Monday, November 13, 2006

Fallaci, Hitchens and Ratzi

December's Vanity Fair remembers the (sometimes) great Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci who died of multiple cancers last September. Her friend Christopher Hitchens writes elegantly of her - he could never be inelegant - but unusually for him he pulls his punches somewhat.

Her virulent Islamophobia post-9/11 is played down (she wrote in one of her last books that Muslims "breed like rats"), he fails to comment beyond the telling of the story: he relates how, for instance, she (a "Christian atheist" by her reckoning) established a bond with the present Pope whom she called Ratzinger. She claimed the two were one on Islam. And we all know what he thinks of Islam. But what does Hitchens think of Oriana and Ratzi's pillow talk? He does not say explicitly.

Hitchens hints at "outraged" groups trying to silence her obscenities when what he means is that she was due for trial in the Italian courts on a charge of incitement to racial hatred.

Before her moral fall, Fallaci was one of the great, great print journalists of the second half of the 20th Century. You can read elsewhere of her accomplishments: to my mind her greatest was her encounter with Kissinger in the '70s. Through wily "seduction" she got the de facto criminal to admit Vietnam was a "useless" war and to depict himself as the heroic cowboy of geo-politics. As Hitchens recollects, he came to regard this conversation with Fallaci as the most "disastrous" of his career.

She was a ferocious, highly emotive inquisitor; she was also forensic in her research. Hitchens tries to contrast her interviewing methods with those of today's TV talking-head dolls. This is foolish. Unlike most of these pretty, lacquered Q 'n' A merchants, she was a warrior and her target was power in all its forms. She had a cause. She once said famously: "Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon." Does this sound like Kirsty Wark to you?

But back to Hitchens. In recent years the ex-hero of the Left has been lost to Islamophobia himself: on a bad day he could pass for a neo-con, or even a Fallaci acolyte. As was Fallaci, he is an aggressive secularist, he hoped to make Mother Theresa's life a misery before she died with an abusive, anti-Roman Catholic book on her work. He now believes the West is engaged in a war against Islamic theocracy.

Fallaci's destructive Islamophobia found a friend in Pope Benedict. And all Hitchens can do in VF is not to make too much of it: the problem for him is that his own position uncomfortably takes him into the environs of the Vatican. In writing about Fallaci he writes (a little) about himself and his own incongruous common cause with the Pope.

What strange bedfellows Fallaci, Hitchens and Ratzi make as irrational fear grips (respectively) the emotionalist, the intellectual and the God-fearing. Their way is inevitable war.

1 comment:

Susan Hill said...

I used to be one of Christopher Hitchens's greatest fans. Feet of clay and all that. And I speak as a - non-Catholic - Christian.