Arab Spring

Ar(a)b[or]
A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Trouble with Oriana (Edited Version Published in "LA Weekly")

The first line of Brendan Bernhard’s article “The Fallaci Code” states “Is Muslim immigration to Europe a conspiracy?” This is the question that Mr. Bernhard seriously asks and sets out to answer by using Oriana Fallaci’s book, The Force of Reason. Oriana Fallaci, a woman to whom age has not been kind, comes across as belligerent and uninformed. In reading her book, I found it, unlike its name, utterly unreasonable. It is an endless, inchoate, illogical rant attempting to answer a question she never explicitly asks but that Brendan Bernhard states for her in his review, namely, “How did Europe become home to an estimated 20 million Muslims in a mere three decades?”

Twenty million, a grossly exaggerated estimate, sounds like a heap of people but in fact that is only 4% of Europe’s 459 million citizens, according to the CIA fact book. To put it in perspective, the United States 2003 census estimates that Hispanics constitute 14% of the population while African Americans comprise 13%, which makes the United States a quarter non-White, not to mention Asians, Arabs, Africans, and Indians. Yet, poor Oriana Fallaci is having a temper tantrum over the fact that Europe is now 96% Christian (i.e. White). What is even more interesting is her assertion that a Muslim presence of 4% in the European continent threatens the Christian character of Europe. She cites the fact that Europeans churches are empty while more mosques are being built, which is hardly a reflection of Islam’s “ferocious colonization of Europe,” but rather Europeans’ desire for less religion.

Beginning from the first chapter, Fallaci’s fear mongering does not end until an epilogue that even Mr. Bernhard thought is shameless. Her descriptions of Muslim conquests of the Middle East and Europe are filled with such gore that it makes Candide’s treacherous trek through the same region seem like a pleasure cruise. Literally on the second page of the book she writes, “the armies of the Crescent Moon invaded Christian Syria and Christian Palestine… they invaded Christian Egypt and overran Christian Maghreb. That is, the present Tunisia and Algeria and Morocco. They landed in the most Catholic Iberian Peninsula, took possession of Portugal and Spain where despite the Pelayos and the Cid Capeadors and the other warriors engaged in the Reconquest they remained for no less than eight centuries.” What? Alas she doesn’t even bother to tell us how Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Spain became Christian.

Wasn’t it her ancestors, the Romans, who conquered North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe and made them Christian? She doesn’t even explain to us, despite “Islam’s brutality”, how Spain remained under Muslim rule for 800 years while the vast majority of its population maintained their Christian beliefs, never made to convert to Islam. She also fails to mention that Cordoba in Muslim Spain was the largest and most prosperous city in Europe, although, she does quote, with contempt, the Spanish longing for their Golden Age which culminated in their discovery of the New World, mere decades after the retreat of the Muslim armies from the Iberian peninsula. Catholic Spain arrived to the New World and named this beautiful state, the province of the Caliph: California.

After frightening the reader out of his wits by the 4% Islamic “re-colonization” of Europe, she then proceeds to argue against all historical facts about Islamic contributions to the world, which Mr. Bernhard finds “amusing”. She argues obsessively about who invented the sherbet! What? Yes it is an Arabic word which means drink but who cares, Arabs invented Algebra and learned how to distill Alcohol, both Arabic words. Islamic and Arab contributions to medicine, mathematics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, physics, literature, and philosophy are well documented but then again Oriana Fallaci is not well read.

Her immediate and most important aim, however, is not to discredit Islamic civilization or even to reveal its “brutality” but to save her dear Europe. And so she gets back to her tired tirade about the Islamic invasion, occupation and colonization of Europe by the faithful four percent. Here is where the Flaubertian surrealism begins.

“There is the biggest conspiracy that modern history has created. The most squalid plot that through ideological fraud, cultural indecency, moral prostitution, deception, our time has produced… By the collaborationists and better yet the traitors who invented the lie of Pacifism. By the hypocrites who invented the fraud of Humanitarianism.” Oriana Fallaci, the martyr, fighting against Europe, all of it, with its humanitarianists, pacifists, politicians, intellectuals, Christians, Muslims and Jews. She alone knows what transpires. “The biggest conspiracy” in modern history is so convoluted, so incoherent, so incomprehensible that I am not sure I can do it justice, but I attempt. It goes something like this…

First the Arabs and Muslims want to take over the world, naturally. They start out by taking Europe. The Arab heads of state make a deal with their European counterparts, providing them with Arab laborers as well as free oil. What? Yeah but it gets better. European intellectuals, academia, as well as media are “complicit” and spread lies such as the great contributions of Islamic civilization. The politicians are also complicit as they sell the European continent to the highest bidder, Arabs. The European political Left and the Right are just as guilty for they “play for the same team. They are the same team.” Islamic extremists are also somehow involved, as well as secular Palestinians dedicated to the establishment of Palestine. Muslims get shipped in droves from Muslim countries to colonize Europe and they have kids and they ask for election rights. The Europeans tow the Muslim line on everything because the 4% says so.

