficiency and admirable unity with which Americans had confronted this apocalypse. Oh, yes. America has many things to teach us; notwithstanding its shortcomings which they and I myself throw in its face. (But those of Europe and in particular of Italy are still more serious.) Concerning heroic efficiency let me say a paean of praise for the Mayor of New York: that Rudolph Giuliani whom we Italians should bow down to thank on bended knee. Because he has an Italian surname and is of Italian origin, he does us honor throughout the world. Rudolph Giuliani is a great, indeed the greatest of mayors. I’m telling you this as one who’s never happy with anything or anyone, starting with myself. He’s a mayor worthy of another very great mayor with an Italian surname, Fiorello La Guardia, and so many of our mayors should go to school to him. They should go with bowed heads, better yet with ash on their heads, and ask him, “Mister Giuliani, please tell us how it’s done?” He doesn’t delegate his duties to the others, no. He doesn’t lose his time with plugs and greed. He doesn’t combine his mayoral position with a ministry or legislative duties. (Is there no one listening to me in Stendhal’s three towns-in Naples, Florence or Rome?). Having run immediately, and immediately entered the second skyscraper, he risked being turned into ash with the others. He was saved by a hair and by chance. And in the course of four days he got the city back on its feet. A city that has nine and a half million inhabitants, please note, two million in Manhattan alone. I don’t know how he succeeded in doing it. He is as ill as I am, poor man. Cancer that comes and comes again, also took him. Like me, he pretends to be healthy, goes on working anyway. But damn it, I work at a table, remaining seated. He, on the other hand…. He seemed like a general who personally takes part in the battle. A soldier who throws himself into the attack with his bayonet. “Come on people, come on! Let’s roll up our shirt sleeves, fast!” He could do it because those people were, are, as he is. People without ostentation or laziness, my father would have said, and with balls. As for the admirable capacity to unite, the almost warlike compact with which Americans respond to horrors and to an enemy, well, I have to admit that there and then it astonished even me. Yes, I knew that it burst forth at the time of Pearl Harbor, when people rallied round Roosevelt and Roosevelt went to war against Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and Hirohito’s Japan. I got a sense of it after Kennedy’s assassination, it’s true. But this was followed by the war in Vietnam, the terrible division caused by that war, and in a certain sense that had reminded me of their Civil War a century and a half ago. So when I saw white people and black people weeping and embracing -I said embracing-when I saw democrats and republicans embracing as they sang “God Save America,” when I saw all differences canceled, I was struck dumb. It was the same when I heard Bill Clinton (a person toward whom I’ve never nurtured tender feelings) declare “Let’s draw close to Bush, let’s have faith in our President.” It was the same when his wife Hillary, now the Senator from New York, repeated the same words. It was the same when they were repeated by Lieberman, the ex-candidate for the vice Presidency. (Only the defeated Al Gore kept a squalid silence.) It was the same when the Congress voted unanimously to accept war, to punish those responsible. Ah, if Italy might learn this lesson! It’s such a divided country, my Italy! So fractious, so poisoned by its tribal meanness! They hate themselves within parties too, in Italy. They can’t even stay together when they bear the same emblem, the same symbol, for God’s sake. They are jealous, bilious, vain, and petty. They think of nothing but their own interests, their little careers, their small glory, their own suburban popularity. For their own personal interests they are spiteful, they betray one another, they accuse, they disgrace themselves… I’m absolutely sure that if Usama Bin Laden blew up Giotto’s Tower or the Tower of Pisa the government would blame the opposition party. The government bosses and the opposition bosses would blame their own companions and comrades. And having said that let me explain what the American capacity to stand united is born of.
It is born of their patriotism. I don’t know if in Italy you saw and understood what happened in New York when Bush went to thank the working men (and the working women) who, digging in the rubble of the two towers, tried to save some survivors but brought out only a few noses and a few fingers. Without surrendering, all the same. Without resignation, for it you ask them how they are doing they answer: “I can allow myself to be exhausted, not to be defeated.” All of them. The young ones, the very youngest, the old, the middle aged. White, black, yellow, brown, violet… Did you see them or didn’t you? While Bush was thanking them they did nothing but wave little American flags, they raised their closed fists, and they roared: “U.S.A! U.S.A.! U.S.A! In a totalitarian State I would have thought: “Wow, look how well the rulers have organized this!” Not in America. In America you don’t organize these things. You don’t manage them, you don’t command them. Especially in a disenchanted metropolis like New York, with workers like the workers of New York. They’re characters, the workers of New York, freer than the wind. They don’t even obey their own unions. But if you touch the flag, if you touch the Patria… In English the word Patria doesn’t exist. To say Patria you have to put together two words. “Father land.” “Mother land.” “Native land.” Or you have to say simply “My Country.” But there is the noun, “patriotic.” And apart from France, I probably couldn’t imagine a country more patriotic than America. Ah! I was very moved to see those workmen clasping their fists and waving their flags and roaring “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” without anybody ordering them to do it. And I felt a kind of humiliation. Because Italian workmen waving the tricolor and roaring “Italy, Italy” is something I can’t imagine. In funeral processions and political meetings I’ve seen them wave so many red flags. Rivers, lakes of red flags. But I always saw precious few waving tricolors. Really not a one. Badly guided or tyrannized by an arrogant left wing devoted to the Soviet Union, they always left tricolors to their adversaries. And it wasn’t that their adversaries put them to good use, I wouldn’t say. They didn’t waste them, thank God. And those who go to mass, ditto. As for that boor with his green shirt and tie, he doesn’t even know what the colors of the tricolor are. I-am-Lombard, I-am-Lombard-He’d like to take us back to the wars between Florence and Siena. Result: today the Italian flag is something you only see at the Olympics if by chance you win a medal. Or worse: you see it only in stadiums when there is an international soccer match. It’s the only time, moreover, when you may be able to hear the shout, “Italy, Italy.”
