by Naeem MohaiemenSometimes it's good to get behind the news cycle. By the time I came back up for air, gallons of ink (and a wee smidgen of blood) had been spilt over the Vatican's new video game "Holy War: Part XXXII". Tariq Ali, Karen Armstrong, everyone and their mother has weighed in on this, so I don't have to.
The Muslim world, as always, genius at PR moves. A nun shot in the back, just to prove that the Pope was wrong. I'm non-violent, and I'll shoot anyone who says otherwise. Smooth.
The interesting concept to tease out is this idea of Muslim rage in response to critique. A rage that is directly proportional to a sense of impotence. There is almost a palpable sense of disappointment among the rightwing that more crazy stuff did not happen. A few demonstrations and then everything quieted down. Prophecies of Muslim rage are nested in a political structure that needs these explosive conflicts to keep things moving along.
There was a strange parallel between Benedict's proclamation and the death of the Italian polemicist who would have cheered his words most strongly. Oriana Fallaci, a "tough broad" to the end, died last week.
I have tremendous respect for many of the iconic interviews and moments she commandeered, including being shot while covering the student protests in Mexico City in 1968. And I empathize with her being irritated by the chauvinism, boorishness and pugnacity of Khomeini, Arafat, et al. What remains problematic is her raging diarrhea towards Islam in her last years, when her target practice veered away from the powerful to concentrate on random, buckshot attacks on working-class immigrants in Europe -- a target unable to defend itself and already on the ropes in the face of continent-wide racism and Islamophobia.
Since 9/11, she wrote three polemics: “The Rage and the Pride”, “The Force of Reason” and “The Apocalypse”. In her pursuit of a "total truth" about Muslims, she even went as far back as 1971 to re-brand the Bangladesh liberation war as an Islamist war. For anyone familiar with that history, and the rupture of Pakistan in rejection of the notion of Islamic State, these are falsifications. Here is her description of an alleged revenge killing against Pakistani collaborators after Bangladesh became independent:
“To make you cry I’ll tell you about the twelve young impure men I saw executed at Dacca at the end of the Bangladesh war. They executed them on the field of Dacca stadium, with bayonet blows to the torso or abdomen, in the presence of twenty thousand faithful who applauded in the name of God from the bleachers. They thundered "Allah-akbar, Allah-akbar"…at the conclusion of the slaughter, the twenty thousand faithful (many of whom were women) left the bleachers and went down on the field. Not as a disorganised mob, no. In an orderly manner, with solemnity. They slowly formed a line and, again in the name of God, walked over the cadavers. All the while thundering Allah-akbar, Allah-akbar. They destroyed them like the Twin Towers of New York. They reduced them to a bleeding carpet of smashed bones." (La Rabbia e l'Orgoglio, 2002).Besides the sheer porno-voyeurism in this text, there is fabrication of the “Allah-u- akbar” chant, an impossible coda to a liberation war that had, at least temporarily, obliterated the idea of an Islamic Pakistan. It is possible that in her dotage she had remixed scenes from the Iranian revolution. Still, any Islamist revolution will do.
I am La Fallaci, trouble me not with fact checkers.
Turning to contemporary immigration (a much bigger obsession for her), Europe to Fallaci was “Eurabia”, “a colony of Islam” where there will soon be “minarets in place of the bell-towers, with the burka in place of the mini-skirt.” Contemporary immigration, to her, was a new form of Muslim invasion, using “children and boats” instead of “troops and cannons.” In particular, she resisted immigration to Italy because "our cultural identity has been well defined for thousands of years we cannot bear a migratory wave of people who have nothing to do with us . . . who, on the contrary, aim to absorb us.” Spain is particularly vulnerable because “too many Spaniards still have the Koran in the blood”
European multiculturalism and ideas of tolerance infuriated Fallaci, when she wrote:
“If you speak your mind on the Vatican, on the Catholic Church, on the Pope, on the Virgin Mary or Jesus or the saints, nobody touches your ‘right of thought and expression.’ But if you do the same with Islam, the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad, some son of Allah, you are called a xenophobic blasphemer who has committed an act of racial discrimination. If you kick the ass of a Chinese or an Eskimo or a Norwegian who has hissed at you an obscenity, nothing happens. On the contrary, you get a ‘Well done, good for you.’ But if under the same circumstances you kick the ass of an Algerian or a Moroccan or a Nigerian or a Sudanese, you get lynched.”There was a psycho-sexual undertone to Fallaci's loathing of Muslim immigrants, often expressed in the language of body phobia. Looking at urine streaks in the Venice Piazza San Marco, she wondered if Muslims will one day “s*** in the Sistine Chapel.” She imagined Somali Muslims who left “yellow streaks of urine that profaned the millenary marbles" of the Florence Baptistery:
“Good Heavens! They really take long shots, these sons of Allah! How could they succeed in hitting so well that target protected by a balcony and more than two yards distant from their urinary apparatus?”In the end, the best response to Fallaci is to critique and deflate her (as Umberto Eco did). The attempts by some Italian Muslims to bring her to court and ban the books ended up making her a martyr, a living Joan of Arc -- a role she revelled in.
An even better response to these brands of provocations is the one I had last week in London. Sitting in a restaurant, I spotted a young man wearing a t-shirt.
On the front:
There's A Picture Of Prophet Mohammed On The Back Of My T-shirt
And on the back:
Just Kidding! Praise Allah! (Please Don't Kill Me)
I ran up to him to take a photograph. He looked confused. He also looked slightly scared.
I had not indentified myself but I suppose some level of melanin automatically denotes "Muslim" in certain contexts.
"You just want to take a photo?"
"You're not mad or anything?"
"No man, not at all."
"Just a photo..?"
Yes, just a photo.
So I can laugh with you.
And then forget about it and move on.