Never mind that Europeans pay about $6 a gallon for gas, which is hardly free. Never mind that most immigrants came to Europe in the sixties and seventies from former European colonies in North Africa, like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Senegal, Sudan, Egypt and the Congo to do jobs that Europeans did not want to do. Never mind that none of these Muslim countries have any oil. Never mind that most of today’s European “immigrant” Muslims are not immigrant at all but first and second generation citizens as European as Oriana is. Never mind that the whole premise for the paranoia and conspiracy theories is a 4% Muslim population. Apparently Brendan Bernhard didn’t mind.

Could it just be that Muslims are just like other human beings on this planet? Could it be that Senegalese, Nigerian, Egyptian, Pakistani, Palestinian, Turkish and Indian Muslim immigrants are not all in cahoots? Could it be that they are just looking for jobs in a continent that has a vibrant economy not unlike Europeans who have descended on the Persian Gulf in droves? Could it be that Muslim immigrants in Europe are searching for a better life, not unlike Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Italian, French, German, British, American Christian immigrants working in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, and India?

No Oriana Fallaci did not ask these questions and, in fairness, nor did Mr. Bernhard, the impartial reviewer of her work. Ironically, she, herself, is an immigrant, who lives in New York, a city that has welcomed thousands of her compatriots over the last two centuries.

Nonetheless, there is a lesson to be learned from this book. In spite of its teeth-gnashing, unimaginative prose; in spite of its intolerable misuse of English grammar; in spite of the work’s disdain for facts; in spite of the detail that she has not a single reference to which she attributes her spewed “facts” such as her assertion that the marble “Ten Commandments: the genesis of our moral principles” were removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court because of Muslim protests!; in spite of its hallucinating, paranoid zeal the book reveals much about the author and the nature of extremists. Oriana Fallaci is no different than the Islamists and jihadists that she purportedly stands to fight. Like the jihadists who want to take the Middle East back to its earlier glory where things were simpler and before globalization made the Middle East a virtual melting pot of religions, ethnicities and nationalities, so too does Oriana Fallaci want to take Europe to its medieval homogenous days, to a purer Christian Europe, not stained by its 4% Muslims, its immigrants and its Jews.

Like the Jihadists who exploit Abu Ghraib to paint the West as savage and perverted, she uses terrorism to paint the entire Islamic world with broad strokes. Like the jihadists whose hate spills over from Westerners, to Muslims who oppose them, to everything that is modern, so too does Oriana’s hate spread from Muslims, to Jews, to politicians, to academicians, and to all Europeans who disagree. And so beneath the anti-terrorism veneer, Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, readily bubble up to the surface in gushes so violent and incredible that they say more than her conspiracy theories can ever explain.

On discussing the law suits brought against her in Italy, France and Switzerland by European human rights groups, Oriana Fallaci states, “the trial was triggered by the Movement Against Racism (MRAP), but also by the complaint filed by the Jews of the LICRA (International League Against Racism and Antisemitism).” As if LICRA Jews should not be able to sue this full-blooded Italian. In describing a highly critical review of her book, fittingly named “Anatomy of an Abject Book”, published by Le Point, a major French magazine, she, again, employs racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. She admonishes Le Point for publishing “the prosecutorial comments of journalists, psychoanalysts, philosophers, or politologists, not seldom, with Arab names. Rather often with Jewish names.” Apparently, Oriana takes commentators seriously only if they were White European Christians who agree with her…..

Contrary to Brendan Bernhard’s view of the epilogue (“she could have done without”), it is the most amusing chapter of the book. She pulls off such a dramatic and no less impressive coup de theatre, where she is burned on the cross by the Europeans that she is trying to save and the sneering 4% who scream Arabic words. She dies in her very own “auto-da-fe”, an ancient Christian ceremony where heretics are purged. Ironically, auto-da-fes were how hundreds of Spanish Jews perished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries after the retreat of the Arabs from the Iberian peninsula. Yes, she too, like the jihadists, is a martyr, against whom the world conspires. And yes, Brendan Bernhard’s last line in his review is, “The Force of Reason, at the very least, is a welcome and necessary antidote to the prevailing intellectual atmosphere”. Oh, really? Makes you wonder what kind of atmosphere Mr. Bernhard wishes to replace it with.

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