Racked by cancer, Oriana Fallaci spends most of her time in one of the few jurisdictions in the Western world where she is not in legal jeopardy — New York City, whence she pens magnificent screeds in the hope of rousing Europe to save itself. Good luck with that. She writes in Italian, of course, but she translates them herself into what she calls “the oddities of Fallaci’s English,” and the result is a bravura improvised aria, impassioned and somewhat unpredictable. It’s full of facts, starting with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when Mehmet II celebrated with beheading and sodomizing, and some lucky lads found themselves on the receiving end of both. This section is a lively read in an age when most westerners, consciously or otherwise, adopt the blithe incuriosity of Jimmy Kennedy’s marvelous couplet in his 1950s pop hit Istanbul (Not Constantinople):
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.
Signora Fallaci then moves on to the livelier examples of contemporary Islam — for example, Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Blue Book” and its helpful advice on romantic matters: “If a man marries a minor who has reached the age of nine and if during the defloration he immediately breaks the hymen, he cannot enjoy her any longer.” I’ll say. I know it always ruins my evening. Also: “A man who has had sexual relations with an animal, such as a sheep, may not eat its meat. He would commit sin.” Indeed. A quiet cigarette afterwards as you listen to your favourite Johnny Mathis LP and then a promise to call her next week and swing by the pasture is by far the best way. It may also be a sin to roast your nine-year-old wife, but the Ayatollah’s not clear on that.
Kinky as this is, …Signora Fallaci rounds up a quarter-century’s worth of westerners who’ve insisted that everything you know was invented by Islam: paper, medicine, sherbet, artichokes, on and on and on . . .
“Always clever, the Muslims. Always at the top. Always ingenious. In philosophy, in mathematics, in gastronomy, in literature, in architecture, in medicine, in music, in law, in hydraulics, in cooking. And always stupid, we westerners. Always inadequate, always inferior. Therefore obliged to thank some son of Allah who preceded us. Who enlightened us. Who acted as a schoolteacher guiding dim-witted pupils.”
This, it seems to me, is the most valuable contribution of Oriana Fallaci’s work. I enjoy the don’t-eat-your-sexual-partner stuff as much as the next infidel, but the challenge presented by Islam is not that the cities of the Western world will be filling up with sheep-shaggers. If I had to choose, I’d rather Mohammed Atta was downriver in Egypt hitting on the livestock than flying through the windows of Manhattan skyscrapers. But he’s not.
It may be frivolous of me to quote the funny parts rather than the serious points made, but what can I do? It’s just so funny!