Oriana Fallaci is 75 years old. The renowned Italian journalist lives in hiding because of death threats she received after the publication in 2001 of her book The Rage and the Pride. She is dying of cancer. And now she is going to go on trial for “defaming Islam.”
The complaint comes from Adel Smith, president of the Muslim Union of Italy, who was never charged with defaming Christianity after he referred to a crucifix as a “miniature cadaver” during his 2003 efforts to have depictions of Christ on the Cross removed from Italian schools. He has amassed a reputation as something of a crank after demanding that Christians deny aspects of their faith that offended his Islamic sensibilities: he has called for the destruction of Giovanni da Modena’s fresco The Last Judgment in the 14th-century cathedral of San Petronio in Bologna, Italy, because that priceless expression of Medieval Christianity depicts the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in hell. And in the mother of all frivolous lawsuits, Smith in February 2004 brought suit against Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, for offending Islam by expressing in various writings their opinion, utterly unremarkable from two Christian leaders, that Christianity is unique and superior to other religions, including Islam.
His new suit against Fallaci is hardly less frivolous, but Smith was able to find a judge willing to play along. Judge Armando Grasso of the Italian city of Bergamo ruled in a preliminary hearing that Fallaci’s latest book, La Forza della Ragione (The Force of Reason), contained eighteen statements “unequivocally offensive to Islam and Muslims,” and that therefore she must be tried.] He was working from a list compiled by Smith, who complained that Fallaci has “propagated hate against Islam and Muslims, distorting real historical facts and inventing others, lying, offending, and defaming Muslims around the world.” Smith exulted at Grasso’s decision: “It is the first time a judge has ordered a trial for defamation of the Islamic faith. But this isn’t just about defamation. We would also like (the court) to recognize that this is an incitement to religious hatred.”
Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli was unhappy with Grasso’s decision. “In Europe,” he declared, “we are seeing the birth of a movement that is looking to silence those who don’t follow a single mindset, within which it is forbidden to speak ill of Islam….In Fallaci’s book there is very strong criticism but not defamation.”
The trial will need to employ a battery of historians: several of Fallaci’s offending eighteen statements are simply assertions of historical fact. If they were false, Smith might have a case, although he would do better in a free society to provide documentation of their falsehood than to run to the courts to silence Fallaci. Of course, Islamic groups in the West have not hesitated to object to true characterizations of Islam when they find them inconvenient: last March the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) waged a successful campaign to have National Review remove from sale by its book service a “virulently Islamophobic” book, The Life and Religion of Mohammed by J. L. Menezes. CAIR objected to the book’s unfavorable depiction of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a licentious and bloodthirsty warrior. However, during the entire campaign CAIR wisely never asserted that anything the book said was actually false — and it wasn’t. The point of their campaign, like Smith’s, may have been to silence voices that dare to point out the role that Islam has played in the rise of modern-day global terrorism. But Smith has gone beyond CAIR in claiming that Fallaci is “distorting real historical facts and inventing others,” and “lying.” One good result of her trial would be the establishment in court that Fallaci was telling the truth all along.
It is useful to go through Fallaci’s eighteen outrages, as specified in Smith’s complaint, in order to see just how devious and devoid of substance Smith’s suit is:
1. Fallaci asserts that when jihad warriors occupied the Abbey of Montecassino in Italy in 883, “the Muslims amused themselves by sacrificing each night the virginity of a nun. Do you know where? On the altar of the cathedral.” I have been unable to find historical corroboration of this without unduly delaying the completion of this article; Fallaci, who is not a historian, does not footnote her work. It is, however, well established that the invading jihadists sacked and burned the Abbey, killing its abbot, St. Bertarius.
Would they have stopped short of raping nuns and defiling the cathedral altar? Islamic law suggests otherwise. The Qur’an permits Muslim men to have intercourse with their wives and their slave girls: “Forbidden to you are ... married women, except those whom you own as slaves” (Sura -24). The slave girls are understood to be the wives of men slain in battle by the warriors of jihad. The Islamic legal manual ‘Umdat al-Salik, which carries the endorsement of Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, stipulates: “When a child or a woman is taken captive, they become slaves by the fact of capture, and the woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled.” Why? So that they are free to become the concubines of their captors.
The Prophet Muhammad originated such legislation. After one successful battle, he told his men, “Go and take any slave girl.” He took one for himself also. One well-attested Islamic tradition records that “the Prophet had suddenly attacked Bani Mustaliq without warning while they were heedless and their cattle were being watered at the places of water. Their fighting men were killed and their women and children were taken as captives; the Prophet got Juwairiya on that day.” Juwairiya bint Harith became the Prophet’s seventh wife.
After his notorious massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah tribe, he did it again. According to his earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad “went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for [the men of Banu Qurayza] and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches.” After killing “600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900,” the Prophet of Islam took a woman whom he had just widowed, Rayhana bint Amr, as another concubine. There is no tradition recording the consent of either Juwairiya or Rayhana.
