Oriana Fallaci: A Passionless West Confronts Islam
Monday, July 18, 2005
by Tom Shuford

Oriana Fallaci faces jail. In her mid-70s, stricken with a cancer that, for the moment, permits only the consumption of liquids -- so yes, we drank champagne in the course of a three-hour interview -- one of the most renowned journalists of the modern era has been indicted by a judge in her native Italy under provisions of the Italian Penal Code which proscribe the 'vilipendio,' or 'vilification,' of 'any religion admitted by the state.'

In her case, the religion deemed vilified is Islam, and the vilification was perpetrated, apparently, in a book she wrote last year -- and which has sold many more than a million copies all over Europe -- called 'The Force of Reason.' Its astringent thesis is that the Old Continent is on the verge of becoming a dominion of Islam, and that the people of the West have surrendered themselves fecklessly to the 'sons of Allah.' So, in a nutshell, Oriana Fallaci faces up to two years' imprisonment for her beliefs -- which is one reason why she has chosen to stay put in New York. Let us give thanks for the First Amendment. (Opening paragraphs of "Prophet of Decline," By Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2005)

In the wake of the July 7 London terror bombings that killed 55 and injured 700, Oriana Fallaci comes to mind. Has this singular journalist anything to say to us about education? She does. Excerpts from “How the West Was Won and How It Will Be Lost,” a 2002 speech by Fallaci to the American Enterprise Institute:

ON THE SUICIDE OF EUROPE: ITS INABILITY TO GRASP THE DANGER OF THE ISLAMIC INVASION, ITS PATHETIC POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, ITS LOSS OF PASSION: From Afghanistan to Sudan, from Palestine to Pakistan, from Malaysia to Iran, from Egypt to Iraq, from Algeria to Senegal, from Syria to Kenya, from Libya to Chad, from Lebanon to Morocco, from Indonesia to Yemen, from Saudi Arabia to Somalia, the hate for the West swells like a fire fed by the wind.

OUR PATHETIC POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: People are afraid to speak against the Islamic world. Afraid to offend, and to be punished for offending, the sons of Allah. You can insult the Christians, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Jews. You can slander the Catholics, you can spit on the Madonna and Jesus Christ. But, woe betide the citizen who pronounces a word against the Islamic religion.

OPPRESSIVE ISLAMIC CULTURE: A culture, which has produced and produces only religion, which in every sense imprisons women inside the burkah or the chador, which is never accompanied by a drop of freedom, a drop of democracy, which subjugates its people under theocratical, oppressive regimes. Socrates and Aristotle and Heraclitus were not mullahs. Jesus Christ, neither. Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, and Galileo, and Copernicus, and Newton and Pasteur and Einstein, the same.

THE WEST'S LOSS OF PASSION: I accuse ourselves also of another crime: the loss of passion. Haven’t you understood what drives our enemies? What permits them to fight this war against us? The passion! They have passion! They have so much passion that they can die for it!...a civilization, a culture, cannot survive without passion, cannot be saved without passion. If the West does not wake up, if we do not refind passion, we are lost.

How did the West’s lose its passion? This question, inspired by Oriana Fallaci, is her relevance for education. Here is my answer: If a people can create a system of schooling that shatters the confidence of the young in their cultural heritage, in their civilization, passion can be extinguished. In Cultural Illteracy: Scope, Causes, Consequences, I cited Sir Kenneth Clark, author of the acclaimed BBC production Civilization, on the confidence that produced the burst of artistic and scientific advances of early Renaissance civilization. Below is Clark on the role of confidence – more particularly, the lack thereof – in the decline of Roman Civilization:

Graeco-Roman civilization stretched...right up to the Rhine, right up to the borders of Scotland....It must have seemed indestructible...

What happened?....however complex and solid it [civilization] seems, it is actually quite fragile. It can be destroyed....Of course, civilization requires a modicum of prosperity – enough to provide a little leisure. But, far more, it requires confidence – confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers....

Warts and Failings

Beyond doubt, there will be no “refinding” of Fallaci’s passion, of Clark’s confidence, so long as state monopolies school the young. State systems destroy confidence. Illustration from New York University education historian Diane Ravitch:

...we’ve gone from one extreme [uncritically teaching a common American culture "that had a strong grounding in English literature and western-European history"] to the other. Instead of a simplistic patriotism, we have in our public schools an adversarial culture, a treatment of American history that emphasizes the nation’s warts and failings and diminishes its genuine accomplishments....Groups like the National Council of the Social Studies [organization for social studies teachers] periodically express hostility to history as a field of study, worrying that it is by nature conservative, even jingoistic....(Ex Uno Plures, Education Next, Fall, 2001)

How America’s young can emerge from so many years sitting in classrooms knowing so little history and literature is less of a mystery. The above remark is, moreover, merely suggestive. The ugly, astonishing details are widely documented, perhaps most accessibly in Chapter Nine, “History: The Endless Battle,” of Ravitch’s The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Children Learn (pp133-156) and also in Chapter Eight: “Literature: Forgetting the Tradition,” (pp112-132).

It is the same across the Atlantic. From Tom Burkard, British educational reformer, head of the Promethean Trust, a charitable foundation dedicated to helping children with dyslexia:

Our antinomian elite have ensured that our children learn about every sin their ancestors ever committed, and nothing of how England turned away from the Hobbesean (1) and Filmerite (2) consensus that followed the dreadful civil wars of the 17th century, and chose the Lockean path to limited government, rule of law with an independent judiciary, protection of private property, and economic freedom. They know absolutely nothing of how these political factors generated a financial and technical revolution which liberated large masses of mankind from poverty, disease and squalor. They learn all about British merchants profiting from the slave trade, but almost nothing about how the Royal Navy ended it.

If warts-and-failings indoctrination is the norm in the two nations with the strongest heritage of individual rights and of limited government, then anti-Western Civilization indoctrination is the all-but-certain standard in every Western nation.

Some large portion of the anti-Western program is not deliberate. Leaders of government education systems are not scholars. Mean Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores of aspiring Education Administrators in the US, for example, are Verbal - 429, Quantitative – 520 (total – 949), among the lowest GRE scores in all academia. It is difficult to fault school leaders for poor decisions when they are not intellectually-equipped to run what are, after all, academic institutions.

Deliberate or not, it does not matter. Americans and citizens of other Western nations must challenge their state schooling monopolies. It will not be zealots of a totalitarian religion, burning with hatred for the Infidel, that bring down Western Civilization. That scenario has plausibility only because of a more fundamental threat: the West's benighted allegiance to confidence-sapping, passion-destroying government monopoly education.

If the West does not wake up, if we do not refind passion, we are lost.


1. the philosophical system of Hobbes; especially...that the clashing interests and desires of individuals must be controlled by a strong government especially of a monarchist constitution (Webster’s Third International Dictionary)

2. Robert Filmer was 17th century England’s most eloquent defender of vesting absolute authority in the Crown. He was an effective proponent of the Divine Right of Kings.

Tom Shuford tomshuford@aol.com is a retired teacher living in Lenoir, North Carolina