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 he 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 4:23-24). 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.”