Oh, there’s great difference between a country where the flag is waved by hooligans in stadiums and that’s all, and a country where the flag is waved by an entire people. By, for instance, the unregimented workmen who dig in ruins to pull out a few ears or noses of those creatures slaughtered by the sons of Allah. Or to gather up those coffee grounds.
The fact is that America is a special country, my dear. A country to envy, to be jealous of for things that have nothing to do with wealth, etc. It’s a special country because it was born out of a need of the soul, the need to have a patria, and out of the most sublime idea man has, the idea of freedom–or, better, the idea of freedom wedded with the idea of equality. It’s a special country because at that time the idea of freedom wasn’t in fashion. Nor was the idea of equality. Nobody talked about these things but certain philosophers called men of the Enlightenment. You didn’t find them, these concepts, anywhere but in a very expensive big book in installments called The Encyclopedia. And apart from the writers and other intellectuals, apart from princes and lords, who had the money to buy the big book or the books that the big book inspired, who knew anything about the Enlightenment? It sure wasn’t something to eat, the Enlightenment! The revolutionaries of the French revolution didn’t even talk about it, seeing that the French revolution was to begin in 1789, or thirteen years after the American revolution which broke out in 1776. (Another detail that the good-for-the-Americans-they brought-it-on-themselves anti-Americans are unaware of or pretend to forget. Race of hypocrites.)
It’s a special country America, a country to be envied, moreover, because that idea was understood by farmers who were poor and often illiterate or at any rate were uneducated. The farmers of the American colonies. And it was made real by a little group of extraordinary leaders. By men of great culture and of great quality. The founding fathers. Do you know who the founding fathers were, the Benjamin Franklins, the Thomas Jeffersons, the Thomas Paines, the John Adamses, the George Washingtons and so on? Better than the little lawyers (as Vittorio Alfieri rightly called them) of the French revolution! Better than the dark and hysterical executioners of terror, the Marats and Dantons and Saint Justs and Robespierres! These were guys, the founding fathers were, who knew Greek and Latin as Italian teachers of Greek and Latin (granted that they don’t exist any more) never knew them. Guys who in Greek had read Aristotle and Plato, who in Latin had read Seneca and Cicero, and they had studied the principles of Greek democracy as not even the Marxists of my time studied the theory of surplus value. (I admit that they really did study it.) Jefferson even knew Italian. (He called it “Tuscan.”) In Italian he spoke and read with great speed. In fact with the two thousand grape vines and the thousand olive plants and the musical chart that in Virginia was so rare, in 1774 the Florentine Filippo Mazzei had brought him various copies of a book written by a certain Cesare Beccaria entitled Of Crimes and of Punishments. As for the autodidact Franklin, he was a genius. A scientist, printer, editor, writer, journalist, politician, inventor. In 1752 he had discovered the electrical nature of lightening and had invented the lightning rod. I’m sorry if that’s not much. And with these extraordinary leaders, with men of great qualities, the poor and often illiterate or at any rate uneducated farmers rebelled against England. They fought the war of independence, the American Revolution. Well… notwithstanding the rifles and the gunpowder, notwithstanding the dead that every war costs, they didn’t make it with the rivers of blood of the future French revolution. They didn’t make the American revolution with the guillotine or the massacres of the Vandea. They did it with the sheet of paper that, together with the need of the soul, the need to have a patria, concertized the sublime idea of liberty, or rather liberty wedded with equality. The Declaration of Independence. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal. That they are granted by our Creator certain inalienable Rights. That among these Rights are the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights Men must establish governments…” And this piece of paper that, from the French Revolution on, all of us have well or badly copied, or by which we have been inspired, still constitutes the backbone of America. The living sap of this nation. You know why? Because it changes subjects into citizens. It changes plebes into a People. Because it invites–nay, orders–them to govern themselves, to express their own individual natures, to seek their own happiness. All of which are the opposite of what communism did in prohibiting people from rebelling, governing themselves, expressing themselves, or enriching themselves, and making the State “His Majesty” in place of the usual kings. “Communism is a monarchical regime, a monarchy of the old stamp. Whereby it cuts off men’s balls. And when a man has his balls cut off he is no longer a man,” my father said. He also said that instead of redeeming the plebes communism transformed everybody into plebes. It left everyone dying of hunger.
Well, in my opinion America redeems plebes. They are all plebes, in America. White people, black people, yellow, brown, violet, stupid, intelligent, poor, rich. Actually the most plebeian are precisely the rich. In the majority of cases, sure peasants! Rude, uneducated. You soon realize they have never read Monsignor Della Casa, they have never had anything to do with refinement and good taste and sophistication. Notwithstanding the money they squander on clothes, for example, they are so inelegant that by comparison the queen of England seems chic. But, by God, they’re redeemed. And there is nothing in this world stronger and more powerful than redeemed plebes. You always break your horns against the redeemed Plebiscite. And they all broke their horns against America. The English, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Russians, nazis, fascists, communists. Last but not least the Vietnamese broke them when after their victory they had to get down on all fours so that when an ex-president of the United States goes to make them a little visit they touch the sky with a finger. “Bienvenu, Monsieur le President, bienvenu.” The trouble is the Vietnamese don’t pray to Allah. And with the sons of Allah it will be hard, very long and very hard. Unless the rest of the Occident stops being afraid. And does a little thinking and gives them a hand.