According to a generally accepted Islamic tradition, when Muhammad’s men emerged victorious in another battle, they presented him with an ethical question: “We took women captives, and we wanted to do ‘azl [coitus interruptus] with them.” Muhammad told them: “It is better that you should not do it, for Allah has written whom He is going to create till the Day of Resurrection.’” When Muhammad said “it is better that you should not do it,” he was referring to coitus interruptus, not to raping their captives. He took that for granted.
There is abundant evidence that Muslims behaved this way even when nuns were involved. When jihadists captured Thessalonica in 904, just over twenty years after sacking Montecassino, an eyewitness recorded that “nuns, petrified with fear, with their hair disheveled, tried to escape, and ended up by the thousands in the hands of the barbarians, who killed the older ones, and sent the younger and more attractive ones into captivity and dishonor… The Saracens also massacred the unfortunate people who had sought refuge inside churches.” And when the children and spiritual heirs of those jihadists streamed into Constantinople on May 29, 1453, historian Steven Runciman notes that “some of the younger nuns preferred martyrdom to dishonour and flung themselves to death down well-shafts.” It is unclear whether these sisters had been reading dastardly Islamophobic propaganda or the life of the Prophet.
As for Fallaci’s assertion about altars, Runciman suggests that such things happened in churches in fallen Constantinople, noting primly that “there were scenes of ribaldry in the churches.”
2. I do not know Fallaci’s source for her assertion that in Constantinople in 1453 the Muslims “decapitated even newborns. And extinguished candles with their little heads.” Runciman does note that the Muslim conqueror Mehmet was hardly a strong advocate of children’s rights: “Mehmet was said himself to have sent four hundred Greek children as a gift to each of the three leading Moslem potentates of the time, the Sultan of Egypt, the King of Tunis and the King of Grenada.” Or is Smith offended not at the idea that Mehmet would have killed children, even newborn babies? According to Runciman, the conquerors “slew everyone that they met in the streets, men, women and children without discrimination.” Or is Smith’s problem with Fallaci’s statement the idea that the Muslims would have treated the corpses in so barbarous a fashion? In that case, he should sue not Fallaci, but the Muslim scholars and spokesmen who justified the mutilation of corpses in Fallujah in 2004.
3. Fallaci aroused Smith’s ire also by asserting that “in a woman the Qur’an sees above all a womb to give birth.” Yet the Qur’an does liken a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will” (2:223). The Prophet Muhammad added that “if a woman spends the night deserting her husband’s bed (does not sleep with him), then the angels send their curses on her till she comes back (to her husband),” and “The right a husband acquires over the wife is that she should not keep herself away from him [even] if they were on the back of a camel and he desired her and tried to take her.” Hardly ringing endorsements of the equality of dignity of women with men.
4. Fallaci declares: “In the dream that the sons of Allah have been nurturing for years, the dream of blowing up Giotto’s Tower or the Tower of Pisa or the cupola of St. Peter’s or the Eiffel Tower or Westminster Abbey or the cathedral of Cologne and so on...” This element of Smith’s complaint seems predicated on the world forgetting that 9/11 ever happened. Smith evidently is banking on Italian officials also forgetting the numerous jihad terrorists who have been arrested in Europe — notably the Algerian jihadists who were arrested in February before they could carry out their plan to blow up the Eiffel Tower.
5. “Halal butchery is barbarous,” opines Fallaci, and criticizes Jewish butchery laws in the same breath. If such opinions are to be designated “hate speech,” I expect PETA activists will soon be rounded up and jailed.
6. In France, says Fallaci, “Islamic racism, that is the hatred of the infidel-dogs, reigns supreme and is never put on trial, never punished. Where the Muslims declare openly: ‘We must take advantage of the democratic space that France offers us, we must exploit democracy, that is, make use of it to occupy territory.’ Where not a few of them add: ‘In Europe the Nazi position was not understood. Or not by all. It was judged a vehicle of homicidal folly, when actually Hitler was a great man.’”
Why, what Muslim would have said such a thing in France? Hmm. Maybe Rabah Zehani, who in Lyon pelted his Jewish neighbors with a stone while shouting, “Dirty Jew, Hitler didn’t finish the job”? Or the Muslim schoolchildren who scrawled “Death to the Jews” on their school walls outside Paris?
7. Fallaci: Muslims think that “biology is a shameless science because it is occupied with the human body and sex.” Here again Smith seems to have difficulty with the challenges that will come from living in a free society. Charges like this have been leveled against Christianity for years, and no one has brought any lawsuits.
8. Fallaci: “We will have to resign ourselves to the yoke of a creed that...instead of love spreads hatred and instead of liberty slavery.” Here again, Smith’s complaint founders on the facts. The Qur’an tells Muslims not to love their enemies, but to be “merciful to one another” and “ruthless to the unbelievers” (48:29). The notorious and now-disbanded jihadist group in England, Al-Muhajiroun, in March 2004 held a seminar entitled “The obligation of inciting religious hatred.” Or as a young Muslim recently wrote to me: “I hate you for the sake of Allaah and I make du’a [i.e., I pray] for your destruction.”
And slavery? Practiced today only in Muslim countries (notably Sudan and Mauritania), where it is justified on Islamic grounds (it is taken for granted in the Qur’an).
