ITALY

Fallaci charged in Italy with defaming Islam

 

by Crispian Malmer

 

Reuters (25.05.2005)/ HRWF Int. (26.05.2005) Website: www.hrwf.net- A judge has ordered best-selling writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci to stand trial in her native Italy on charges she defamed Islam in a recent book.

 

The decision angered Italy's justice minister but delighted Muslim activists, who accused Fallaci of inciting religious hatred in her 2004 work "La Forza della Ragione" (The Force of Reason).

 

Fallaci lives in New York and has regularly provoked the wrath of Muslims with her outspoken criticism of Islam following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

 

In "La Forza della Ragione," Fallaci wrote that terrorists had killed 6,000 people over the past 20 years in the name of the Koran and said the Islamic faith "sows hatred in the place of love and slavery in the place of freedom."

 

State prosecutors originally dismissed accusations of defamation from an Italian Muslim organization, and said Fallaci should not stand trial because she was merely exercising her right to freedom of speech.

 

But a preliminary judge in the northern Italian city of Bergamo, Armando Grasso, rejected the prosecutors advice at a hearing on Tuesday and said Fallaci should be indicted.

 

Grasso's ruling homed in on 18 sentences in the book, saying some of Fallaci's words were "without doubt offensive to Islam and to those who practice that religious faith."

 

Muslims hail decision

 

Adel Smith, a high-profile Muslim activist who brought the original law suit, hailed the decision.

 

"It is the first time a judge has ordered a trial for defamation of the Islamic faith," he told reporters. "But this isn't just about defamation. We would also like (the court) to recognize that this is an incitement to religious hatred."

 

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli, who has a prickly relationship with the Italian judiciary, said the ruling represented an attack on freedom of _expression.

 

"In Europe 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, of homosexuals or of the children of homosexuals," Castelli was quoted as saying in an interview with Radio Padania.

 

"In Fallaci's book there is very strong criticism but not defamation," Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying.

 

There was no immediate comment from Fallaci who is in her 70s and suffers from cancer.

 

Just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Fallaci published "La Rabbia e l'Orgoglio" ("The Rage and the Pride"), in which she said the West was superior to Islamic society and complained that Muslim immigrants had "multiplied like rats."

 

The book sold more than one million copies in Italy and at least 500,000 elsewhere in Europe.

 

Fallaci received numerous death threats following its launch and "La Forza della Ragione" was billed as her response to the outpouring of anger.

 

No date was set for the opening of the defamation trial.