I’m not talking, obviously, to the hyenas that enjoy seeing the images of the slaughter and sneering “Good! The Americans deserved it.” I’m talking to people who without being bad or stupid still take refuge in reserve and doubt. To them I say: Wake up, people, wake up! Intimidated as you are by the fear of going against the tide, that is, of seeming racist (a wholly inappropriate word, because we’re talking not about a race but a religion), you don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, that what’s under way here is a reverse crusade. Accustomed as you are to playing a double game, blinded as you are by myopia, you don’t understand or don’t want to understand that what’s under way here is a religious war. Wanted and declared by only a fringe group of that religion perhaps, but nonetheless a religious war. A war that they call Jihad. Holy War. A war that doesn’t envision the conquest of our territories, perhaps, but certainly envisions the conquest of our souls. The disappearance of our liberty and our civilization. The annihilation of our way of living and dying, our way of praying and of learning. You don’t understand or don’t want to understand that if we don’t oppose this, don’t defend ourselves against this, don’t fight, Jihad will win. And it will destroy the world that, good or bad, we’ve succeeded in building, changing, improving, and making a little more intelligent, i.e., less bigoted or even without bigotry. And with that it will destroy our culture, our art, our science, our morality, our values, and our pleasures… Christ! Usama Bin Laden feels authorized to kill you and your children because you drink wine or beer, because you don’t wear a long beard or a chador, because you go to the theater and to movies, because you listen to music and sing songs, because you dance in discos or at home, because you watch TV, because you wear miniskirts or shorts, because at the beach you go naked or almost naked, because you make love when you like and where you like and with whom you like. Doesn’t this even interest you, you fools? I’m an atheist, thank God. And I have no intention of allowing myself to be killed because I am.
For twenty years I’ve said it-twenty years. With a certain mildness, not with this passion, twenty years ago I wrote an in-depth article on all this business for Il Corriere. It was the article of someone used to being with all races and beliefs, a citizen used to fighting all fascisms and all intolerances, a lay person without taboos. But it was also the article of a person indignant with those who didn’t smell the stink of a coming Holy War and were a bit too forgiving of the sons of Allah.. I presented an argument that went more or less like this, twenty years ago. “What sense does it make to respect those who don’t respect us? What sense is there in defending their culture or presumed culture when they despise ours? I want to defend ours, and I wish to inform you that I like Dante Alighieri more than Omar Khayyam.” Open, ye Heavens! They crucified me. “Racist! racist!” Well. They were the same progressives (at that time they called themselves communists) who crucified me. I suffered the same indignities when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Remember those bearded men with robes and turbans who before firing off mortars-actually every time they fired one off-sang the praises of their Lord? “Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!” I remember them well. And seeing the linkage of the word God with mortar fire made me tremble. I felt like I was in the Middle Ages and I said “the Soviets are what they are. But you have to admit that in fighting that war they’re also defending us. And I thank them.” Again, open ye Heavens! “Racist! racist!” Because of their blindness they didn’t even want to hear me tell about the monstrous acts the sons of Allah committed against military prisoners. (They sawed off their arms and legs, do you remember? A little vice they’d already given in to in Lebanon with the Christian and Jewish prisoners.) No, they didn’t want me to speak of that. And to play the progressive they applauded the Americans who, made foolish by their fear of the Soviet Union, loaded up the “heroic Afghan people” with arms. They trained the bearded ones, and along with the bearded ones the very most bearded one, Usama bin Laden. Russians Out of Afghanistaaaan! The Russians Must Get Out of Afghanistaaaaan! Okay, the Russians got out of Afghanistan-are you happy? It gets worse: now here they’re discussing the next attack that will hit us with chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear weapons. They say the next massacre is inevitable because Iraq is supplying the materials. They’re talking about vaccinations, gas masks, plague. They’re asking when it will come. Are you happy?
Some are neither happy nor unhappy. They just don’t give a damn. America’s so far off. Between Europe and America there’s an ocean… No, no, my dears. NO. There’s a thin thread-line of water. Because when the destiny of the West is at issue, the survival of our civilization, we are New York. We are America. We Italians, we French, we English, we Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles, Scandinavians, Belgians, Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese. If America falls, Europe falls, The West falls. And not only in a financial sense which, it seems to me, is what preoccupies you the most. (Once when I was young and naive I told Arthur Miller “Americans measure everything in terms of money, they think only of money!” Miller answered, “You don’t?”) We’re falling in every direction, my dear. And we find muezzins instead of church bells, chadors instead of miniskirts, camel’s milk instead of shots of cognac. This too you don’t understand? This too you don’t want to understand? Blair understood it. He came here and brought to Bush, or rather renewed with him, the solidarity of the English. It’s not a solidarity expressed through gossiping and complaining. it’s a solidarity based on hunting down terrorists and on military alliance. Chirac didn’t do this. Last week as you know he was here on a formal visit.
It was a visit scheduled some time before, not an ad hoc visit. He saw the ruins of the Tower, he learned that the number of dead is incalculable, nay inadmissible, but he didn’t give weight to this. During his interview on CNN my friend Christiana Amanpour asked him four times in what manner and to what extent he intended to align himself against this Jihad, and four times Chriac avoided giving an answer. He slithered away like an eel. You wanted to shout at him: “Monsieur le President! Do you remember the debarkation at Normandy? Do you know how many Americans died there to drive the Nazis out of France?” Apart from Blair, furthermore, I don’t see any other Richard the Lion Hearteds among the Europeans. Least of all in Italy where the government hasn’t located or arrested a single accomplice or suspected accomplice of Usama bin Laden. Dear Lord, my good sir! Dear Lord! In spite of war fears some accomplices of Usama bin Laden were identified and arrested. In France, in Germany, in England, in Spain… But in Italy where the mosques of Milan, Turin and Rome swarm with rogues who sing hymns to Usama bin Laden, with terrorists waiting to blow up the dome of St. Peter’s, no one. Zero. Nothing. No one. Help me understand, my good sir, are your honorable police officers and carabinieri so inept? Are your secret services such buffoons? Are your bureaucrats such fools? Are they such plaster saints, are they such strangers to what has happened and is happening, the sons of Allah who are our guests? Or is it that in carrying out the proper investigations, in identifying and arresting whoever up to now you haven’t identified and arrested, you fear the usual racist-racist blackmail? I don’t, you see.
Christ! I don’t deny anyone the right to be afraid. Only an idiot doesn’t fear war. Anyone who wants to make you think he’s not afraid of war–I’ve written this a thousand times–is both an idiot and a liar. But in life and in history there are times when it is not allowed to be afraid. Times when it’s immoral and not a civil act to be afraid. Those who avoid this tragedy because of weakness or a lack of courage or the habit of fence sitting, it seems to me, are masochists.
