Inspired to action by the recent death of Oriana Fallaci, I finally picked up a copy of The Force of Reason and sat down to devour it. It's a pretty scary book. Fallaci has been there and done that in so many different places and contexts and situations that trying to keep up with her accounts almost leaves me dizzy. Her knowledge and her experience are so deep and so broad that when, in several instances I found myself shaking my head in serious disbelief, wondering if she could possibly have gotten this quote right or that set of events straight, I quickly dismissed my cynicism as stemming from my own ignorance.
But finally, toward the end of the book (pp. 250-51), she got to a story that I already knew and knew well. I knew it much too well to leave any doubt whatsoever that she had made up her account of it, her re-invention of it, from whole cloth. Whether she wrote it from (faulty) memory without bothering to check her facts, or simply fabricated the details that fit her thesis, I don't know. Regardless, the result is the same. All of those other references I questioned are now open to doubt, and will remain so. I no longer feel comfortable citing her as a source. And that's not good.
I bring this up here, not to air dirty laundry, but because I want to stress once again how important it is that in our narrative of the dangers facing us today we avoid slipping into the practice of relying on anything and anyone that tends to support it without applying the discipline we apply to the narrative of our opponents. We need to leave that sort of sloppiness to the Dan Rather and Adnan Hajj supporters. To mix metaphors a bit, if we're going to stick out our necks, we ought to be sure that we're standing on solid ground.
Here is Fallaci's example of the American version of what she calls "[t]he insuperable line, the insurmountable barrier," behind which it's only possible to keep silent or join the enemies of Western civilization:
And, to assert that it prevails in America too, here I choose the striking example provided by the beautiful monument which stood before the State Judicial Building of Birmingham, Alabama. A granite plinth with a great marble open book. On the two exposed pages, the Ten Commandments: the genesis of our moral principles. As I'm told, the people of Birmingham were proud of that great marble book. And so was the State Governor: an impartial white man, a man much beloved also by the blacks who in Birmingham are almost always Christians. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics. But one ugly day the representatives of the tiny Muslim minority began muttering that the Ten Commandments had been written by the Jew Moses, that showing them in public clearly favoured Judaic-Christian culture, and the Politically Correct brigade sided with Allah. The protest ended up in the Supreme Court, the Solomons of the Supreme Court decided that in addition to harming Interrelgious Dialogue the marble book violated the principles underpinning the separation of the Church and the State, and another ugly day the beautiful monument was removed in defiance of the State Governor who refused to accept the verdict and resigned.
The number of indisputable factual errors and fabrications in this account is mind-boggling. Add to that the bogus implications and innuendos, and you have a piece of near fiction, based very loosely on a recent historical event, the implications of which are almost (but not quite) entirely the opposite of those that Fallaci attempts to paint.
Let's start with the monument, of which the people of Birmingham were so proud. The monument was first placed in the rotunda of the State Judicial Building, late at night on July 31, 2001, by Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, who did so unilaterally and in explicit and deliberate defiance of the growing body of legal authority holding that such displays were unconsitutional. The next morning, he held a press conference at the monument to ensure that no one missed the point.
Three months later, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, not by representatives of any "tiny Muslim minority," but by the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, all of which organizations boast a healthy majority of Jews and Christians among their membership and in positions of high leadership. No mention whatsoever was made of "the Jew Moses."
On November 18, 2002, the District Court ruled that the monument was unconstitutional and must be removed. That judgment was affirmed on appeal by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The "Solomons of the Supreme Court" decided nothing, other than that they would not hear the case.
Moore was ordered to remove the monument, which he refused to do. Consequently, on November 14, 2003, Moore was removed from office. On the same day, the monument was removed from the State Judicial Building.
Neither Don Siegelman (the governor of Alabama at the time Moore planted the monument in 2001 and at the time he lost the lower court case in 2002), nor Bob Riley (the governor of Alabama at the time of Moore's loss on appeal and his removal from office in 2003) played any significant role or took any vocal stand on the issue. Certainly, neither of them resigned over it. Riley is running for a second term this year. (In the primary, he faced a hostile and utterly unsuccessful challenge from none other than Roy Moore.)
So Fallaci tried, using made-up "facts," to turn an ongoing American struggle over the interpretation of the First Amendment to our Constitution, with die-hard patriots, Jews and Christians firmly on both sides of the issue, into part of a nefarious plot by antisemitic Muslims to undermine Western culture. The ongoing Ten Commandments debate is just, in fact, the opposite. As long as Americans can continue to debate and discuss, protest and pontificate over exactly these sorts of questions, we'll be ok. As long as they're resolved in plain daylight, through the channels of our legislatures and our judicial system as directed by our Constitution, our freedom and our liberty will be preserved. While I've lost all respect for the ACLU, I still have a great deal for Americans United and, especially, the SPLC. They're on the right side of the struggle.
The nefarious plot into which Fallaci tried to fit this episode is one that I have no doubt exists. I'm in awe of the courage and energy and articulate expression that Oriana Fallaci summoned during her lifetime to fight the battle against it. But the battle, the war, has to be won with truth and honesty, and with accuracy, not with made-up, lazy, convenient fictionalized accounts and fabrications. And because I have neither the time nor the resources to fact-check the myriad other quotations and references in her books of which I have no independent knowledge, I'm afraid I can no longer trust them to shape either my own opinions or my own arguments. A pity.