« back to Articles home

Letters Against War, 2002

Tiziano Terzani was the Asia correspondent for German weekly Der Spiegel for over thirty years. The Florentine journalist also wrote for Italy's respected broadsheets La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. After a lifetime of activity, he retreated to a secluded corner of the Himalayas. A sudden event and its fatuous analysis by another Italian journalist roused him to return to a war zone and write his final message to the world. The event was al Qaeda's attack on September 11, 2001, against the United States, and the article was Oriana Fallaci's "La rabbia e l'orgoglio" (Rage and Pride). Letters Against War, 2002, a sincere and compelling book, is his response to both, originally published as letters in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

September 10, 2001, was a day like any other, Terzani tells us, a day easily forgotten. But most of us unerringly remember where we were and what we were doing the following day, before rushing to the closest television set to see the blazing Twin Towers collapse - those images that were to be played over and over for weeks to come.

Having spent most of his life travelling and living in the mystical and superstitious Asian continent to better understand its inhabitants' culture and way of life, Terzani left his Himalayan retreat for Afghanistan and Pakistan to gain a first-hand perspective of what happened after September 11th. The result was this puzzling version of the war.

The attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon represented an opportunity for Western societies to evaluate their political behaviour towards and intolerance of peoples who did not conform to traditional Western beliefs. His argument was that this created a time for serious reflection rather than for vengeance. It explored the West's aversion to accepting dissimilar - and hence "inferior" - societies. Thus, as Terzani states, "Religion becomes an ideological weapon against modernity, the latter seen as pertaining to the West." He believes we should be grateful for, rather than afraid of, being different from one another.

Following the brutal acts that took place on that September day, the western world - as represented by the United States and its British manservant - responded by projecting military power in a war that has not ended seven years later. Instead of using rationality, the West once against struck with guns.

Terzani's book calls to each of us to take a moment to question the violent world we inhabit. It is a world of intolerance and injustice, but one we can change. The author urges us to reflect on the deeper spiritual meaning of our lives, reminding us that tolerance, not violence, is the solution for living in a better world.

Tiziano Terzani died on the July 28, 2004, in Valle d'Orsigna, Italy.

Reviewer Kiki Deere is a freelance travel writer who has written for the Rough Guides, Time Out and Fodor's.