Masochists–yes, masochists. Do we want to face this discussion on what you call the Conflict Between Two Cultures? Well, if you want to know, it irritates me even to talk about two cultures-to put them on the same plane as if they were parallel realities, of equal weight and equal extent. Because in our civilization there’s Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle-there’s Phydias, for God’s sake. There’s ancient Greece with its Parthenon and its discovery of Democracy. There’s ancient Rome with its grandeur, its laws, its concept of the Law. Its sculptures, its literature, its architecture. Its palaces and its amphitheaters, its aqueducts, its bridges, its roads. There’s a revolutionary, Christ, dead on the cross, who taught us (and forgive us if we have not learned it) the concept of love and justice. There’s also a Church that gave me the Inquisition, I grant you, that tortured and burnt me a thousand times on the pyre, I admit. That for centuries oppressed me and restricted me to sculpting and painting only Christ and Madonnas, that nearly killed Galileo. It humiliated me and silenced me. But it also made a great contribution to the history of thought-is that true or isn’t it? Behind our civilization there’s the Renaissance. There’s Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, there’s the music of Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. And on and on all the way up to Rossini and Donizetti and Verdi and Co. That music without which we wouldn’t know how to be alive, which in their culture is forbidden. Woe to you if you whistle a song or hum a chorus of Nabucco. And then there’s science, for God’s sake. Science, which has understood many illnesses and found the cures for them. I am still alive, for now, thanks to our science-not that of Muhammad. Science which has invented marvelous machines. Trains, automobiles, airplanes, spaceships in which we’ve gone to the moon and mars and soon will go who knows where. Science, which has changed the face of this planet with electricity, radio, telephones, television, and, by the way: is it true that the holy men of the Left don’t want to say what I’ve just said?!? God, what worms! They’ll never change. And now here’s the fatal question: behind that other culture, what is there?
Ha! Looking and looking I find nothing there but Muhammad with his Koran and Averroes with his scholarly accomplishments. (The Commentaries on Aristotle, etc.) Arafat also finds there numbers and mathematics. Again screeching at me, again covering me in spit, in 1972 he told me his culture was superior to mine, much superior to mine because his grandfathers had invented numbers and mathematics. But Arafat has a poor memory. For this reason he changes the subject and contradicts himself every five minutes. His grandfathers didn’t invent numbers and mathematics. They invented the numerical symbols which even we infidels adopted, and mathematics was conceived almost simultaneously by all the ancient civilizations. In Mesopotamia, China, India, Greece, Egypt among the Maya… Your grandfathers, distinguished Mr. Arafat, left us nothing but some mosques and a big book with which for fourteen hundred years they have been disturbing me more than the Christians have with the Bible and the Jews have with the Torah. And now we see the qualities that set the Koran apart. Are they really qualities? Since the sons of Allah have semi destroyed New York, the Islamic experts have done nothing but sing the praises of Muhammad: they explain to me that the Koran preaches peace and brotherhood and justice. (Moreover Bush says this, poor Bush. And it goes without saying that he has to placate the twenty-four million American-Moslems, convince them to blab whatever they know about Usama bin Laden’s relatives or friends or devotees.) But then how do we fit this with the history of An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth? How do we fit this with the business of the chador or the veil that covers the face of the Moslem women, so that to get a glance at whoever’s next to them these unfortunates have to look through a tightly woven net up to their eyes? How do we fit that with polygamy and the principle that women have less worth than camels, must not go to school, must not go to a doctor, must not be photographed, etc.? How do we fit that with the veto of alcoholic drinks and the death sentence for anyone who drinks them? This is in the Koran too. And it doesn’t seem to me at all just, at all fraternal, at all peaceful.
So here’s my answer to your question about the conflict between the two cultures. I say that in the world there’s a place for everyone. Everyone can do what they like at home. And if in certain countries women are so stupid as to accept the chador or the veil from which you look through a tightly woven net up to the eyes, too bad for them. If they’re stupid enough to accept not going to school, not going to a doctor, not having their pictures taken, etc., too bad for them. If they’re so moronic as to marry an oaf who’d take four wives, too bad for them. If their men are so silly as not to drink beer and wine, ditto. I won’t be the one to stop them. That would be the last thing I’d do. I was schooled in the concept of freedom and my mamma said “The world is beautiful because it’s full of variety.” But if they’re seeking to impose the same things on me, in my home… And that is what they’re seeking to do.. Usama bin Laden says the entire earth must become Moslem, we must convert to Islam, good or bad he’ll convert us all: it’s for that end that he has massacred us and continues to massacre us. And this cannot be pleasing to us-no no. It must fill us with a great desire to turn the tables, to kill him. However, things are not resolved, it’s not all finished, with that–with the death of Usama bin Laden. Because by now there are tens of thousands of Usama bin Ladens, and they’re not only in Afghanistan and the other Arab countries. They’re everywhere, and the most highly trained among them are precisely in the West. In our cities, our streets, our universities, in the nerve centers of our technology. That technology that any dullard can manipulate. The Crusade has been under way for some time. And it works like a Swiss watch, sustained by a faith and a perfidy comparable only to the faith and perfidy of Torquemada when he carried out the Inquisition. Clearly to negotiate with them is impossible. To reason with them, unthinkable. To treat them with indulgence or tolerance or hope, suicide. Whoever believes the contrary is deluded.
