Oriana FallaciZola’s favorite author Oriana Fallaci loses her battle with breast cancer
June 29, 1929 – September 15, 2006

Zola loved the writings of Oriana Fallaci. He agreed not only with her ideas, but with her straightforward and fearless style. —Ed.

Though she wrote novels and memoirs, Italian author Oriana Fallaci remains best known as an uncompromising political interviewer, a journalist to whom virtually no world figure would say no. She was a tough nut. Known for her abrasive interviewing tactics, Fallaci often goaded her subjects into revelations, taking on—and besting—some of the most prominent politicians of the last third of the 20th century.

Her subjects include Henry Kissinger, Willy Brandt, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the late Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, from whom she extracted such criticism of India’s Indira Gandhi that a 1972 peace treaty between the two countries almost went unsigned. As famous as many of the figures she interviewed, Fallaci was a freethinker passionately committed to her craft. “I do not feel myself to be a cold recorder of what I see and hear. On every professional experience I leave shreds of my heart and soul; and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter concerned me personally and were one on which I ought to take a stand (in fact I always take one, based on a specific moral choice).”

According to New York Times Book Review contributor Francine du Plessix Gray, Fallaci combined “the psychological insight of a great novelist and the irreverence of a bratty quiz kid.”

Henry Kissinger, who later wrote that his 1972 interview with her was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press,” said that he had been flattered into granting it by the company he’d be keeping as part of Fallaci’s “journalistic pantheon.” It was more like a collection of pelts: Fallaci never left her subjects unskinned.

Forced to wear a chador while interviewing the Ayotollah Khomeini, Fallaci asked a more insolent question: “How do you swim in a chador?” Khomeini snapped, “Our customs are none of your business. If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.” Fallaci saw an opening, and charged in. “That’s very kind of you, Imam. And since you said so, I’m going to take off this stupid, medieval rag right now.” She yanked off her chador.

Fallaci saw the threat of Islamic fundamentalism as a revival of the Fascism that she and her sisters grew up fighting. She said, “I am convinced that the situation is politically substantially the same as in 1938, with the pact in Munich, when England and France did not understand a thing. With the Muslims, we have done the same thing.”

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she appalled many with her hostile assessment of Islam in articles and two best-selling books. She denigrated Muslims who immigrated to Western nations for their unwillingness to adapt to new cultural practices.

She saw a lack of political willpower in the West to resist the new immigrants, and she wrote that the result would be a continent called Eurabia in which “instead of church bells, there will be the muezzins; instead of miniskirts, chadors; instead of cognac, camel’s milk.”

She wrote among others:

  • The Useless Sex: Voyage around the Woman, Horizon Press (New York City), 1964.
  • Penelope at War, M. Joseph (London), 1966.
  • The Egotists: Sixteen Surprising Interviews, Regnery (Chicago),1968.
  • Interview with History, Liveright, 1976.
  • A Man, Simon & Schuster, 1980.
  • Inshallah, Doubleday, 1992.
  • Rage and Pride, Rizzoli, 2001.
  • The Force of Reason, Rizzoli, Nov 2005.
  • articles to periodicals, including New Republic, New York Times Magazine, Life, La Nouvelle Observateur, Washington Post, Look, Der Stern, and Corriere della Sera.

Even as Oriana Fallaci breathed her last, protests rumbled in the Muslim world over an utterance by Pope Benedict XVI in which he faulted the prophet, Mohammed, for exhorting his followers to spread Islam by the sword. Effigies of the pope were torched by mobs, although the irruption also included unintended drollery; a spokeswoman in Pakistan observed that “anyone who describes Islam as intolerant encourages violence.”

Once more, the West collided with the Muslim world; and once more, the West scrambled to soothe “the hurt.” The Vatican issued a statement that “it was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to… offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful,” and everyone, on tenterhooks, waited to see if the pope himself would apologize. So it is tempting to believe that, on the September night she died, Ms. Fallaci—peering through her hospital window at that circus of pieties and outrage—simply said to herself, “I really can’t take this any longer. I’m outta here.”

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