9. Fallaci complains of “a Right and a Left . . . that (in Italy) are both on the side of the enemy (Islam).” Is Smith’s problem with this that Islam is characterized as the enemy? That characterization originated with jihad warriors such as Osama bin Laden, who declared war against the West in the 1990s, not with Fallaci.
10. Fallaci: “The demands of the Islamics with regard to school curricula mean that in literature classes ‘we will not be allowed to include for example The Divine Comedy...nor the Canticle of Creatures nor the Sacred Hymns of Alessandra Manzoni...” Coming from a man who has demanded the destruction of Modena’s fresco in Bologna, this is a curious element of the complaint.
11. Fallaci disdains “...the uncouth wailing of the muezzin...” Apparently now even matters of taste are to be subject to the Thought Police.
12. Fallaci: Over the last twenty years terrorists have killed six thousand people “to the glory of the Qur’an. In obedience to its verses.” Does Smith know that Osama bin Laden praised Allah for the Verse of the Sword (Qur’an 9:5) in a 2003 sermon? Or that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has published a detailed defense of his actions, based on the Qur’an and Islamic tradition? Or that jihadists are making recruits around the world among Muslims by appealing to the Qur’an and presenting themselves as the exponents of “pure Islam”?
13. Fallaci: “Our Jesus of Nazareth . . . they put him in their Danna where he eats like Trimalchio, drinks like a drunkard, screws like a sexual maniac.” “Danna,” or jannah, is Islamic Paradise, where the food, drink, and women are indeed plentiful (cf. Qur’an , 44:54, 47:15, etc.). As Jesus is considered a prophet of Islam, he would indeed be considered to be in Paradise. Fallaci’s description of that Paradise is pejorative but undeniably accurate.
14. Fallaci: “The revolting, reactionary, obtuse, feudal Right is found today only in Islam. It is Islam.” Although Smith objects to this, he doesn’t seem to have said anything about Hani Ramadan, the Muslim scholar who defended stoning adulterers in a Paris magazine.
15. Fallaci decries “the mutilation that the Muslims force on little girls to prevent them, once they are grown...from enjoying the sexual act. It is a female castration that the Muslims practice in twenty-eight countries of Islamic Africa and because of which two million persons die each year from sepsis or loss of blood...” Would Smith have us believe that Fallaci invented this? When Norway’s Parliament, faced with ever-increasing evidence of the practice among Muslim immigrants, just this week introduced legislation to make examinations for female genital mutilation mandatory?
16. Fallaci: Italians, resigned to their Islamization and thoroughly secularized, “are not offended when Islamic immigrants urinate on their monuments or soil the sacristies of their churches or toss their crucifixes out the window of a hospital.” They won’t be able to toss them out of schools — Adel Smith has made sure of that. But does this sort of thing happen? Certainly — and Italians do indeed meet it passively. One school in Rome last year even scrapped its annual Christmas play in favor of “Little Red Riding Hood” in order to avoid offending Muslims. The better to eat you with, indeed.
17. Fallaci: “Islam is a pond. And a pond is a trough of stagnant water...it is never purified...it is easily polluted, like a watering hole for livestock of little value. The pond does not love life: It loves death...” Perhaps Smith should direct his complaint to Maulana Inyadullah of al-Qaeda, who bragged shortly after 9/11: “The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death.”
18. Fallaci: “Despite the massacres through which the sons of Allah have bloodied us and bloodied themselves for over thirty years, the war that Islam has declared against the West...is a cultural war...they kill us in order to bend us. To intimidate us...Their goal is not to fill cemeteries. Not to destroy our skyscrapers...It is to destroy our soul, our ideas. Our feelings and our dreams. It is to subjugate the West once again.”
Smith doubtless hopes that we have never heard of the Saudi Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-‘Arifi, Imam of the King Fahd Defense Academy, who declared recently: “We will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it. Yes, the Christians, who carve crosses on the breasts of the Muslims…will yet pay us the Jiziya [poll tax paid by non-Muslims under Muslim rule], in humiliation, or they will convert to Islam…” Smith is betting that most Westerners will never hear of the influential Sheikh Yusef Al-Qaradawi, who has been praised as a reformist by dhimmi academic John Esposito. Qaradawi has written that “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice…I maintain that the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology…”
Fallaci remains defiant: “This trial is not against me. Nor is it a trial brought by a judge in search of publicity. It is a trial aimed at creating a Precedent, the Fallaci Case. I will not deign to honor them with my presence. This lawsuit is unacceptable, unpardonable. To distort a person’s thought, pick at a word here and another there, sew it all together with little dots, is illegitimate. Illicit. Illegal. Criminal. Contrary to every moral and intellectual decency. For shame!”
During a speech in Washington in 2002, Fallaci said: “The hate for the West swells like a fire fed by the wind. The clash between us and them is not a military one. It is a cultural one, a religious one, and the worst is still to come.” The suit against her is just one hint of that terrible denouement.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch; author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter); and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: Islamic Law and Non-Muslims (Prometheus). His latest book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (Regnery), will be available August 8.
Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, Ihya' ulum al-din (Cairo, n.d.), 4:747. Cited in Hamdun Dagher, The Position of Women in Islam, Light of Life, 1997.