The person who’s telling you this is one who’s come to know that type of fanaticism very well in Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Jordan and at home–that is, in Italy. She’s come to know it, and also–through trivial, indeed grotesque, personal incidents–has had it chillingly confirmed. I never forget what happened at the Iranian Embassy in Rome when I requested a visa to go to Teheran to interview Khomeini and I presented myself with red painted fingernails. For them, a sign of immorality. They treated me like a whore who should be burned at the stake. They ordered me to remove the red at once, or else… Nor shall I forget what happened to me in Qom, Khomeini’s holy town, where as a woman I was rejected by all the hotels. To interview Khomeini I had to wear the chador, to put on the chador I had to take off my jeans, to take off my jeans I had to withdraw from sight, and naturally I could have performed the whole operation in the car I’d come to Teheran in. But the interpreter prevented me from doing that: “You’re-crazy-you’re crazy-if-you-do-such-a-thing-in-Qom-you’ll- be-shot.” He preferred to take me to the ex royal palace where a kind hearted custodian took us in, loaned us the ex throne room. Actually I felt like the Madonna who, to give birth to the baby Jesus, took refuge in a stall with a donkey and an ox to warm them. But among those people a man and a woman who aren’t married are forbidden to be off by themselves behind a closed door and-alas!-all of a sudden the door opened. The mullah assigned to maintaining morality burst in screeching “shame-shame, sin-sin,” and there was only one way not to wind up getting shot: for the two of us to marry. To sign a short-term marriage contract (expiration: four months) that the mullah waved in front of our faces. The trouble was the interpreter had a Spanish wife, a certain Consuelo not in the least disposed to accept polygamy, and I didn’t want to marry anyone. Especially not an Iranian with a Spanish wife not in the least disposed to accept polygamy. At the same time I didn’t want to end up shot, nor did I want to lose the interview with Khomeini. I was struggling with this dilemma and…
You’re laughing, I’m sure. These seem jokes to you. Well, then I won’t tell you the conclusion of this episode. To make you cry I’ll tell the one about the twelve impure youths whom I saw executed in Dacca when the Bangladesh war was over. They executed them in the playing field of the Dacca stadium with thrusts of bayonets in their chests and their stomachs in the presence of twenty thousand of the faithful who applauded in the name of God. “Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!” they roared. I know, I know: in the Coliseum the ancient Romans, those ancient Romans my culture continues to take pride in, were entertained watching Christians die by being fed to the lions. I know, I know: in every country of Europe Christians, those Christians whose contribution to the history of thought I recognize despite my atheism, were entertained watching heretics burned. However some time has passed, we’ve become a bit more civilized, and even the sons of Allah should have understood that some things aren’t done. After the twelve impure youths they killed a child who to save his brother condemned to die had beaten his executioners. They crushed his head with their army boots. If you don’t believe this, well: reread my account or the account of the French and German journalists who, as horrified as I, were there with me. Better: look at the photos that one of them shot. However the point that I wish to underline is not that. It is that at the end of this scene of slaughter, the twenty thousand faithful (many of them women) left the stands and went down onto the field. Not in a disorderly, raggle-taggle way-no. In an orderly, solemn manner. Slowly they prepared a funeral procession and always in the name of God they walked over the cadavers. Always roaring “Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!” They destroyed them like New York’s Twin Towers. They reduced them to a blood-oozing carpet of crushed bones.
Oh, I could go on forever. Tell you things never told, things to make your hair stand on end. About that dotard Khomeini, for example. After our interview he held a meeting and he said I accused him of cutting off women’s breasts. Out of that meeting he made a video and it was broadcast on television for months in Teheran so that, when the following year I returned to Teheran, I was arrested the minute I got off the plane. And it was ugly for me, you know, really ugly. It was the period of the American hostages…I could tell you about Mujib Rahman who, again in Dacca, ordered his warriors to eliminate me as a dangerous European, and lucky for me there was an English colonel who risked his own life to save me. Or I could tell you about that Palestinian named Habash who for twenty minutes held a machine gun to my head. Oh, God what people they are! The only ones I was treated civilly by were poor Ali Bhutto, the prime minister of Pakistan, who died by hanging for being too much a friend of the West, and the very brave king of Jordan, King Hussein. But those two were no more Moslem than I’m Catholic. However, I want to give you the conclusion of my argument. A conclusion that won’t please many, given that defending one’s own culture, in Italy, is becoming a mortal sin. And given that they’re so intimidated by the word “racist” that everyone is as quiet as a mouse.
I don’t go to raise tents in Mecca. I don’t go to sing Our Fathers and Hail Marys at the tomb of Muhammad. I don’t go to pee on the marble of their mosques, I don’t go to make caca at the feet of their minarets. When I find myself in their countries (something I never derive pleasure from), I never forget I’m a stranger and a guest. I’m careful not to offend them with clothes or gestures or behavior which for us are normal and for them inadmissible. I treat them with dutiful respect, dutiful courtesy. I apologize if through carelessness or ignorance I infringe one of their rules or superstitions. And this cry of pain and indignation I have written you not always with the apocalyptic scenes with which I began my piece before my eyes. At times instead of those I saw an image that for me is symbolic (and therefore infuriating), of the great tent with which for three months a summer ago the Somali Moslems disfigured, defiled, and outraged the Piazza del Duomo in Florence. My city. It was a tent raised to blame, condemn and insult the Italian government that played host to them but didn’t grant them the necessary papers to run around Europe and didn’t let them bring hordes of their relatives into the country Mammas, daddies, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, pregnant sisters-in-law and even relatives of relatives. It was a tent situated near the beautiful Archbishop’s Palace and on the sidewalk outside it they put the shoes or the slippers that in their countries they line up outside the mosques. And together with shoes or slippers, empty water bottles they used to wash their feet before prayer. A tent set up in front of the cathedral with the dome by Brunelleschi, beside the baptistery with the golden doors of Ghiberti. A tent, in fine, furnished like a sloppy flat: chairs, tables, sofas, mattresses to sleep or to fuck on, cook stoves to prepare food and befoul the square with smoke and stinking smells. And thanks to the usual insensitivity of the ENEL, which cares about as much about our works of art as it cares about our landscape, it was furnished with electric light. Thanks to a radio-tape player, it