Putting on the Burqa of Words

by Kiko Matsing

Oriana Fallaci Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Fallaci vs. Spivak: Who has the balls to speak out?

This is very kind of you, Imam, since you tell me that, I’m going to immediately rid myself of this stupid medieval rag. There!

(Oriana Fallaci to Ayatollah Khomeini, on the chador)

I recently found a Youtube video of Oriana Fallaci reciting her speech on contemporary anti-semitism in Europe (Io trovo vergognoso…), which was published in the Italian magazines Panorama (18 Apr 2002) and Corriere della Sera (12 Apr 2002). Her condemnation of Arab Muslim terrorism and suicide bombing is unequivocal, and her outrage transparent in her raspy, incantatory Italian; it is as riveting as listening to the Ugolino passages of Dante’s Inferno. (She’s Florentine like the poet.)

I find it disgraceful, that they [Italian Catholics] are on the side of the very ones who inaugurated terrorism, killing us on airplanes, in airports, at the Olympics, and who today entertain themselves by killing western journalists. By shooting them, abducting them, cutting their throats, decapitating them. There’s someone in Italy who, since the appearance of “The Rage and the Pride” [Fallaci’s book], would like to do the same to me. Citing verses of the Koran, he exorts his “brothers” in the mosques and the Islamic Community to chastise me in the name of Allah. To kill me. Or rather, to die with me. Since he’s someone who speaks English well, I’ll will respons [sic] to him in English: “Fuck you!”…

This eternal terrorist [Yasser Arafat] who knows only how to be a terrorist (while keeping himself save [sic]) and who during the Seventies, that is when I interviewed him, even trained the terrorists of Baader-Meinhof. With them, children ten years of age. Poor children. Now he trains them to become suicide bombers. A hundred baby suicide bombers are in the works. One hundred! This weathercock who keeps his wife in Paris, served and revered like a queen, and keeps his people down in the shit. He takes them out of the shit only to send them to die, to kill and to die, like the eighteen-year-old girls who, in order to earn equality with men, have to strap on explosives and disintegrate with their victims. This presumed revolutionary who, to his own people, has never given a shred of democracy.

(translated and transcribed by Middle East Affairs Information Center)

Compare this to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak‘s academic waffling on the subject. She is best known for her translation of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie, the foundational text (ironic!) of intellectual “equivocateurs”, the deconstructionists. She couches her discourse in typical opaque language of postmodern literary theory. It is ultimately an elliptical apology for acts of violence on innocent people.

Suicide bombing–and the planes of 9/11 were living bombs–is a purposive self-annihilation, a confrontation between oneself and oneself, the extreme end of autoeroticism, killing oneself as other, in the process killing others…. Suicidal resistance is a message inscribed on the body when no other means will get through. It is both execution and mourning… you die with me for the same cause, no matter which side you are on. Because no matter who you are there are no designated killees [sic] in suicide bombing…. It is a response… to the state terrorism practiced outside of its own ambit by the United States and in the Palestinian case additionally to an absolute failure of hospitality.

(quoted by Edward Alexander, in Jerusalem Post, 10 Jan 2003)

Purposive self-annihilation? Extreme end of autoeroticism? Killing oneself as other? A message inscribed on the body?

Daniel Pearl
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with abductor. His throat was later cut.

The undated videocassette contained graphic images of Mr. Pearl’s being killed, government officials said, providing incontrovertible evidence of his death. Senior Pakistani officials said that he had been “brutally slaughtered,” and indicated that his throat had been cut.

(from NY Times, 22 Feb 2002)

Nick Berg

Video still of Nick Berg, of West Chester, Pa., shortly before he was decapitated.

The men then put a large knife to Berg’s neck as he screamed, according to news service descriptions of the end of the video. They shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is greatest,” before decapitating him and holding his head up to the camera.

(from Washington Post, 12 May 2004)

There is a disparity between Spivak’s bloodless, self-effacing (sous rature?), evasive language, and the brutish acts of murder by terrorists above. Something is not being addressed directly (différance?), like there’s a veil put over words. And this is where all this ponderous critical language fail: their speakers have decided a priori that meaning is undecidable, and words merely rhetorical terms to toy with. It may be the case in textual analysis that there is no stable meaning, just an infinite daisy-chain of words, but there is certainly nothing ambivalent, nothing undecidable, about a man whose head has been severed.