was enriched by the tortured voice of a muezzin who regularly exhorted the faithful, deafened the infidels, and drowned out the sound of the church bells. And together with all that, the yellow lines of urine that profaned the marbles of the baptistery. (Good God! They have a long stream, these sons of Allah. How do they manage to hit a target separated from the protective railing and therefore almost two meters away from their urinary organ?) With the yellow lines of urine was the stink of their shit which blocked the gate of San Salvatore al Vescovo: the exquisite Romanesque church (A.D. 1000) which sits on the shoulders of the Piazza del Duomo and which the sons of Allah had turned into a shithouse. You know it well. You know it well because it was I who called you, begging you to speak of it in Il Corriere, remember? I also called the mayor who, I must concede, kindly came to my house. He listened to me, he said I was right. “You’re right, you’re really right…” But the tent wasn’t removed. He forgot about it or couldn’t manage. I also called the Foreign Minister, who was a Florentine, indeed one of those Florentines who speak with a very Florentine accent, not that he was involved in the matter. And he too, I concede, listened to me. He said I was right: “Ah, yes, You’re right. Yes.” But he didn’t raise a finger to remove the tent and as for the sons of Allah who urinated on the Baptistery and shat upon San Salvatore al Vescovo, he soon made them happy. (As far as I know the daddies and mammas and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and pregnant sisters-in-law now are wherever they want to be.) That is, in Florence or other cities in Europe. Then I changed my strategy. I called a friendly cop who runs the security office and said, “Dear officer, I’m not a politician. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. Moreover I have war experience and I’m wise to certain things. If you don’t remove that frigging tent tomorrow, I’ll burn it. I swear on my honor that I’ll burn it, not even a regiment of carabinieri will be able to stop me, and I want to be arrested for this. Handcuffed and carried off to jail. I’ll wind up in all the papers as a result.” Well, being smarter than the others, in the course of a few hours he took it away. Where the tent had been there was nothing left but a huge disgusting pile of garbage. It was a Pyrrhic Victory. In fact it didn’t in the least influence the creeps who for years have been wounding and humiliating what was the capital of art and culture and beauty. It didn’t in the least discourage the other very arrogant guests of the city: Albanians, Sudanese, Bengalese, Tunisians, Algerians, Pakistani, Nigerians who with such fervor contribute to the drug trade and prostitution, apparently not prohibited by the Koran. Oh, yes: they’re all still where they were before my cop took away the tent. In the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery, at the foot of Giotto’s tower. In front of the Loggia dell’Orcagna, around the Loggie del Porcellino. In front of the national library, at the entrance of the museums. On the Ponte Vecchio, where every so often they stab or shoot each other. Along the Arno, where they’ve sought and been granted financial support from the municipal government (yes, ladies and gentlemen, financial support). On San Lorenzo’s church square where they get drunk on beer, wine, and liquor, race of hypocrites that they are, and where they utter obscenities to women. (Last summer, on that church square, they did that to me, who am by now an old woman. It goes without saying they brought more harm upon themselves. Oh, they brought more harm on themselves! One is still there moaning over his genitals.) In the historic streets where they bivouac with the pretense of selling “goods.” By “goods” you must understand pocketbooks and suitcases copied from models protected by patents, and therefore illegal, and carvings, pens, African statuettes which ignorant tourists think are sculptures by Bernini, and “stuff to smell.” (“Je connais mes droits,” “I know my rights,” he hissed at me, on the Ponte Vecchio, one I’d seen with his “stuff to smell.”) And too bad if a citizen protests, too bad if he responds with “go exercise those rights at home.” “Racist! Racist!” Too bad if by walking between the goods blocking a passage way a pedestrian damages a so- called Bernini sculpture. “Racist! Racist!” Too bad if a city policeman approaches and attempts an “Honorable son of Allah, sir, would you very much mind moving aside just a hair so people can get by?” They eat him alive. They menace him with a knife. At the very least they insult his mamma and his progenitors. “Racist! Racist!” And people endure with resignation. It has no effect even if you yell at them what my dad shouted during Fascism: “Doesn’t dignity mean anything to you? Don’t you have a little pride, pigs?”
It happens also in other cities, I know. In Turin for instance. Turin which made Italy and now doesn’t even seem to be an Italian city. It seems more like Algiers, Dacca, Nairobi, Damascus, Beirut. In Venice. Venice where the doves of Piazza San Marco have been replaced with little rugs with “goods” and even Othello would feel ill at ease. In Genoa. That Genoa whose beautiful Palaces Rubens admired so much have been sequestered by them and are wasting away like beautiful raped women. In Rome. Rome where the cynicism of the politics of every lie and every color courts them in the hope of obtaining their future vote, and where to protect them there’s the Pope himself. (Your Holiness, why in the name of the One God don’t you take them into the Vatican? Provided that they don’t befoul even the Sistine Chapel and the statues of Michelangelo and the paintings of Raphael: be firm.) Bah! Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand. Because sons of Allah in Italy they call “foreign workers.” Or “needed work force.” And of the fact that some of them do perform some work I have no doubt. Italians have become such little lords. They vacation in the Seychelles, come to New York to buy sheets at Bloomingdale’s. They’re ashamed to be laborers and peasants, and you can no longer associate them with the proletariat. But those I’m talking about, what workers are they? What work do they do? In what way do they provide the workforce needs which the Italian ex proletariat no longer provides? By camping out in the cities pretending to be “selling goods”? Wandering about and disfiguring our monuments? Praying five times a day? And there’s another thing I don’t understand. If they’re so poor, who gives them the money for the voyage by ship or rubber raft that brings them to Italy? Who gives them the ten million per head (a minimum of ten million) necessary to buy themselves the ticket? Doesn’t Usama bin Laden who gives it to them to carry out a conquest which is not only a conquest of souls, but also a conquest territory?
Well, even if he doesn’t give it to them, I’m not sure about this situation. Even if our guests are absolutely innocent, even if among them there’s no one who wants to destroy my Tower of Pisa or my Towers of Giotto, no one who wants to put me into a chador, no one who wants to burn me at the stake in a new Inquisition, their presence alarms me. It fills me with discomfort. And anyone is wrong who takes this situation lightly or optimistically. Anyone is wrong who compares the wave of migration that has hit Italy with the wave of migration that poured into America during the second half of the nineteenth century, not to mention the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Now I’ll tell you why.
Not long ago I happened to catch some words spoken by one of the thousands of Council presidents Italy has been blessed with over the last few decades. “Hey, even my aunt was an emigrant! I remember when my uncle left for America with cardboard luggage!” Or something of the kind. Hey, no, my dear. No. It’s not at all the same thing. And it isn’t for two quite simple reasons.
The first is that during the second half of the nineteenth century the wave of migration into America didn’t happen in a clandestine fashion or due to the power of those carrying it out. It was the Americans themselves who wanted it, solicited it. And through a specific Act of Congress. “Come, come because we need you. If you come we will award you with a nice piece of land.” The Americans have made a movie about it too, the one with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and I was struck by the ending, the scene of the unfortunates who raced to plant a white flag on land that would become theirs, with the result that only the youngest and strongest could manage. The others were left with nothing and some died in the chase. This I know, that in Italy there has never been an act of Parliament inviting and indeed urging our guests to leave their countries. “Come, come, we need you so much, if you come we’ll give you a farm in the Chianti region.” They came on their own initiative, in those cursed rubber rafts and in the face of police who tried to send them back. More than emigration it was an invasion conducted under a cloak of secrecy. A secrecy that is disturbing because it is not mild and suffering. It’s arrogant and is protected by the cynicism of the politicians who close one or both eyes upon it. I’ll never forget the meetings with which last year the illegals filled the city squares of Italy seeking residence permits. Those twisted, evil faces. Those raised, menacing fists. Those angry voices that took me back to Khomeini’s Teheran. I’ll never forget because I felt offended by their presumption in my home and because I felt myself mocked by the ministers who told us, “We want to repatriate them but we don’t know where they’re hiding.” Bastards! In those squares there were thousands, and they weren’t hiding at all. To repatriate them it would have sufficed to line them up, “Please, sir, this way,” and accompany them to a door or an airport.
The second reason, dear nephew of the uncle with the cardboard suitcase, any schoolboy would understand. To make this reason clear it’s sufficient to clarify two elements. First, America is a continent. During the second half of the nineteenth century–that is, when the American Congress opened the way to immigration–this continent was almost unpopulated. The bulk of the population was concentrated in the states of the East or in the states of the Atlantic region, and in the Midwest there were fewer people. California was almost empty. Well, Italy is not a continent. It’s a very small and anything but unpopulated country. Second, America is a very young country. If you remember that the War of Independence took place at the end of the 1700’s, you can deduce from this that it’s barely two hundred years old and you will understand why its cultural identity is not yet well defined. Italy, on the contrary, is a very old country. Its history goes back at least three thousand years. Its cultural identity is, therefore, very precise, and pay attention to this: it has a lot to do with a religion that calls itself the Christian religion and a church that calls itself the Catholic Church. People like me have a nice saying: “With the catholic church I’m not involved.” Alas, I’m involved, oh yes. Whether I like it or not, I’m involved. And how could I not be? I was born in a country of churches, convents, Christs, Madonnas, saints. The first music I heard coming into the world was the music of the church bells. The bells of Santa Maria del Fiore which during the tent period were drowned out by the twisted screeching of the muezzin. And with that music, in this landscape, I grew up. Through that music and this landscape I learned what architecture, sculpture, painting, and art are. Through that church (later rejected) I began to ask myself what good and evil, and…my God…
There: do you see? Again I wrote “my God.” For all my secularism, for all my atheism, I’m so imbued with Catholic culture that it’s a direct part of my way of expressing myself. Oh God, my God, by God, my Jesus, thank God, my Lord, “Madonna mia,” Christ this, Christ that. They come to me so spontaneously, these words, that I’m not even aware of uttering them or writing them. Want me to tell all? Even though I’ve never forgiven Catholicism for the infamies it’s imposed on me for centuries beginning with the Inquisition, which burned my grandmother, poor grandma, to the priests I can’t quite agree with and their prayers I wouldn’t know quite what to do with, the music of the church bells is something I love so much. It caresses my heart. I even like those Christs and Madonnas and painted or sculpted saints. Indeed I have a thing about icons. I even like those monasteries and convents. They give me a sense of peace; at times I envy those who dwell there. And then, let’s admit it: our cathedrals are more beautiful than mosques and synagogues. Yes or no? they’re also more beautiful than protestant churches. Look, the cemetery of my family is a protestant cemetery. It accepts the dead of all religions but it’s protestant. And one of my great-grandmothers was Valdese. A great aunt was evangelical. The great-grandmother I never knew; the great aunt, I did. When I was a child she always took me to meetings of her church in Via de’ Benci, in Florence and… God how bored I was! I felt so alone with those men of faith who only sang hymns, that priest who wasn’t a priest and only read the Bible, that church that didn’t seem like a church to me and that apart from a little pulpit had nothing but a big cross. No angels, no Madonnas, no incense… I even missed the stink of incense, and I’d rather have been in the Basilica di Santa Croce where you had those things. The things I was used to. And I add: in my house in the country, in Tuscany, there’s a tiny chapel. It’s always closed. Since mamma’s death nobody goes there. Still, sometimes I go there, to dust, to check that the mice haven’t made a nest there, and despite my secular education I feel at ease there. Despite my anticlericalism, I move there comfortably. I think the overwhelming majority of Italians would confess to you the same thing. (Berlinguer confessed this to me.)
Sweet Lord! (We’re having a laugh.) I’m telling you that we Italians aren’t in the same situation as Americans: a mosaic of ethnic groups and religions, a grab bag of a thousand cultures, at the same time open to any invasion and capable of repelling it. I’m telling you that, precisely because it has had a very precise definition for many centuries, our cultural identity cannot support a wave of migration composed of persons who in one way or another want to change our way of life. Our values. I’m telling you that where we are there’s no room for muezzins, minarets, for fake teetotalers, for their frigging Middle Ages, for their frigging chadors. And if there were, I wouldn’t give it to them. Because that would be equivalent to throwing out Dante, Michelangelo, Raphael, the renaissance, the Risorgimento, the freedoms that we have well or badly achieved, our Patria. It would mean to give them Italy on a platter. And I don’t want to give them Italy on a platter.
I’m Italian. Those who think I’ve become American by now are foolish and wrong. American citizenship is something I’ve never sought. Years ago an American ambassador offered it to me on Celebrity Status, and after thanking him I replied, “Sir, I’ve always had ties with America. America for me is a lover-no, a husband-to whom I’ll always remain faithful. So long as it doesn’t dishonor me. I’m very fond of this husband. I’ll never forget that if it hadn’t inconvenienced itself in making war on Hitler and Mussolini, I’d be speaking German today. I’m very fond of it and it appeals deeply to me. For example I like the fact than when I arrive in New York and hand over my passport with the residence permit, the customs agent says to me with a big smile: ‘Welcome home.’ It seems to me such a generous, affectionate gesture. Furthermore I remember that America has always been the Refugium Peccatorum of people without patria. But I have a patria already, sir. My patria is Italy, and Italy is my mamma. Sir, I love Italy. It would seem like denying my mamma to take American citizenship.” I also told him that my language is Italian, I write in Italian, it’s translated into English–and that’s the end of it. In the same spirit in which I’m translated into French, feeling it to be a foreign language. I told him that when I hear the national anthem I am moved. Hearing “Brothers of Italy, Italy awakens,” dum-te-dum, dum-te-dum, dum-te-dum, I get a lump in my throat. It doesn’t even occur to me that as a hymn it’s a bit on the ugly side. Moreover I even get a lump in my throat seeing the white, red, and green flag blowing in the wind. Apart from the hooligans in the stadium, you must understand. I have a white, red and green flag from the nineteenth century. Full of spots, spots of blood, all pink from mice. And even if it has the shield of Savoy in the middle (but without Cavour and Vittorio Emanuele II and Garibaldi who bowed down to that shield, we’d never have unified Italy), I treat it like gold. I take care of it like a jewel. We have died for that tricolor, Christ! We were hung, shot, decapitated, killed by the Austrians, the pope, the Duke of Modena, the Bourbons. We carried out the Risorgimento with that tricolor. The unification of Italy, the war in Carso, the resistance. For that tricolor my maternal great-grandfather Giobatta fought at Curtatone and Montanara, was horribly disfigured by an Austrian rocket. For that tricolor my maternal uncles endured every hardship in the trenches of Carso. My father was arrested and tortured at Villa Triste by Nazi-Fascists for that tricolor. For that tricolor my entire family fought in the resistance and I fought in it too. In the ranks of justice and liberty, and with the battle name, Emilia. I was fourteen. When the year after that I was released with a certificate of service from the Italian Army-Body of Volunteers for Freedom, I felt so proud. Jesus Mary, I was an Italian soldier! When I was informed that the certificate of service carried with it a pension of 14,540 lire, I didn’t know whether to accept it or not. It seemed unjust to accept it for having done my duty for the Patria. Finally I did accept it. At home we were all without shoes. With that money I bought shoes for me and my sisters.
Naturally my patria, my Italy, is not today’s Italy. The pleasure- loving, self-centered, vulgar Italy of Italians who like to retire before the age of fifty and whose only passions are foreign holidays and soccer matches. The bad, silly, cowardly Italy of little hyenas who would sell their daughter to a bordello in Beirut just to get to shake hands with a Hollywood movie star. But if Usama Bin Laden’s kamikazes reduce thousands of New Yorkers to a mountain of ashes that look like coffee grounds, they guffaw with contentment-“good–the Americans deserve it!” This squalid, unwarlike, soulless Italy of presumptuous and incapable political parties that don’t know how to win or lose but know how to glue the fat behinds of their representatives to the seats of a deputy’s or minister’s or mayor’s armchair. An Italy still Mussolini-esque, of black and red fascists, who invite you to remember Ennio Flaiano’s terrible line: “In Italy fascists are divided into two categories, fascists and anti-fascists.” Nor is my Italy the Italy of the magistrates and politicians who, knowing nothing of classical rhetoric, pontificate from television screens with monstrous errors of syntax. (You don’t say “If it was,” animals! You say “If it were.”) Nor is it the Italy of youths who having teachers of similar ability drown in the most scandalous ignorance, in the most flagrant superficiality, in a void. Whereby to errors of syntax they add errors of spelling and ask who the Carbonari were, who the liberals were, who Silvio Pellico was, who Mazzini was, who Massimo D’Azeglio was, who Cavour was, who Vittorio Emanuele II was; they look at you with blank eyes and hanging tongue. They know nothing; at the most they take on the easy role of aspiring terrorists in a time of peace and democracy, they wave black flags, hide their faces behind watch caps, silly little dopes. The unfit. Least of all my Italy is not the Italy of the cicadas who, after reading these notes will hate me for having written the truth. Between spaghetti parties they’ll speak ill of me, wish me killed by their favorite, Usama bin Laden. No, no: my Italy is an idealized Italy. The Italy I dreamed of as a little girl, when I was pensioned from the Italian Army-Body of Volunteers for Liberty, and I was full of illusions. A serious, intelligent, dignified and courageous Italy, and therefore an Italy worthy of respect. And woe to you who touch it, this Italy–an Italy which exists, however it may be shushed or laughed at or insulted. Woe to those who steal it from me; woe to those who invade it. Because whoever invades it, whether Napoleon’s French, or the Austrians of Franz Joseph, Hitler’s Germans, or Usama bin Laden’s accomplices, for me it’s all the same. Whether to invade it they use canons or rubber rafts, it’s the same.
With this I salute you affectionately, my dear Ferruccio, and I warn you: ask nothing more of me. Never more to participate in brawls or vain polemics. What I had to say I have said. Rage and pride have commanded me. A clear conscience and my age have allowed me to say it. But now I must go back to work. I don’t want to be disturbed. Here I stop: it’s done.
Translated by Chris Knipp
Published in the Corriere della Sera on 29 September 2001
* From Ferruccio de Bortoli’s preface to the first Italian paperback edition of La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio [The Rage and the Pride] by Oriana Fallaci